The ingredient series: ‘We can grow almost anything here’
Ireland’s food scene is unbelievably bright, says writer and chef Rory O’Connell, in the first in a series from Neff championing Ireland’s young farmers, growers and producers
‘What grows together goes together. We should be seeking out the best of local produce to create delicious flavours, says Rory O’Connell of Ballymaloe
There is an unequivocal passion in Rory O’Connell’s voice when he talks about the beauty of Irish food. Chef, author and one of the founders of the world-renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School, O’Connell’s love for cooking with Irish produce is infectious.
“What I love to cook with is always driven by the seasons. One of my favourite ingredients every year is mackerel. Also, I love the local spuds. So the combination of a Ballycotton potato, a lump of butter, the mackerel then to go with that. That, to me, is heaven on earth.”
Head chef of the famous Ballymaloe House for 10 years, he has also worked in some of the world’s finest kitchens with Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico in London, Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons and Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in California. His critically acclaimed cookbook, Master It was followed with a TV series How to Cook Well based on the cookbook.
One of nine children, O’Connell grew up near the village of Cullohill, County Laois. His sister, chef and author Darina Allen, is the daughter-in-law of the doyenne of Irish food, Myrtle Allen.
Cooking is absolutely my joy, I just feel unbelievably fortunate that by accident I discovered that I love to cook
The importance and the influence of Myrtle Allen in Irish food culture cannot be overstated. Myrtle and her husband Ivan Allen opened their Georgian home in Shanagarry, east Cork to the public as a restaurant in 1964, and later as a guesthouse. It is internationally regarded as the home of Irish country cuisine and one of the world’s top hotels.
“She felt it made sense for her to be using, cooking and presenting to her guests the local ingredients rather than things that had come from far away. And that influenced the food that she cooked and absolutely influenced anyone who worked for her, including me,” said O’Connell.
“Myrtle was at the forefront, she was the forefront really. I would say a lot of what she did changed the game in terms of Irish food and the slow “drip-drip-drip” realisation that has got us to this stage where what we produce on this island is world-class,” said O’Connell.
His mother was a fantastic cook and O’Connell knew how to roast a chicken and boil potatoes by the age of 12. He feels grateful that he found his vocation, having embarked on law to begin with.
“Cooking is absolutely my joy, I just feel unbelievably fortunate that by accident I discovered that I love to cook. When I left secondary school I went to university to study law but after a year I realised that wasn’t for me. Eventually, by default, I ended up in the kitchen in Ballymaloe House and within a week, I knew that was what I wanted to do, I just loved cooking.”
DELICIOUS NOURISHING FOOD
O’Connell co-founded Ballymaloe Cookery School with his sister Darina Allen in 1983. “We started the school together in a small way, and it’s gradually expanded to what it is now. At the moment, we have 62 residential students here for 12 weeks and it goes on like that throughout the year.”
The ethos of both Ballymaloe House and the school is to create delicious food that is also nourishing with what is growing, made, and comes from the surrounding gardens and locality.
Ireland is incredible, we can grow almost anything here
“The more local the ingredients are to us is what makes the food that we cook, in our opinion, taste delicious. It is completely based on the soil that is under our feet here in east Cork and with as many local ingredients as is possible.”
“That supports our own farms and gardens and our local farmers, our local producers. When what we serve does well it gives confidence to farmers and small producers who might have an idea for a product to go forward and to make a living and employ people. That is what keeps the world going round.”
The Irish food scene has never been better, he says. We have embraced the unique beauty and quality of our local treasures like grass-fed golden butter, fresh seasonal vegetables, delicious fruits, seafood and meat. The variety and availability of produce from producers in Ireland has expanded enormously from farmers and small producers to the “makers” like cheese makers, black pudding, chocolate and bread makers.
It is clear O’Connell is enamoured and fascinated by the “miraculous” nature of the local ingredients that are sourced and grown around him.
“Ireland is incredible, we can grow almost anything here. Our growing season is incredibly long. And for people who have a bit of cover like a tunnel or a glasshouse, then the growing season is almost year-round,” he said.
