Green Cuisine: The Irish Culinary Renaissance

The land of barren cliffs, grassy knolls and ancient Celtic art, Ireland may be one of our favorite destinations for seascapes and lore, but aside from sampling smooth, stylish whiskies, most of us probably aren’t racing to the Emerald Isle to experience culinary mastery.

It took a couple of Australians to introduce me to the burgeoning cuisine from the island of my ancestry. Always looking to introduce foodies to the growing culinary landscape, Marieke Brugman and Sarah Stegley of Australia’s legendary Howqua Dale Gourmet Retreat assemble food-focused tours to developing culinary pockets like South Africa’s wine country and the coast of Portugal. When the pair told me they were organizing a two-week introduction to the emerging cuisine of Ireland, how could I resist tagging along?

Our gourmet tour focused in the country’s south, where some of the earth’s cleanest, cold waters play host to a substantial array of sea life. The region is also blessed with prime growing conditions for anything from the ubiquitous potatoes and wheat tostrawberries, tender greens and some of the world’s finest lamb.

What has now been dubbed Ireland’s “Culinary Renaissance” actually began shortly after the Second World War in the kitchens’ of two of Ireland’s most savvy housewives, who were the first to remind their countrymen of how good the local ingredients could taste.

Myrtle Allen never considered herself a culinary genius. She was just doing what seemed most practical. As a young, country bride in County Cork, she learned to cook with all the local ingredients from her husband’s farm market business. But by the end of World War II, when export economics were sluggish, she decided the family farm products could be put to better use by starting a restaurant and lodging house called Ballymaloe. “The restaurants were so poor in the area that I knew I couldn’t do any worse.” Shunning greasy fish with chips and watery porridge, Allen quickly outshone the competition with her fresh, simple dishes.

Around the time Allen entered the culinary world, Maura Foley joined the hospitality ranks with her own regionally focusedcuisine in Kenmare in County Kerry, a quaint town where the shops are decorated with window-boxes full of colorful flowers. Her restaurant, Packies, brings new life to what was her original inspiration, her uncle Patrick’s produce shop. The handwritten menus boast the finest local flavors, including wild salmon, Cashel blue cheese and a bouquet of herbs straight from Foley’s personal garden.

St.Patrick’s Day Recipes|

The respect for regional products generated by these two inspirational cooks has recently opened doors for Ireland’s ever growing number of outstanding artisans, like Frank Hederman. The nation’s only natural fish smoker, Hederman has helped to raise awareness of Irish products by supplying his smoked salmon, eel, mussels and cheeses to the country’s top restaurants as well as a thriving export business.

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