James Kavanagh is a food writer and presenter, and co-author of the award winning Currabinny Cookbook. James and his partner William Murray share recipes and videos online and hope to open up their first Currabinny Café in 2021.
Did you grow up in a family where food was important?
My mum stayed at home when I was a child and she cooked everything from scratch. We each had a job and it was all hands on deck when it came to getting the meal on the table. Some of the food she cooked, such as stews and brown bread, I hated then but can appreciate now. Back then I wanted sliced white pan.
What's your most vivid food memory from childhood?
Coddle. My mum made it every couple of months. I remember the anaemic sausages floating in the grey sauce and having to stay at the table until I finished. The whole house used to stink of it - in fact, I can smell it now.
What was the first thing you learned to cook?
Brown soda bread, when I was about 10 or 11. My mum made it every two days, and I loved the theatre of it - slapping the dough and flour going everywhere, kneeling on a chair wearing an apron. We used to pretend to be Delia Smith on a cookery show.
Did you always know that you wanted to work in food?
My interest in food came late; it was sparked by my boyfriend, William, who had done the Ballymaloe (cookery) course. I was jealous, so I enrolled on it too. Since I graduated, my interest has grown and grown - I learned so much about seasonality and producers, and became obsessed with fermentation. Now I make kombucha, kimchi and hot sauces all the time, and right now the fridge stinks of wild garlic pesto that we picked on our 2km walk in Phoenix Park the other day.
Who has been the biggest influence on the way that you cook?
Nigella Lawson. I just love her approach - her food is all about pleasure. William and I never count calories, we just eat whatever we want.
What's your signature dish?
Harissa roast chicken - I'd cook it any day of the week, not just for Sunday lunch.
Is there any ingredient that you hate?
I can't stand raisins. There's nothing that's improved by sneaking them in.
Is there anything that you love to eat that you would prefer your friends didn't know about?
I don't believe in guilt around food - I love everything from fine dining at Chapter One to McDonald's, and I don't care who knows.
Is there anything that you won't/don't eat for ethical reasons?
What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?
On holiday in Tunisia as a child I ate deep-fried spiders from a street-food stall. They tasted like crisps.
What kitchen gadget could you not live without and what's the most overrated?
I use a micro-plane more than anything else, because I put lemon zest in everything. The George Foreman grill is just a dust-collector.
What's your desert island cook book?
Rory O'Connell's Master It: How to Cook Today covers everything; he was one of my favourite tutors at Ballymaloe.
What three things do you always keep in your fridge?
Kerrygold butter (with another block kept out of the fridge for spreading), Heinz mayonnaise and either apple or orange juice.
What's your go-to store-cupboard meal?
Pasta with vegetables and something spicy like 'nduja.
What was the last great meal that you ate?
Two nights before lockdown, William and I had dinner at Uno Mas in Dublin - we had all the bits and bobs, and it was completely delicious. I really miss restaurants, I miss going out.
What's your favourite restaurant in the world?
I've never been disappointed at Forest & Marcy [Leeson St, Dublin] - it's casual and yet the food is outstanding.
How do you think the future looks for restaurants?
So many restaurants and cafés have rapidly developed their offerings - from Forest Avenue turning into a pop-up food market to deliveries of everything from White Moose Café's toasties, to Cliff Townhouse's fish pie to Allta's meal boxes - that I feel there'll be a big focus on delivery and takeaway from restaurants that didn't offer it previously. Realistically, the industry will take time to spring back and some won't make it, but ultimately the food industry as a whole will flourish again.
What chef do you admire the most?
It's got to be Nigella, because she has a way about her that is not intimidating. You think, "I can do that too!"
Do you eat breakfast?
William and I tend not to eat breakfast, but we'll have more of a brunch at around 12. Fried eggs and wilted greens is a favourite.
What are you going to have for dinner tonight?
We're having a leg of lamb with Moroccan spices - we're filming a cooking tutorial for Currabinny and we'll get to eat it afterwards.
And what will you drink with that?
I'll have a glass of Albariño - I did a wine course but, to be honest, I don't really get wine pairings. I think Albariño goes well with everything.
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