O’Connell thinks that we have to start taking responsibility for food production and how we are growing, processing and consuming food too.
“For a long time, we have definitely taken the planet for granted and we are starting to see the problems. We have got to take some responsibility now and mind it. Our ethos is (like the small producer) for the protection of the soil and the land and maintaining good quality land which means you have to maintain good quality soil and support producers who are producing in a smaller way which has less of a detrimental effect on the landscape around us.”
O’Connell said that, in general, he believes what grows together goes together and we should be seeking out the best of local produce to create delicious flavours.
“I think our guests from abroad want food that is produced and grown in Ireland, under the ground that they are walking on when they are here,” he said.
O’Connell believes the future is “unbelievably bright” for Ireland’s food scene.
“There is a tranche of young farmers, chefs and cooks who have travelled, they have been to Copenhagen, they have done the Nordic food thing, they have been to America and Australia and they now realise the quality of the ingredients here and you are starting to see it in restaurants. I think it’s dynamite what’s happening here and it is going to place us, I think, at the forefront of world food.”
Recipe: Rory O’Connell’s Asparagus Mimosa Salad
This combination of ingredients showcases the asparagus really well. The mimosa in the recipe title refers to the sieved hard-boiled egg yolks, which has a visual effect similar to that of the flowers on a mimosa tree.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 2 eggs
- 16-20 fat asparagus spears
- 16 fat Kalamata olives
- 20 rocket leaves
- 12 thin Parmesan shavings or pieces
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
- Chive and wild garlic flowers, if available
- 1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed to a paste
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Hard-boil the eggs by lowering them gently into a saucepan of boiling salted water and cooking them at a boil for exactly 10 minutes. If you don’t want the yolk to be completely hard, cook for 9 minutes. The salt in the water seasons the egg and will help to coagulate any white that might seep out of a crack in the shell, hence less leakage. Remove from the saucepan immediately with a slotted spoon and cool under a cold running tap.
- Remove the shell and cut the hard-boiled eggs in half. Chop the white finely. Pass the yolk through a sieve, using the back of a soup spoon to push the egg through to achieve a mimosa-type effect. Keep the chopped white and sieved yolk separate.
- To prepare the asparagus for cooking, snap off the tough end as close to the end of the spear as possible. Peel the tough skin from the bottom 6cm of each stalk. Try not to be too heavy-handed when peeling the stalks to avoid losing too much of the precious spears and also so as not to spoil the shape.
- Stone the olives by gently squashing them on a chopping board with the back of a knife and removing the stones. Chop the olive flesh finely and reserve.
- Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together, taste and correct the seasoning.
Neff and the importance of Irish food producers
As a brand, Neff is deeply passionate about quality food and the inclusive nature of cooking as a whole.
Ingredients are incredibly important and, furthermore, what’s so interesting is the story of where the produce comes from, how it is grown or produced and why someone chose to do it in the first place.
Neff is privileged to have so many outstanding food producers in Ireland and even more fortunate to get to work closely with their ingredients on a daily basis in its Dublin showroom.
Neff is partnering with seven Irish food producers from various food categories and their chefs cook with their own ingredients at Neff’s weekly cookery demonstrations. All of the producers are incredibly passionate about quality food.
There is such a strong foodie community in Ireland and, perhaps because of the size of the country, quality food is also so accessible. It’s the people and the story behind the food that makes the food so special.
Neff cooking appliances are designed by cooks for cooks. We strive to understand what our consumers want and incorporate that into the design process. The products are engineered to make the most of your culinary creations. Neff do this by building simple-to-use, innovative products, with additions such as added steam or microwave in our new ovens.
On top of this, Neff ovens come with CircoTherm, which is a fan design that delivers faster cooking capabilities. Neff also offers the unique Slide & Hide door that is the only one of its kind.
Most importantly, Neff aims to be a brand that enhances the consumers’ everyday cooking experience at home, one that is shared with family and friends.
For more, see neff-home.com/ie/
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