Blind tasting: Kevin Aherne, Sage, Midleton

Loganberries, Valrhona dark chocolate, Rebel Red beer and honeysuckle syrup

The chef: Kevin Aherne, Sage, Midleton

I first bump into Kevin Aherne at Midleton Farmers' market, a kind of Irish food producers' walking, talking, (eating, drinking) hall of fame, where the very, very best of Irish food is on show and on sale to perhaps Ireland's most willing customers. It's the sort of place where a woman at the live lobster stand buys eight hefty beasts for her dinner guests that evening and English food author Simon Hopkinson can be found hugging smoker superstar Frank Hederman before discussing how his gravlax recipe is coming along.

Kevin is chatting with an upcoming food producer star, Lucy Creegan, at the Ballyhoura Mountain Mushroom stand, putting in an order for Sage, his Midleton restaurant. It's the proof that Sage's "12 Mile" menu claim is real – with all sustainably produced ingredients sourced within a 12 mile radius of Midleton.

He is charming and chatty, even to me, the loony woman who has come from France to blindfold him and feed him things. A few days later, arriving at Sage with my photographer Deirdre Rooney, he is exactly the same – no growling, moody chef attitude here, he simply radiates the love he has for his job.


We have only an hour to wrap our lunch, interview, tasting and shoot, but Kevin and his staff are so cheerfully professional we fit it all in – apart, perhaps, from enough examples of that amazing Sage cuisine. If produce like Noreen and Martin Conroy’s Woodside Farm Free Range Pork, Mike Kenneally’s Angus beef, Tom Clancy’s Ballycotton Free Range Poultry and, of course, those Ballyhoura Mushrooms, stays on the menu, I’ll be back.

Blind tasting

Loganberries from Rose Cottage, Mahon Point farmers’ market.

“Mmm. Great acidity. Raspberries?”

No, loganberries. I tell him.

"Ah, loganberries. They're very ripe? (They are.) We have such nice berries in Ireland.

“I’d probably put these in a dish like braised pork shoulder at the moment. It’s a bit of a wintery type dish and these would bring out the summer. They’re great in the dehydrator too. Brings out their core flavour and preserves without the need for oils...”

Valrhona dark chocolate.

“Mmm. That’s very good. Is it Wilkies? I’m excited there are so many great chocolate makers popping up all over Ireland. And I’m so lucky to have Wilkies just across the street! It’s all natural, organic, bean to bar, no preservatives. A fantastic product. We use it in our chocolate dessert, the Midleton Brick, which is really good, and really popular.” (I can confirm.)

Rebel Red beer

“This is so good. Same thing, it’s so exciting what’s happening with beer all over the world and in Ireland there are new craft breweries opening every day.

“They’re not all good, mind.

“But it’s a real revolution, another place to look for more local produce, and enrichening our beer culture no end.”

Honeysuckle syrup from Ballyhoura.

(Kevin takes a swig before I can warn him to just sip!)

“Wow. Very sweet! Is it honey?”

No, honeysuckle, I say.

“Ah, well you can taste the honey more than honeysuckle in there. I must use this. Though I try to do without sugar in desserts and use only honey.

“It’s a bit of a challenge for Nathan, the pastry chef, but it’s creative too. Ballyhoura are fantastic, and not just for mushrooms of course. I’m so lucky to have them nearby.”

Sage, The Courtyard, Main Street, Midleton, Co Cork Tel: 021-4639682