True characters

Sat, Sep 29, 2012, 01:00

John McKenna,author and publisher

In Ireland, good food is . . .the heartfelt work of a cook who wants to make you happy by feeding you; the instinctive understanding of an artisan who wants to make magic from their raw materials.

Some of the best things I’ve discovered while travelling around the country looking for food success stories are .. . how remarkably creative food producers and farmers are, and how willing and happy they are to share their knowledge.

The one food business idea I wish I’d had is . .. still waiting for me: selling grass-fed, organic Irish beef and lamb as the health food it is.

The trends in artisan food production in Ireland are. . . sourdough bread; traditional breed pork; craft beers. Boutique distilleries and fermented foods are coming next.

The things we do best are. . . butter, beef, lamb, farmhouse cheeses, sincerity.

But we could be better at . . .making our farms into valuable, productive, family brands.

It gives me a buzz when. . . you can taste the human ingenuity, creativity and endeavour in a food: that’s good eating.

The best advice I’ve ever been given . . .came from the late Richard Olney, author of my favourite cookery book, Simple French Food. “I believe in magic”, he said to me.

If I wasn’t doing this I’d . . .follow my hero, Wendell Berry, and try to be a poet, and a farmer.

When I’m not working. . . I cook for my wife, Sally, and our kids, listen to a lot of noisy jazz, and fail dismally as a gardener.

My dream dinner party guests would be. . . the editors who work with us on The Irish Food Guide – Caroline B; Eamon; Aoife; Caroline H; William; Joe; Leslie; Claire and Connie.

And I’d cook them. . . Sally Barnes’s smoked salmon; slow-cooked Ring of Kerry mountain lamb; Irish cheeses; Diana Henry’s Middle Eastern Orange Cake.

Five things I always have in my larder are. . . Durrus cheese, Gubbeen bacon, Sally’s sourdough, West Cork sea salt, anchovies.

My ideal day off is spent . .. hunting in the woods for that perfect cep. I’ll find it someday.

I’m really good at .. . golf, tragically. I live every day with the shame.

I wish I was better at. . . filleting fish. How come I can never improve?

Not many people know this about me, but. . . I wrote for Hot Press when I was a student. My music journalism is the worst in the history of the printed word.

My guilty pleasure is . .. Power’s Gold Label whiskey, a drink to both fire and quell the heart.

In conversation with Marie-Claire Digby

John McKenna is author of The Irish Food Guide, published by Estragon Press (€15), in bookshops and from guides.ie.

PHOTOGRAPH: JOHN CAREY

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