James Kavanagh and William Murray: Turning personal story into a cookbook
Currabinny – the name used for new book – stuck the Murray family together after tragedy
James Kavanagh and William Murray of The Currabinny Cookbook, pictured in Cork. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
If you are of a certain age, most likely late teens or early 20s, you will probably be familiar with James Kavanagh. You might have partied vicariously online with him – and shared in his debilitating hangovers – or watched as the minutiae of his daily life is relayed on his Instagram and Twitter accounts.
If you are of another generation, you might have stumbled upon his antics online and marvelled at the fact that he is still in business – as a personality who works with brands to promote their message on social media – what with the wild nights out and the sometimes outrageous carry on.
It is a concern shared by the 29-year-old’s parents, who feature regularly in his video content. “My dad is obsessed with me and my career. He’s like, ‘Are you earning money. What are you doing today, are you making money?’ He rings me every day to ask me that, because he just doesn’t see what I do as a job.”
But dig a little deeper, and you will find a business savvy communicator who has been making a living from his social media activities for just over three years, having previously been employed in public relations for six years, where his clients included Kerrygold and Barry’s Tea.
The product he is promoting on the day we meet is on the table in front of us. Kavanagh and his partner William Murray, an artist, Ballymaloe-trained chef and part-time barman at L’Gueleton restaurant, have written The Currabinny Cookbook, a handsome well-structured collection of recipes using traditional, seasonal ingredients, given a contemporary slant.
Under the Currabinny banner, the pair do occasional private catering gigs and pop-ups, sell food at craft fairs and markets, and hope to eventually launch a homewares range. But first, they want to open a Currabinny cafe, and have an estate agent actively scouting for a site in Dublin.
“We actually found a stunning place, right opposite Pygmalion on Coppinger Row. It was in the basement of the Georgian Society building. But there was not enough space for a kitchen and 30 seats and you’d need 30 seats to make the money back,” Kavanagh says.
“Initially we were like, ‘we have to have the cafe open by the time the cookbook comes out’, but now we’ve let that go and it’ll happen when it happens,” Murray adds. The intention is that the cafe, and developing the Currabinny brand, will become full-time occupations for the pair.
Kavanagh and Murray met on the dating site, Grindr, and have been together five years. They could hardly be more different – Kavanagh is outgoing, flamboyant and funny. Murray is, by his own admission, “more reserved, quieter, happy out, in my studio, with a cup of tea”.
What they do share is a love of good food, and the book, the catering company and the planned cafe are joint ventures they have been working on since spending a summer at Murray’s home in Currabinny, near Carrigaline, in 2015.
The book is dedicated to the memory of Jenny Murray, William’s sister, who died in 2007, aged 19. “She was very athletic, she was very good in school, she would have been really good at singing, she acted, she was a sailing champion,” Murray says of his sister, who was four years his elder.
“It was the 29th of March. I woke up that morning and went to school ... the hall monitor came to the door and was like ‘William your parents are in the principal’s office, you need to come down’, and I was like ‘oh no, what have I done, I’ve obviously done something really bold’. I remember my mum saying that Jenny was dead.
“She woke up, she was studying for an art history exam, she had all her books and pictures of art around her in the bed. She texted her boyfriend, she was in first year UCC, and then she fell back asleep again. My dad went in to wake her up and he knew immediately that she was dead.
“ I think it was described to us like her brain sent an electric signal to her heart to stop . . . sudden adult death syndrome anyway.”
After Jenny’s death, Murray’s mother Breda Lynch, an artist and lecturer in the Crawford College of Art & Design, “retired immediately”, and his dad, Peter Murray, a barrister, “moved to Dublin [during the week], for a few years, to do some law thing he was doing up there”, Murray says.
“We all kind of detached from one another in a weird way. My parents were amazing and looked after me, but there was certain extent to which I had to look after them as well.You kind of lose your innocence a bit when you see your parents completely broken down.”
Currabinny, where the Murray family home looks out on to Cork harbour, near the village of Crosshaven, became the glue that stuck the family back together again after the tragedy. Breda has a studio there where she creates extraordinary, haunting structures made from found materials, and grows vegetables, and Peter, now retired, indulges his love of boats.
William and James are regular visitors, with their Insta-famous sphynx cat, Diana. The boys are preparing lunch – recipes from the book, of course – when the photographer and I drop by. Salads made with ingredients from Breda’s garden and glasshouse, grilled locally caught mackerel, and an array of delicious cakes and biscuits that mark Murray out as a gifted baker, are arranged on the dining table.
Kavanagh opens a bottle of Sancerre, and we are joined by Breda and Peter for a lively, chatty, wide-ranging discussion over lunch. And it is here, around the table, that a different side to Kavanagh becomes apparent. He is far, far more subdued than he appears on his social media feeds.
“I get overwhelmed,” he says, in the face of the Murray family’s energetic discourse. “All three of us are very self-righteous and very argumentative and we’re all very passionate about our opinions,” William explains.
“Sometimes myself and Breda will go into the sittingroom with some wine and let William and Peter go at it. It can go from the two of them shouting to the two of them laughing, in minutes. It’s bizarre, but kind of nice though,” Kavanagh adds.
