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Brother Hurt turns celeb chef with taste of simple life

We have had cookery books by the score over the past number of years, written by everyone from celebrity chefs to food writers, to television personalities, to actresses but the latest is by a Benedictine monk, Brother Anselm of Glenstal Abbey.

Not only is Brother Anselm stepping into the world of the celebrity chef, but he is also stepping out of shadows of his famous brother, the actor John Hurt.

You may have seen a glimpse of Brother Anselm on the British television programme Who Do You Think You Are?, when the two brothers went to Westport House to visit the Marquess of Sligo in search of their ancestry, for they had always believed that there was a family connection through the wrong side of the blanket.

John Hurt has always declared his love for Ireland, indeed living the country lifestyle in Wicklow at one period. The programme made riveting television as he was so visibly disappointed and hurt, if you will forgive the pun, to be told that there didn't appear to be any connection, legitimate or illegitimate, with the aristocratic Browne family of Westport House, and that the brothers Hurt were, in fact, both decidedly middle class English, with a fanciful ancestor!

Brother Anselm does not, in fact, seem to be quite convinced of the genealogical outcome of the show.

We all know John Hurt from from his famous movie roles such as in The Elephant Man, and in Midnight Express, A Man For All Seasons, and for so very many more, but his older brother Michael 'Anselm' has also, as he admits himself, led a very interesting and colourful life.

Brother Anselm was born Michael Hurt in 1932 and he and John were the sons of an Anglican vicar. Michael went to Cambridge to study theology with the view to becoming an Anglican priest but decided that, in fact, the Catholic religion was the right one for him -- which didn't go down too well in the vicarage.

He entered the novitiate with the Benedictines at Downside Abbey near Bath in England, and took final vows, but in 1970 he left the order, partly because he was "in conflict with the Abbot and the School Headmaster".

"He met someone, as one does" and he was duly laicised so that he could marry. They had three children and he now also has six grandchildren. For many years he worked in Liverpool in an adult educational capacity but "the marriage didn't work out in the end and was eventually annulled".

He quoted his ex-wife as saying "she thought he would probably prefer to be a monk", adding that "she was probably right, when you spend years as a monk you become sort of conditioned, and it's hard to change".

He was, of course, a very good father to his children, for whom he did a lot of cooking, hence he spent a lot of time studying the cookery books -- which later proved useful.

Following early retirement in Liverpool, he decided to return to the monastic life and approached a few monasteries in England but that didn't work out. He came to Ireland to stay in Clare with friends and discovered the magnificent Benedictine monastery at Glenstal Abbey in Murroe, Co Limerick.

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At Glenstal Abbey, the Benedictine order runs a boys' school, a working farm, and a guest house with 12 bedrooms, for those who feel they might like to go and stay for a few days and enjoy a little peace and reflection.

There are 500 acres of magnificent parklands to this abbey, a Normanesque castle, which was built in the 1830s for the Barrington family. It has a great gate and drum tower resembling that of Windsor Castle and approaching it, one couldn't but help see the attractions of living in such a place.

The Benedictine Order at Glenstal was founded in 1927 and in 1957 Glenstal became an abbey. Brother Anselm was accepted into the fold and has been in charge of the kitchens there for the past 12 years and is responsible for feeding some 40 or so monks.

He modestly says that he plans the menus, does the administration and ordering, and perhaps cooks supper, but most of the actual heavy cooking is done by two very good cooks, Bridget Hayes and Christina Carberry.

The monks' lives, as in any religious order, are very organised, with the monks assembling five times a day for prayer. However, one thing Brother Anselm wanted to escape from was the idea that "if it's Tuesday, it must be shepherd's pie".

He loves food, and clearly likes to bring a little bit of variety and spice here and there to the diet for not only does he cover Irish stalwarts such as bacon and cabbage, and Dublin coddle, but he skirts Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and America, with recipes such as: beef or lamb rendang, a robust curry from Indonesia; potatoes provencal style; eggs au gratin, Persian sweet and sour chicken; bobotie,a South African beef pie; Smyrna lamb stew; and lamb chops cooked, somewhat unusually, with horseradish.

The idea of the book came about through guests at Glenstal asking for the various recipes. What is attractive about Brother Anselm's Glenstal Cookbook is its simplicity with recipes listed in a ringback notebook -- no fancy pictures, just simple humorous illustrations of monks at work, rest and play.

Priests, in general, have a reputation for liking good food and finding good restaurants; no doubt Brother Anselm's book will feature under the tree in every presbytery this Christmas.

Brother Anselm's favourite recipe is Cassoulet Gascoigne -- maybe there is an untold story to that too!

Brother Anselm's Glenstal Cookbook is published by Columba Press, RRP €12.99 Available from Eason's, Veritas, Hughes & Hughes, Glenstal Bookshop, and all good book shops.

Glenstal Abbey, Murroe, Co Limerick. Tel: (061) 386103

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