A Tasty Morning With Karen Coakley
On Kenmare Foodies Tour.
|Enthusiastic Emma at Maison Gourmet|
Henry Street is abuzz this sunny mid-May morning. Shoppers out and about, drivers trying to find parking. All kinds of small shops here, cafés and bars too. But we’re in a back lane watching bakers at work. We’re privileged because we’re with Karen Coakley, the Kenmare Foodie herself, and her Kenmare Foodie Tour takes you to places you won’t get to on your own, allows you see what goes on behind the scenes (away from the bustling street and the busy counters) and in most places you get to chat with the person or persons who started the food (or drink) business.
Margaret of Kenmare Ice Cream is one of those protagonists. Rose also plays a key role but she has to leave on business and it is Margaret that tells us the story. Both are Ballymaloe trained and were looking to start something in 2007. A gourmet deli was the first aim and they did much work on that before a discouraging coffee stop in Adare put them off. By the time they got back to Kenmare the ice cream idea was born but not yet taken seriously!
|Margaret at Kenmare Ice Cream|
But after research, it quickly gathered momentum and they got some equipment. How do we sell? They bought a tricycle, added three planks, and Margaret went off selling while Rose made the ice-cream. By the end of that summer, with over 11,000 scoops sold, they knew they were on to something.
Soon they had to scale up. They found “proper equipment” , including a 24 flavour cabinet, and a UK expert came over to give them two days training. They had started making French style ice cream but now switched to the Italian style. “Because it’s all about flavour,” said Margaret. “More so than the richer (egg based) French style. Raspberry Ripple was our first flavour, and still my favourite. We stay as clean and green as we can. Four years ago, we started making whipped ice cream and that is now a big success. We do high quality but at a good price.”
Their Bia Bia is a full scale cafe, including ice-cream of course, in Railway Street while Kenmare Ice Cream, where we visited, can be found on Henry Street (open 11.00am to 11.00pm in season when Margaret and Rose have 22 people employed). Oh yes, you may still see that tricycle around Kenmare on special occasions but their famous cow, Moodini, is parked up for a while, awaiting a suitable grazing spot!
|Patrick and Emma talk sourdough|
If you’re arriving in Kenmare from the West Cork side, you’ll spot Maison Gourmet on top of Henry Street on your left. It was here, on the terrace at the rear that we joined up with Karen and her group. Soon, we met Emma, the French lady behind the bakery/café. And she took us out the back, to the lane where the bakery is and where we got our hands on the dough and fashioned our little baguettes (which we would collect, nicely baked, at the end of the tour).
Here they use a rather special butter, the Isigny AOC (now AOP). They can’t use Irish butter. It is good but it doesn’t have the same elasticity as the Isigny. Emma, having been part of large bakeries in Carcassonne and Toulouse, is delighted to be in Kenmare and you can see that Kenmare is delighted to have her and her bakery. Amazing too how many French visitors find their way to Maison Gourmet. Maybe it's that tempting smell of the breads, cakes and Java coffee.
Thirty years ago, she met Patrick who was already a baker, fell in love with the baking and the baker. Emma has “flirted” with Ireland since she came here as an au pair when she was twenty. Then, 3 years ago, she and husband Patrick “took the path of our dream and we opened a bakery in Kenmare. That was the best idea that we ever had.”
|Beara Gin truffles at Lorge|
Their butter and flour may be imported from France but they also use lots of high quality Irish produce in the busy café. But it is the breads (including sourdough) and pastries that attract me, all those classics from butter croissants to pain au chocolat (again the very best of chocolate is used) to Macarons to Mille Feuille, strawberry tartlets and more.
|Olivier (On the Wild Side)|
More chocolate down the street where’ll you find the Lorge shop. Hard to believe he started making chocolate by accident. His “factory” at nearby Bonane is housed in the old post office and is now a thriving business. Karen told us he is currently working with Beara Gin and indeed we sampled some of those delicious white chocolate truffles and, later, bought some bars and a bag of his marshmallow.
|Alain knows his wines|
Soon we found ourselves down by the town park where the weekly market was in progress. As we walked, Karen was dispensing food and recipe ideas, lots of tips all the way through the morning.
At the market, we sampled the cured meats (including a beetroot and pork saucisson and a delicious chorizo) by Olivier of On the Wild Side. Later we called back to get some of his paté and also those Merguez Lamb Sausages. Cheese samples then, including Milleens and Coolea, from Christian’s cheese stall where he had many choices for his customers.
“How about a glass of wine?,” said Karen. Oh yes was the answer. We headed for the Vanilla Grape, a wine and card shop owned by Alain and Christine. “We are here 15 years now,” said Christine. “though those shelves are over 100 years old.” Frenchman Alain is always on the lookout to give his customers wine at a good price, not easy though considering we “had two tax hikes since the recession”.
But he did have just the job for us, a Cà Vittoria apassimento style, not from the Veneto but from Puglia, and well priced at €19.50. As we sipped the Nero D’Avola, we discussed serving temperatures with Alain saying the fridge is not a friend of wine. Had another chat with him later in the afternoon and bought myself a bottle of Chateau Vincen from Cahors much to the delight of Alain who himself is from the area (Figeac).
|Making coffee with the Syphon|
Alexa and Dave are the duo behind Babors Beans at the Brewhouse in the Square. Here they are serving top quality coffees, sharing bites, monstrous burgers and zesty cocktails to brighten up your day. But we’re here for the coffee that they roast themselves.
Dave told me they have eight single origins and five blends. He has to keep an eye on the price. “You have to watch the market as the price changes every day. It is too expensive to buy from the individual farmers. I get mine from Inter America Company.
He is, of course a passionate enthusiast. “You can drink 10 to 15 cups a day and it’ll do no harm if you drink a lot of water as well!” He showed us two ways of making coffee, with the Syphon (which I preferred) and with the Chemex. We also enjoyed an espresso. By the way, not alone can you buy 250 grm bags of the various coffees here but you can also get the implements including the Syphon and Chemex. The new roastery is close to being ready and then he’ll be doing classes and demos and no doubt Karen will have that on her tours as well!
After all that, it was back up to Maison Gourmet to collect our loaves and say goodbye to one another. The tour takes about three hours but it was so enjoyable, with so many different and informative chats, that the time flew.
|Christian and his cheeses|
Get all the info on Kenmare Foodie Tours here. Karen is always working on varying the tour and soon there’ll be a fish call.