My take on the Celtic Cook-off

Clockwise from top left: John McKenna (MC), Stephane Delourme,  Jack Stein,  Tony Singh,
Ian Bennett ,   Butch Buttery,  Garry O'Hanlon

The Celtic chefs: their dishes and their thoughts
My take on the Celtic Cook-off

It looks as if all six Celtic Cook-off chefs enjoyed this week’s visit to West Cork and hopes are high that some of them will be back again, following the example of Roy Brett the 2011 champion.

Roy, whose restaurant is the Ondine in Edinburgh, was guest chef at the West Cork Hotel on Tuesday night where he displayed his talents with a fantastic meal called A Taste of Ondine, one of the highlights for the week.

But a highlight for Roy and he said as much at the Cook-off on Wednesday was the Secondary Schools Cookery Competition. “This was one of the best moments. We can learn from the children, the food is part of their blood. The winners, the Mercy Heights, were outstanding, the food was incredible. The kids here have a great knowledge of food.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Jack Stein who served up a dish of Monkfish Cheeks as his meal in the Cook-off. “Food, culture, music, all the same thing,” he said, echoing the words I heard not too long ago from Kay Harte of Cork’s Farmgate.

Interview by MC John McKenna, Stein went on to emphasise the part that these elements, food in particular, can play in improving local life and keeping the kids at home. “Good restaurants draw people in and extend the holiday season”. A point emphasised by the fact that the Stein organisation in Cornwall employs some 450 people!

Stephane Delourme (from Brittany) also works with the Stein company, at the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. Before that he worked in Dublin and was a regular visitor to Baltimore which he loved. He has noticed a huge improvement in Irish food over the last 13 or 14 years. He served up a dish of Dover Sole with local mussels, vegetables and beans from Brittany.

There was a big welcome for Wales representative Ian Bennett (of the Welcome to Town Restaurant) and he spoke of a fairly similar food scene in his native country where his fisherman rings him from the boat and tells him what he has. “You can’t get fresher than that!” Not surprisingly, fish featured in his dish: Union Hall Turbot with mussels, parsnips and Stonewell cider. By the way, we weren't supplied with a list of ingredients for the dishes so my lists are not complete!

Garry O’Hanlon of the Viewmount House in Longford won the Cook-off with his Hill Lamb (loin), a current dish in the restaurant. Local vegetables and fried bone marrow featured in the dish as did the newish West Cork Garlic, treated with a little local honey. I liked Garry’s modus operandi: “Find the ingredients, then bounce from there.”

Tony Singh, the man who “brought cocktails to Edinburgh” is co-founder of that city’s acclaimed restaurant Oloroso. He said we had fantastic produce here and used lamb and langoustines, spicy potato and a minted herb salsa verde. MC John McKenna praised Tony for using the spices “with sympathy and knowledge”.

Baltimore seafood featured heavily in Butch Buttery’s dish. Among many other roles, Butch is chef and recipe consultant for the Manx Organic Network and Island Seafoods. Langoustines, lobster, prawns, mussels and monkfish, even Sally Barnes’ fabulous smoked haddock, not forgetting his Isle of Man scallops (each chef was allowed an ingredient from home) were all added to the Bisque type mix.

It looked well too with the langoustines attempting to escape the bowl. Butch though said that this wasn't a “dish to worship, get it in and get it down.”

‘It’s a tribute to the quality of our award-winning West Cork producers that top chefs are so willing to come to West Cork and cook with our world class food,’ said Neil Grant, manager of the West Cork Hotel. ‘All of this year’s competitors have been truly impressed by the produce available to us here and these are chefs at the top of their game, they don’t mince their words!’

“It is great festival, unbelievable the amount of voluntary work that goes into it. A massive thanks to the suppliers, sponsors, judges, to the chefs and to Roy Brett who has been a brilliant ambassador for us. Must also mention Fáilte Ireland, great backers and here in force this evening.”

Neil had praise for Clare Gallagher, chairperson of the organising committee, for Avril Allshire, and Sally Barnes and Stephen Sage, his colleagues on the Working Group. It was a very enjoyable evening, though I thought the visual delivery to the 200 plus audience in the ballroom lacked a bit but I’m told they are working on that for next year.

So onwards and upwards with the Celtic Cook-off. The more we pull together the further we will go!