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October 19, 2011

Dublin on a Plate

by Julianne Mooney

When I was programming the Dublin Book Festival last year, I had in mind to do a cooking evening with a few celebrity chefs cooking an economy meal. I even called Avoca to see if we could do it there, but they were mid-renovations. One thing led to another and it never happened, so when I saw UNESCO City of Literature were hosting an evening in Fallon & Byrne with Georgina Campbell and Catherine Fulvio as two of the speakers, I knew I had to be there.

The evening started with people being served a scrumptious buffet meal. Salmon, bacon croquet, beef tartlet and a little dish of goat’s cheese and beetroot. It was delicious, and as people sat at prettily decorated round tables, chatting and enjoying the meal they relaxed and shrugged off the worries of another day at the office.

The panel, chaired by Catherine Cleary of The Irish Times, took their seats at the top of the room after dinner. Catherine opened the discussion with some wonderful passages from old books, illustrating how people have been writing about food for a very long time. One passage described a dinner scene from The Dead, while another were the words of a 19th century travel writer, who’s name escapes me (apologies, I’d forgotten to take my pen out at this stage) describing his stay at the Shelbourne Hotel. It was to set the tone of the evening, as each writer spoke of how they fell in love with food.

The chat was lively and what was so inspiring was seeing the shared passion for food and its origins. Catherine Fulvio spoke with wit and passion and was as lovely and funny as she is on her TV programme. She had the room laughing at her tales of her attempts to extract old Sicilian recipes from her husband’s family.

Ross Golden Bannon, editor of Food & Wine Magazine recommended people do a ‘Chicken Test’. Take a cheap supermarket chicken and an organic one, whack them in the oven and cook together. Then do a taste test and he guarantees you will never buy a cheap supermarket one again. He’s right, you know. I do a roast chicken every Sunday night and since turning to organic, I can’t turn back. He also passed on his mother’s advice; when giving a friend a recipe, always leave an ingredient out! The audience laughed and I swear I saw a group of women look at each other and nod.

The prestigious Georgina Campbell spoke with nostalgia for traditional, simple dishes and even made a plea for us to return to such. “It’s down to the ingredients and the love put into the dish,” she said. She observed how simple dishes are what Irish food is and always has been. “It suits the climate and the country we live in.” This she said, is the real food of Ireland.

She also gave a couple of good book recommendations for food lovers, one of which is Florence Irwin, The Cooking Woman. I’ll be searching Dublin bookshops for this at the weekend.

Each writer spoke passionately about the produce Ireland has, and Georgina Campbell applauded the praise producers are finally getting for all their hard work. It was agreed that cooking is really down to the ingredients used, it doesn’t have to be a complicated dish, just cooked with passion and fresh ingredients.

This is something I’ve talked much about with the restauranteurs I’ve met over the past year or so. Visiting many of the countries farmers markets highlighted to me just how many people are working to provide the very best of produce. We are a country of the land and no matter what the Celtic Tiger changed, it has not changed the heart of this country. The land and those that work it, have always been at Ireland’s core.

Catherine Fulvio mentioned Failte Ireland’s new initiative Place on a Plate, something I researched only recently and recommend you read up on as it’s an interesting and exciting concept.

For me it was wonderful being in a room with so many people passionate about food. In my mind, food is all about bringing people together, sitting and spending time with those you love.

I didn’t get a chance to tell Georgina that during my travels around Ireland I was on a secret mission to find somewhere wonderful she had not yet discovered. Her silver GC signs hanging outside hidden restaurants and cafes throughout the country had two effects on me. One, I’d missed finding my hidden gem, two, I knew I was on the right path.

At the end of the evening Catherine Cleary described cooking beautifully. “Cooking is meditation with great food at the end of it.”

Thank you UNESCO Dublin City of Literature for a wonderful evening and well done!

Other events by UNESCO Dublin City of Literature click here

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