During the last recession, many people who'd lost their jobs displayed extraordinary creativity to become the new self-employed, successfully producing wonderful food products.
Now they're the core of our artisan food industry, and boy have they stepped up to the plate in this current emergency, deploying their creativity once again, to get their food to those who need it. They too are front-line heroes. Rally around them, buy Irish, buy local. You'll never eat better or cleaner.
THE FOOD BOX
"I'd be home two hours earlier if I didn't talk so much," laughed Sean Ring, of Ring's Farm in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, as he delivered my order of organic chickens.
"There've been Rings in Castlecomer since 1730," Sean says. He inherited the farm from his Uncle Joseph, a bachelor, in 1995. "I was always there and around with him when I was a child." Sean lives there now with his wife Mary and two young daughters, who both love the chickens.
He supplies top restaurants, including Avalon in Castlecomer, the Michelin-starred restaurants Chapter One and Liath in Dublin, plus Locks, Bang, Jamie Oliver's and Bread 41. "We were really getting well established, but we've changed our direction since March to home deliveries, as well as our butcher customers. I'm reasonably optimistic, but there are a lot of challenges ahead."
Sean supplies organic and free range whole chickens as well as chicken supremes, Kievs and goujons. "The minimum order is €50, and we always give a few extra chickens for orders of €150 upwards. We're putting out home delivery packs with the emphasis on sharing with family, neighbours, and especially the vulnerable."
They also aim to provide BBQ packs for the summer.
Nora Egan, of Inch House in Thurles, is a powerhouse and founding member of the Tipperary Food Producers. When black pudding took a leap from the breakfast plate to fine dining, Nora started producing Inch House black pudding from her mother's old recipe. It took off and has been on virtually every restaurant menu in the country since, paired with everything from scallops to apples.
A couple of years ago Nora handed over the reins of her pudding empire to daughter Mairin Byrne, who is now producing it in Templemore. And, guess who's a new admirer of the pud? None other than the Domestic Goddess herself, Nigella Lawson.
Mairin says with the loss of food-service customers she's down about 50pc, but that "people have been wonderful through their support. I'm holding my own and keeping costs and overheads down as much as possible".
Like many other small food producers, Mairin has aligned with larger distributors like Hussey Farm, James Whelan Butchers and Ardkeen Stores.
Since chef Ahmet Dede came to Ireland in 2009, he has worked in three amazing Dublin Michelin-starred restaurants - Chapter One, The Green House, and Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. He moved to Amsterdam to work at the 2-star &moshik, but he came back to take up the role of head chef at Mews in Baltimore, where he achieved a Michelin star in 2018.
This week he announced his new restaurant Dede at The Customs House in Baltimore. I suppose its superfluous to say that plan A, opening for fine dining, has gone out the window for now, but the lucky denizens are in for a treat as he's launched a contactless menu to go. "We decided to open the takeaway to produce delicious food as a treat for people at home. We hope to put a smile on their faces. It's not intended to be complex, it's just delicious food." The menu (€20) includes a main, a side, bread and dessert and a little surprise in the bag that's different each week. Think of dishes like Lamb Anatolian-style with sour Turkish flat bread, or steamed hake with foraged seaweeds cooked in seaweed butter, and to-die-for walnut Baklava with pistachio cream.
"The response from our community has been fantastic. This is why I love West Cork. It's my home and where my heart is." Delicious food from a Michelin-starred chef for €20. It's the bargain of the year.
Tel: (028) 48248. Available Fri/Sat from 4pm-8pm and Sun from 3pm-7pm.
There's no greater advocate of Limerick food and its producers than Tom Flavin, executive chef of the Limerick Strand Hotel, overlooking the mighty River Shannon in the heart of the city.
Tom grew up on a farm in West Limerick. "I had my first business up and running when I was eight years old, milking my own goats and selling the milk to neighbours. This all gave me a deep appreciation of what goes into producing good food." Tom travelled widely after catering college and was the youngest ever sous chef at London's top-notch Dorchester Hotel.
Tom is committed to buying from local producers, including Caroline Rigney's Curraghchase free-range pork; Pat Barry's beef; Sean Duggan's free range eggs and honey; Kevin Wallace's vegetables and Seamus Leahy's goat's cheese. "I see local sourcing as something that contributes not only to the food offering of a hotel, but also the local economy, which comes back to the hotel in business loyalty."
The hotel may be currently closed but, with two young children, Tom hasn't been idle. His wife Mary works on the front-line in UCH Limerick heading up the ICU, where sometimes staff aren't getting to eat on a 16-hour shift. So, when the hotel temporarily closed, the staff cooked up more than 100 hot lunches for the workers in the ICU.
This week Tom is back behind the stove having launched a call and collect service of his casual favourite foods at the Limerick Strand. You know the rules by now. It's contactless call and pay. Food will be delivered to your car door (outside main entrance of hotel). Available daily 4pm-9pm. Tel: (061) 421800.