Food file



The Totally Tipperary Food Festival takes place in the grounds of Cloughjordan House next Saturday, as part of the Cloughjordan Festival. In the Seomra Blog Bia marquee, amateur and professional cooks will be doing demonstrations using only Tipperary produce. There will also be food talks, local food stalls, and live music. See

Fire it up in the garden

This summer’s gotta-get-it gadget is a wood-fired outdoor oven. A colleague has regaled me with stories of perfect pizzas cooked on a terrace overlooking the sea in Courttown. And then of course there are the joints of lamb, slow roasted overnight in the cooling oven, and bread that has to be tasted to be believed.

Neil Shirt, who was exective chef with the Itsa empire before setting up Neil Shirt Catering just over a year ago, has been chronicling his experiences of building an eco-friendly (in so far as he set out to use only dumped or recyled materials) clay oven in his garden.“A builder was happy to give me the few bricks and blocks I needed. I also got a few huge lumps of granite which now form the entrance of the oven. The clay – I think mine would be better described as sub-soil/mud – came from under a 150-year-old oak tree in a nearby country estate. The tree had died and the groundsman was digging up the huge root. The timber I used to support the 12-inch deep insulation layer and brick hearth was the slats from my old bed. The only things I had to buy were builders’ sand, cement and wood shavings,” Shirt says. The finished oven is a little rustic looking, but it does the job – and cost him buttons. You can follow his adventures in wood-fired oven building online at Use the hashtag #Neilsoven for a step-by-step account.

If, however, you value form as much as function, this Jamie Oliver model (left) comes in kit form and can be delivered to Ireland. It costs from £1,875/€2,100, plus delivery. See or telephone 00-44-0203-375-5399. For further wood-fired inspiration (and maybe a cynical smile), take a look at Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, where a recent (May 26th) newsletter opens with the words: “One of the best things I’ve ever done was to build a wood burning oven in the back yard.”

Book of the week

Truly Tasty,by Valerie Twomey, published by Atrium/Cork University Press, €19.95

We’re bringing this cookbook to your attention again as it has just been awarded the Miriam Polunin award for work on healthy eating, as judged by members of the UK Guild of Food Writers. The author, Valerie Twomey, had a kidney transplant in 2000, and her winning book features recipes from more than 30 Irish chefs, who each designed a three-course menu from a list of ingredients drawn up by renal dieticians, and wrote short accounts of how they came up with their menus. The book beat off stiff competition from Sugar and the Soda Tax, an episode of The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4, and An Edible Adventure, by the writer and TV presenter Stefan Gates.

Championing Irish food

Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe was presented with the inaugural Taste Icon award, in association with Taste of Dublin, at a lunch in Newman House last week, The award, for her contribution to the Irish food industry, was presented by Senator Feargal Quinn (right). The guest list of 50 included many of the country’s top chefs, some of them former pupils of Myrtle Allen’s. The celebrations continued with a family dinner at Chapter One restaurant.

Goodie bags

Salad bags aren’t usually very exciting, but a new range from an Irish company, Donnelly Fresh Foods, is worth trying. The family-run firm aims to use only Irish leaves (where possible) in its range of seven salad bags. The Irish-grown leaves are harvested, washed, bagged and on shop shelves within 24 hours.

We tried the Caesar (rrp €3.50), which comes with sundried tomato bruschetta croutons, Parmesan flakes, and a really zingy Caesar dressing to coat the Cos lettuce , and were pleasantly surprised. Stockists include

Superquinn, Donnybrook Fair, Spar, Londis and Costcutters.