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Nutrition

Gourmet Nutritionist: Irish cuisine is about more than potatoes

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: June 8, 2013 at 11:31 AM

Ireland is best known for its magnificent countryside, expansive seascapes and haunting remnants of medieval castles. Its people are also celebrated for their jovial nature and optimistic spirit, born from ages of civil war, famine and economic hardship.

Visiting Ireland earlier this month, I wasn't surprised to see breathtaking, rolling hills, nor was I shocked by the amount of whiskey and Guinness that flowed. What caught my attention were the diverse, fresh and culinary-forward items being served in restaurants from bustling Dublin to charming Durrus.

When Americans think of Irish cuisine, they think of potatoes, corned beef, over-cooked cabbage, fried cod and beer. Frankly, if I were Irish, I'd be mortified. This stereotype of Irish food couldn't be further from the truth.

Real Irish meals include lamb stew redolent with the scent of herbs and slowly-cooked root vegetables; cheese so flavorful and beautifully crafted, a Frenchman would take note; tender brown breads and luxurious Irish butter; fruit-laden jams; fresh tarts bursting with local apples, and delicate, meatless pies such as braised leek and cheese. The country's cuisine is just waiting to be discovered.

Within the next five years, I predict that Ireland will become a coveted destination for gourmets and gourmands alike, for several reasons. Only a few years ago, Irish cheese was practically nonexistent. Today, small dairies dot the landscape and produce superb artisan cheese. Fishmongers offer the best muscles, cod, salmon, char, haddock and trout you'll find anywhere. Strawberries are cultivated and blueberries and blackberries grow wild. Chefs who insist on antibiotic-free eggs can easily find them, and butchers in every town supply fresh meat that may sometimes come from their own stock.

So, it's no wonder that when the village of Ballymaloe in County Cork decided to have its first ever Literary Festival of Food & Wine in May, some of the world's best chefs, critics and commentators, kitchen gardeners, foragers and wine experts came to town.

Ballymaloe, in Ireland's South-West, is also home to its namesake Cookery School (http://www.cookingisfun.ie/), run by chef, food writer, cookbook author and television presenter Darina Allen. Located on a 100-acre organic farm, students are welcome to take classes for a half-day, week or even certificate courses that last several months.

Also in County Cork is the Good Things Café and Cookery School (http://www.thegoodthingscafe.com/), run by the charming and talented Carmel Somer, author of “Eat Good Things Every Day: Bringing Good Food to the Family Table” (Attic Press, 2010). She offers inspired courses (The Happy Vegan, The Man Class) that promise you will leave feeling confident in the kitchen.

County Kilkenny, in the country's South-East region, is also eager to showcase its very best to visitors. The Taste of Kilkenny Food Trail (www.trailkilkenny.ie) is a new project designed to promote an awareness of local food producers and establish a broader consciousness of Irish cooking.

Both Kilkenny City and Thomastown are brimming with cafes and restaurants where you can try fresh, exciting and truly authentic meals. Farmgate, Zuni, The Thatch Pub Grannagh Castle and Foodworks are just a few.

For more inspired reading, visit www.goodfoodireland.ie.

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