Simon Coveney: ‘A McDonald’s burger isn’t as unhealthy as some people suggest’
Look who’s coming to lunch: the Minister for Food, Simon Coveney, talks obesity, horsemeat and conflicts of interest
‘I don’t think you should be taking your kids to McDonald’s every day, but there’s nothing wrong with bringing them there for a treat.’ The Minister for Food, Simon Coveney, sits down to lunch at Hatch and Sons, in the basement of the Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke
Simon Coveney takes our reporter’s lunch at the request of the photographer, who thinks the salad is more photogenic than what the Minister has ordered. Photograph: Eric Luke
He spends his days talking about food – how to produce it, sell it and regulate it. But who knows what the Minister for Food really thinks about food? Perhaps Simon Coveney has a predilection for a Pot Noodle? Or maybe he will allow nothing less than the finest Hereford dry-aged steak to grace his table? Or – whisper it in case the cattle farmers hear – perhaps he’s a militant vegetarian in his spare time?
The Irish Times requests lunch with him to find out. But where? Choosing the steak emporium Shanahan’s on the Green will greatly please the beef industry, but the bill might make our accounts department reach for the smelling salts. The calorie-counting Dáil canteen is cheap and cheerful, but can lack pizzazz (unless Mattie McGrath parades by).
The suggestion from Coveney’s press adviser ticks all the right boxes. Hatch and Sons, in the basement of the Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen’s Green, prides itself on supporting artisan producers. It was named after a dairy that once graced Leeson Street in the late 1800s, and it focuses on everything being Irish, from rapeseed oil to flour, eggs to salad leaves.
So far, so appropriate. The basement of the Georgian house is packed when Coveney arrives, and a few heads turn to look at him. The 41-year-old Cork man has become a familiar face, particularly since the horsemeat scandal catapulted his department to the front pages.
He has eaten food from Hatch and Sons before, but as takeaway at his desk. The Minister for Food doesn’t have a lot of time to eat. In fact, he has lost weight since he took on the brief, as he misses meals and often delivers his speech and leaves before everyone else tucks in to lunch or dinner. “I do eat more seafood now, since I became Minister,” he says. “I’ve got to know the fishing industry a lot better and if I’m having a two- or three-course meal I feel I have to start with fish. It amazes me that Irish people don’t eat more fish.”
A meal fit for a Minister
Today he opts for the restaurant’s speciality, the beef and Guinness stew. No vegetarian tendencies there, then. Conscious of warnings that goat’s cheese is getting scarce, The Irish Times goes for broke with the Fivemiletown goat’s cheese salad with pear and walnuts. Eagle-eyed readers will observe that he’s about to tuck into my lunch in the photograph, but this is at the request of the photographer, who thinks the salad is more photogenic.
The goat’s cheese is excellent, and the Minister for Food gives his blessing to the stew, clearing his plate. As Minister for Food, he must have eaten the finest of dishes since he took office in 2011. In the unlikely event that this earnest agricultural science graduate finds himself on death row, what would his final request be?
“My favourite meal is probably roast chicken with roast potatoes and carrots, nicely cooked,” he says. When he finds time to cook, it’s usually pasta and chicken dishes. “I cook a bit in Dublin and sometimes in Cork at the weekends, cooking for the kids. If I have a bit more time, you can’t beat a nice Irish fillet steak.”