My most memorable meal, by Joe Duffy, Liz Nugent, Stefanie Preissner and more

Sunset in the town of Oia on the Greek island of Santorini. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images
As restaurants prepare to open, we asked well-known people about the meal they remember the most

Joe Duffy: Breakfast in the woods

Broadcaster Joe Duffy
Broadcaster Joe Duffy

In a mobile home near Gorey, a group of families would spend the summer. We’d head off with a gaggle to children into the woods. I never set off without my Trangia cookset. It comes with a kettle, two pots, frying pan and a methylated spirits burner. All slip into each other for an ultralight kitchen– no bigger than a Dublin telephone directory – if you can remember that relic of oul decency.

There is nothing better than a hot meal outdoors! But cooking the food – sausages, crispy streaky rashers, Rooster potatoes – before leaving home is key. The methylated spirits burner is lit and you set about reheating the sausages and rashers. Add the sliced roasted potatoes and you’ll have a gang of children salivating over your shoulders! The beans – Batchelors beans, of course – are heated, the kettle boiled for a glorious cup of tea and don’t forget the pre-buttered sliced pan!
Joe Duffy is a broadcaster.

Brianna Parkins: Family Christmas dinner

Brianna Parkins at Virgin Media One, where she works as a reporter, having moved to Ireland from Australia
Brianna Parkins at Virgin Media One, where she works as a reporter, having moved to Ireland from Australia

The meal I can’t shake is the Christmas spread at my grandparent’s house in New South Wales. They’d bought the house out of a packet and put it together on a block across the road from the beach. Like most pre-fab houses it was never really finished but managed to hold 22 of us plus a shifting cast of boyfriends and girlfriends over the years.

During the day, us kids didn’t wear shoes, rode bikes without brakes and swam on unpatrolled beaches. Then we’d be summoned to lunch in the burnt orange and brown rumpus room. The pool table held special occasion treats like roast chicken, cabanossi and Vienetta if we were really lucky. The plates were paper because wasting 30 degree weather washing up made no sense when we’d overly competitive cricket games to play.

Once a cooler cousin lit what my dad called a “jazz musician’s cigarette”. He didn’t check the wind direction and smoke wafted up to my aunty upstairs on the balcony. After getting a whiff of “mariaggejewahana”, she threatened to tip her wine over his head. I still laugh thinking about it. I wish I called my family as much as I thought about them. Now the house is sold. We’ve lost my grandfather, my cousin and sadly my uncle two weeks ago. We’ll never have these meals again which is why they stick in my memory because that’s the only place they exist now. And I treasure them for that.
Brianna Parkins is a television reporter with Virgin Media Television

Stefanie Preissner: Messy dressed crab

Author Stefanie Preissner. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Author Stefanie Preissner. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

There’s something bitter sweet about having the best meal of your life. It’s a rubicon crossed and you know everything after that will be tarnished by comparison. I’d such a meal in a beachfront restaurant called Julia’s on the Algarve. I still measure every holiday dinner against the dressed king crab. You’re presented with a full crab whose insides have been scooped out, augmented with creamy dressing and placed back inside its shell. I love working for my food and in Julia’s you get tools with the crab. It’s like a video game – you’ve to unlock your dinner. It’s not pretty though. My boyfriend leaned in towards me as the sun set. I thought he was going to kiss me, but he pulled a shard of crab shell from my hair. Still, best meal I’ve ever had.
Stefanie Preissner is a writer

JP McMahon: Spaghetti Bolognese, Cashel, 1987

Chef JP McMahon. File photograph: Fusionshooters.
Chef JP McMahon. Photograph: Fusionshooters.

I have three enduring memories. When it comes to food my epiphany came in a bizarre place, a restaurant called Chez Hans in Cashel in 1987 when I had spaghetti Bolognese. Growing up we never had pasta in my house so it was an important moment in my relationship with food and the first time I got a real sense it could be something else. Everyone in my family ordered burgers and chips and I said I wanted the spaghetti Bolognese. My mum said “absolutely not because you won’t eat it”. But I insisted and it arrived and it was like a world of food suddenly opened up for me. Of course then Italia 90 happened and there was pasta everywhere.

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Colour came in to the county from that point on and we seemed to go from grey to green. The first time I went to Noma it was very special and I think between us me and my wife spent nearly €1,000, but it was a defining moment for me.

And the first time I was in Barcelona, I had pan con tomate with tortilla and coffee for and I remember thinking: “This is what breakfast should be”. I will never forget that.
JP McMahon is a Galway-based chef, restaurateur and author and owns Aniar and Cava Bodega, and Tartare

Henry McKean: Santorini souvlaki

I ordered souvlaki in Santorini in a bar with a burnt meat smell and Greek pop music playing. It was served by a smiling middle-aged man with a chain. Diced lamb or chicken on a street barbecue with fresh fruity tomatoes, minty tzatziki and soggy chips wrapped in pita bread and washed down with chocolate milk. We stayed up until 4am for the bakery to open to have fresh hot Greek apple pie for dessert. I really do miss food and travel.
Henry McKean is a Newstalk reporter.

Shane Hegarty: Do you like octopus?