Kavanagh and Murray on . . .
How to get a book deal: Penguin approached me. My brother John is Conor McGregor’s coach and they had done his book. We had to pitch to them, so they came to our house and we cooked a big spread for them – Kavanagh
Their recipes: We wanted a cookbook where the recipes wouldn’t scare your granny, but the would also impress a young person, that would make you get excited about things again. – Murray
Influencers: I hate that word and so does everyone who is an influencer – Kavanagh
Performing for social media: “There’s a reason people watch someone like James and not someone like me. There are some things James has done, and I’d be like, oh, it’s all over, it’s all done now, but actually it has turned out to be the best thing ever. – Murray
Campaigning for autism awareness: “I did a video with my nephew Sean, about his experiences with autism and it went viral, it was on the main American news shows, and in Australia too. I put it on Facebook and I think there were 20 millions views at one point. – Kavanagh
The Currabinny Cookbook, by James Kavanagh and William Murray, is published by Penguin Ireland, €20. Photographs by Bríd O’Donovan.
Currabinny Cookbook recipes
Ruby chard korma
3 cloves of garlic
A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
700g chestnut mushrooms
A large knob of butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Seeds from 10 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
A few pinches of ground cinnamon
A few pinches of chilli powder
3 bay leaves
350g ruby chard
200g natural yoghurt
150g crème fraîche
Toasted flaked almonds
1. Peel the onions, garlic and ginger. Slice the onions and mushrooms, grate the ginger and crush the garlic with some salt. Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onions, garlic and ginger with some salt and pepper.
2. When the onions have softened a bit, add the cardamom, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, chilli powder and bay leaves.
3. Now add the sliced mushrooms to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly. Pour in the water, stir, and simmer for 15 minutes, then check the seasoning.
4. Meanwhile, remove the stalks from the chard and add the leaves in batches to the pot until it is all wilted. Turn the heat to low and gently stir in the yoghurt and crème fraîche.
5. Serve with rice and top with the almonds and pomegranate seeds.
6. Don’t throw away the stalks. You can use them to make stock (they’ll keep in the freezer), but they are also really nice chopped roughly, sautéed with butter and served as a side dish with a main course.
Penne pasta with ham and cabbage, and kale, cashew and wakame pesto
200g penne pasta
1 tbsp butter
1 Savoy cabbage, shredded
100g cooked ham, or speck, prosciutto or pancetta
1 pickled walnut, sliced
Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve
For the pesto, makes about 250g:
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
60g curly kale, stalks removed
30g dried wakame, soaked in water and drained
Juice of 1 lemon
60g cashew nuts
80ml rapeseed oil
60g hard cheese such as Gruyère or Parmesan, or a hard mature sheep’s cheese such as Cáis na Tíre or Cratloe Hills, grated
1. Put the ingredients for the pesto into a food processor and blitz well combined but still textured and chunky. Add more oil to loosen up the mixture if needed. Decant into a sterilized jar and pour a little rapeseed oil over the top to seal. Refrigerate until needed (it will keep this way for 2 weeks).
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the penne and cook according to the packet instructions.
3. Meanwhile, put the butter and a drop of olive oil into a large, heavy-based frying pan on a medium heat and add the shredded cabbage. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cook the cabbage for 3 to 4 minutes until wilted, then tear in the ham and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add a little of the pasta water if it looks dry.
4. Add 2 tablespoons of the pesto and stir to combine, then cook for a further 2 to 3 minutes.
5. When the pasta is cooked, drain in a colander and add to the pan, stirring the sauce into the pasta until it is all well coated. Serve with a few slices of pickled walnut on top, and offer some extra grated Parmesan.
(In the book, this dish is made with wild garlic pesto; the seasonal substitution is at the authors’ suggestion)
Turkey burgers with chanterelles and Gruyère
25g butter, plus extra to fry the shallots
450g lean turkey mince
150g streaky bacon, finely chopped
1 medium organic egg
30g breadcrumbs (made from slightly stale bread)
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
2 tsp lemon zest
2 tbs grated Parmesan cheese
A good pinch of sea
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g chanterelle mushrooms
1 tbs chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
4 thin slices of Gruyère cheese
4 brioche buns
A handful of mixed leaves, such as rocket, watercress, baby chard
1. Peel and dice the shallots, then sauté in a frying pan with a little butter until softened. Put into a large mixing bowl with the turkey mince, bacon, egg, breadcrumbs, thyme, Worcester sauce, lemon zest and Parmesan. Season well with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
2. Form 4 equal-sized burgers with your hands and place on a plate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat your grill.
4. Put 25g of butter into a large pan on a medium-high heat, add the chanterelles and cook for around 5 minutes until soft. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate and drizzle over a little olive oil.
5. Fry the burgers in the pan over a medium heat, cooking for around 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Place a slice of Gruyère on top of each burger for the final 2 or 3 minutes of cooking.
6. Split the brioche buns and toast under the hot grill, then spread mayonnaise on both sides and add some salad leaves. Place a cheesy burger on the bottom half of each, load with the chanterelles and put the top piece of brioche on. Serve immediately.
Recipes extracted from The Currabinny Cookbook