Forget the stereotypes: modern Irish cooking isn’t all about potatoes. In fact, given the rocky island’s ample coastlines and verdant fields, Ireland happens to boast an incredibly rich natural larder that goes well beyond root vegetables – not to mention award-winning chefs with the know-how to turn local ingredients into innovative and exciting plates.
At The Lodge at Ashford Castle, we’re happy to have one of the country’s best culinary-forward restaurants right on-site. Head Chef Jonathan Keane is the brains behind the boundary-pushing menu at Wilde’s. A gifted champion of Irish cuisine and seasonal, local produce, Keane seeks to produce thought-provoking dishes that retain that all-important element of theatre. Deemed ‘one of the country’s most exciting chefs’ by Taste of Ireland, and a proud chairperson for the Slow Food Movement in Mayo (a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and celebrating the best of the region’s food and produce), Keane takes local food traditions and techniques handed down through the generations and gives them new life and personality. Priding himself on creating provocative new flavour combinations – smoked bacon ice cream, anyone? – Keane is both playful and creative with his ingredients; there’s nothing he loves more than hearing diners say, “Wow, that works really well!”
At its core, Keane’s mission is to produce simple, focused food with contemporary – even avant-garde – sensibilities. He sources local, fresh, and most importantly, seasonal ingredients to create his vision of modern Irish cooking. All ingredients are sourced from artisanal producers in West Ireland, and Keane and his team also forage for wild nuts and flowers to complete his plates – a ritual stemming from his childhood in rural Ireland. The menu at Wilde’s changes on a regular basis and closely follows the seasons – this means wild garlic in spring; fresh, Mayo-sourced seafood in summer; game, venison and wild berries in autumn; and, of course, a good dose of seasonal spices at Christmas.
Beyond Wilde’s, there are a number of other stellar eateries spread across the country – many of which Keane personally recommends. His pick of pioneers in modern Irish cooking include Michelin-starred L’Ecrivain, a top Dublin address, as well as Belfast-based caterers The Fatted Calf. Meanwhile, Keane’s self-confessed greatest culinary influence is Myrtle Allen, the ‘renowned matriarch of modern Irish cooking’, and the owner and founder of the award-winning restaurant at Ballymaloe.
Outside of restaurant kitchens, a number of other voices in the local culinary scene are also doing their part to elevate the reputation of modern Irish cooking at home and abroad. Ex-entertainer and avid self-taught cook Donal Skehan is today a popular blogger, food television presenter, and author of five cookbooks aimed at inspiring young chefs to explore the cuisine of their heritage. And cookbook author and food personality Rachel Allen is undoubtedly one of Ireland’s biggest names in gastronomy; having attended the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School, she was said by Good Food Magazine to have ‘put Irish cooking on the map in recent years’.
So, can the country’s culinary culture reinvent itself – and lose the outdated stereotypes? Keane thinks it can. Keane attributes any negative reputations surrounding Irish cuisine to lack of knowledge rather than first-hand experience. It also helps, he says, that Irish chefs are growing in confidence and are starting to believe in the produce available to them, instead of feeling pressure to simply reproduce what’s happening in London or Paris. Celebrate with a dinner reservation (or several), then: the revolution in modern Irish cooking has certainly taken hold.
If you fancy recreating one of Wilde’s exciting avant-garde dishes at home, take a peak at the recipe below, and make sure to follow Jonathan on Twitter @jfkeane79
Recipe: Home-Salt Hake with Berries, Herbs, Citrus, and Truffle
For the fish:
4 180g pieces of hake
Zest of 1 lime
Zest of ½ lemon
2 tsp chopped fresh dill
4 tsp Achill Island sea salt
4 tsp lime juice
Set aside the hake. Mix all other ingredients together in a bowl to form the marinade. In a non-reactive dish, place the fish and rub in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate, and leave to marinate for a minimum of 24 hours but up to 48 hours.
For the dressing:
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 lime
1 diced summer truffle
20ml white truffle oil
20ml lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Slowly heat until a thermometer registers 45 degrees C. Remove the pan from the hob and, once slightly cooled, blend in a food processor to create an emulsion. Once blended, strain through a fine sieve to ensure textural consistency. You can store the mixture for up to two weeks
For the salad:
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large pan on a high heat. Add the hake and quickly sear on both sides until golden brown on top and skin is crisp. To finish cooking, place the pan of seared hake in a pre-heated 200-degree oven for four minutes.
While the hake finishes cooking, toss all salad ingredients together in a bowl (you will need roughly equivalent amounts of each ingredient, though exact proportions are flexible). Just before serving, coat the salad in the dressing.
To serve, plate the four pieces of hake. Arrange salad on top, with a good coating of dressing; as an optional touch, you can finish the dish with a spray of pomegranate vinegar. Serve immediately.
Header Image: Home-Salt Hake with Berries, Herbs, Citrus, and Truffle © The Lodge at Ashford Castle/Julia Dunin