Author Shane Hegarty. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Author Shane Hegarty. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Sorrento, Italy, 2001. Our honeymoon. We’d spent a week in Rome failing to comprehend the whole antipasto/primo/secondo etiquette and just ordering everything. The gluttony continued in Sorrento, a town over-run by tourists just like… well, just like us. At the end of our stay, in search of some semblance of authenticity, we wandered the town’s quieter lanes and spotted real-life Italian people in a basement restaurant. Before we could consider our options, the chef had spotted us, put chairs under our bottoms and set up a table. There was no menu, just a leading question. “Do you like octopus?”

He arrived back with a simple dish: an entire octopus, with every tentacle present and – in my memory at least – its beak still attached to the deflated bulbous head. The octopus was accompanied only by a simple tomato sauce. It tasted fantastic. Sure, the chef probably had loads of gone-off octopuses sitting out back that he needed to get rid of. And maybe a couple of gullible Irish newlyweds were just the ones to help him. But on a busy, glutinous honeymoon, that surprise of a simple dish on a quiet Italian street in evening sunshine is the one we still talk most about.
Shane Hegarty is an author

Muireann O’Connell: New York pizza

Muireann O Connell. File photograph: Brian McEvoy
Muireann O Connell. Photograph: Brian McEvoy

While friends headed off on their J1s that summer, I returned to Limerick. There were three of us who didn’t go away but found the cheapest flights we could and made it to America for a holiday instead. Setting off from Shannon felt like a huge adventure – Grace, Valerie and I going to the land of our favourite TV shows, cheaper designer bags and Abercrombie & Fitch. Oh yes, we were those girls.

After hanging around Boston and Cape Cod for a few days, we boarded a Greyhound bus (“Oh my god, there was a Greyhound bus in Buffy!”) and set off for Manhattan (“New York city!”). It was a Saturday night and we wanted what had been drilled into us as the quintessential New York meal. Pizza.

The American cousin told us where to go. There was the excitement of queuing with real New Yorkers, holding real dollars in our hands, trying to figure out if we’d tip. We watched the crowd and copied them. Success! We’d two pizzas - one pepperoni, one slathered with every other meat on the planet. Our New York experience was happening and all for $17!

Back in the apartment Valerie had a surprise. Saturday Night Live was on. The television! Live! Back then there was no YouTube, no easily accessed clips. But this was real-life New York. We settled on the tiny couch and ate what I remember as the best pizza of my life. It wasn’t fancy. It probably wasn’t particularly good but it was the moment, the three of us together, doing what other New Yorkers were doing. I loved it. I’ve returned to America since but no pizza has ever tasted the same.
Muireann O’Connell is a broadcaster

Elaine Crowley: Fishy chicken

Elaine Crowley. File photograph: Pic Brian McEvoy
Elaine Crowley. Photograph: Brian McEvoy

I’ve eaten some strange things in my time but one meal sticks in my mind and not for good reasons. Like many other 20-somethings I set off for Australia and a tour of the Gold Coast from the Whitsundays down to Sydney. I’d the time of my life and ate everything from Barracuda to Balmain Bugs. During the Contiki tour we’d a nocturnal visit to a crocodile farm. I wasn’t a fan. Their beady eyes shining at us in the night. There were hundreds of them. Dinnertime came and I was hoping for steak. Instead I had fishy chicken. I ate a crocodile. Not a whole one. One bite was enough. It’s still the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted.
Elaine Crowley presents the Elaine Show on VMTV

Liz Nugent: Chocolate mousse is tradition

Author Liz Nugent. File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.
Author Liz Nugent. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

When we arrived in St Pierre de Frugie on our honeymoon we realised the village had died. There was almost nothing there apart from a pub which opened at 6am for farmers who we’d hear shooting guns through the day, and a restaurant called La Saucisserie in an old sausage factory. We went there once or twice and then, for my 40th birthday, my family came and joined us. I chose the menu. The starter was white asparagus in hollandaise sauce. The owner told us it was traditional – somewhere – to pour wine into the bowl after finishing asparagus before drinking it. It was kind of disgusting.

We had roast duck with a plum sauce and for dessert there was chocolate mousse mainly because we have a ridiculous tradition in my family – when chocolate mousse is on a menu, you have to ask for chocolate mousse. That meal was something else, something special because I’d my new husband and my entire family gathered round me.
Liz Nugent is an author

Gareth Mullins: Seafood on the other side of the world

Gareth Mullins. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Gareth Mullins. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

In was 2007 and I’d finished as the executive chef in The W Hotel in Sydney and my wife and I decided to come home via Western Australia. We hired a camper van to travel around. One evening we bought marron, a type of crayfish, in a Freemantle market. I cooked them on the public barbecue and had garlic potatoes and a tomato salad drizzled with this really expensive olive oil I’d brought with me from Sydney. We didn’t have much money and it felt so extravagant to have this meal in the least extravagant of settings. There I was, this pasty Irish man in a Dublin jersey, shorts and flip flops eating the most amazing seafood on the other side of the world. It’s a memory I cherish and it brings home the emotional connection we have with food.
Gareth Mullins is the Executive Chef at the Marker Hotel in Dublin