Showing posts with label Skibbereen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Skibbereen. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

UK – Here We Come. The Skibbereen Food Company's Piggy Products Hit the Shelves in Sainsbury’s in March.

UK – Here We Come

The Skibbereen Food Company

Piggy Products Hit the Shelves in Sainsbury’s
Matthew with some of his "hogalicious" products

Nine years on from an idea Matthew Brownie had from CIT in Cork, to winning the Best Business Plan for The CIT Innovation Award 2013, The Skibbereen Food Company (TSFC) goes from strength to strength from National coverage in Ireland to international markets in the UK with his successful Scratch My Pork and Pork Crunch ranges.

Amazon in the UK has been a great exposure for The Skibbereen Food Company which now has a 30 different snack products offering from 250g bulk bags of Pork Crackling to Pork Crunch to the branded 30g bags on the ready to go Clipstrip.

Matthew tells me that his “hogalicious products” are still selling strongly in his local area in West Cork. The Irish market continues to grow with new establishments stocking The Skibbereen Food Companies piggy products. Not forgetting Pembrokeshire in Wales where the first breakthrough came for him in overseas markets.

You'll find these in Sainsbury's next month.

The latest big news came at the start of December 2020 when four of Matthew’s products got accepted to be placed in 219 Sainsbury’s superstores that go live in March, which is something Matthew had been set on since the day he started his company

“This is very exciting news for me and my family, but pressure also comes with going into a major retailer in the UK. Being able to deliver and having scalability is a must in meeting all of Sainsbury’s requirements.

The company is going exactly where I want it to go and I set my goals 3 years ago to achieve this. From a local perspective I’m delighted to share the success with Skibbereen and West Cork, knowing that The Skibbereen Food Company logo will be proudly showcased around Sainsbury’s stores with the UK consumer enjoying my snacks.

SECAD Partnership / LEADER / Cork County Council and AIB bank has been a big part of TSFC moving forward with funding along Local West Cork Enterprise board. I have also started my own cooking YouTube channel that is proving to be a big hit."

What next from the Kiwi, the self-styled Culchie Chef?

Sunday, May 3, 2020

A Half-day Tour in West Cork? Now we can dream. Baltimore Beacon, Coffee Shop at Uillinn, Leap Waterfall

Half-day Tour in West Cork? Now we can dream a little.
Baltimore Beacon, Coffee Shop at Uillinn, Leap Waterfall

Actual Trip: 6th March 2020
The Beacon and, right, Sherkin Island

It’s a Friday and we’re heading west for a night, long booked at a bargain rate, in the Celtic Ross Hotel. The weather is dry and often bright so we leave a little early and eventually decide on a trip to the famous Beacon of Baltimore.

Plan was to arrive in Skibbereen around lunch-time with a visit to the Coffee Shop at Uillinn (which houses the West Cork Arts Centre and is popularly known as the Rust Bucket). I know that Jessie and Billy, who previously ran the operation in Union Hall, have transferred here.
Gubbeen sandwich and, left, a lovely Frittata
No bother finding parking in the town, indeed there are a few spaces available in the very central lot where the Saturday morning market is held and it’s free. We can see the “rusty” sides of the high-ish Uillinn from here and take an easy stroll over.

It is a small café with a good sized outdoor space for the better days. And there were a few hardy souls outside. But we headed in and Jessie, who told us they are edging towards their first anniversary here, filled us in on what was available. It is a small enough space, no kitchen area as such, but they make the best of some excellent local produce.

There are a few eye-catching light fittings around, including one colourful globe by the window that reflects some of the buildings across the way. But the most eye-filling piece of all is a large painting of the local Reen Pier area by artist John Kelly. In a few months this will be auctioned at Sotheby’s with the proceeds going to CUH and West Cork Rapid Response.

There is quite a choice: Sandwiches, Salads, Toasties, Frittata, Quiches, and more are on the menu, much of it chalked up on boards. Our order soon arrives. I am delighted with a toasted sandwich featuring Gubbeen ham and cheese and the delicious salad that comes with it. Much the same salad is with the well-made Frittata (CL’s choice). And we each enjoy a bottle of lovely Attyflin Estate Apple Juice. We did a bit of sharing and we agreed that the sandwich was one of the best of its kind that we’ve come across in recent years.

Back to the road then and into Baltimore. Fairly used to seeing it in summertime but I’ve never seen it as quiet. We don’t drive all the way to the Beacon and give ourselves a short walk. There’s a fair bit of mud and water at the start of the climb but we do stretch ourselves a bit to make it to the plateau!
At work. Lights on! 

The white painted signal tower at the entrance to the harbour is Baltimore's famous landmark. Jokingly, it is sometimes also called Lot's Wife by the locals, an allusion to the bible, where Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt.  It was built sometime in the 19th century. Various dates are mentioned but there seems to be some consensus that, in its present form, it dates from 1849 or thereabouts!

The views are well worth the climb, cliffs and sea to the left and right,the ocean and  Sherkin island ahead (a bit to the right) and the town and harbour behind.  We do find an easier way down but there’s still the odd slip or two and one of us gets a muddy behind!

Back to the harbour car park then. In the toilets, we see the first of those yellow Covid-19 safety signs - we would see them again in the hotel later on. A stroll around the village is next and we take a peek at the Customs House where work is going on inside in preparation for “a new concept” with an opening on March 19th (three days a week for Michelin chef Ahmed Dede and his team for a start). But that opening was knocked out (temporarily) by Covid19 but they did get going with a very popular takeaway service. Better days ahead!
The Beacon, from a previous visit
Lamp in the Coffee Shop

We skirt around Skibbereen on the way back and soon find ourselves in Leap. I spot the sign for the local waterfall. We’ve never seen it, so we park up on the street and head in the few yards. No charge but you are asked, via a notice, for a donation. After the recent rains, the water was flowing quickly down the narrow channel but the whole thing is on the small side. 

According to Wikipedia, the town’s full Irish name means "O'Donovan's Leap" and is derived from the story of a chieftain called O'Donovan, who was pursued by English soldiers, but escaped them by jumping across a ravine and its waterfall. A local website says “an O’Donovan leaped on horseback while being pursued by British soldiers”. Check it out here.  
Dunsead Castle
in Baltimore

After that, it's an easy drive back to Rosscarbery and to the Celtic Ross, our marvellous base for the night where we had a five star dinner. Read all about it here.

Actual Trip: 6th March 2020

Monday, September 3, 2018

Coming Home. Art and the Great Hunger

John Coll's Famine Funeral

Art and the Great Hunger is an exhibition of the world’s largest collection of famine related art and is being shown for the first time in Ireland. The collection, from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, constitutes a direct link to the past of almost 6.5 million Irish, and 40 million Irish-American people. The exhibition may be viewed at Uillinn, West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen until 13 October 2018 (Monday to Saturday: 10.00 am to 4.45 pm) and will be in Derry after Christmas.

The exhibition website: The death and dispersion of 2 million people, followed by a further 2 million emigrations to the end of the century, makes the exhibition an important gesture of cultural reconnection. The Irish diaspora defines Ireland’s place in the world today. The impact of the Famine is still with its descendants—both at home and abroad.

This major undertaking aims to strengthen the deep cultural connection between Ireland and its diaspora by showcasing the world’s largest collection of Great Hunger-related art never before exhibited on Irish soil. Please join with us in making this powerful artistic, cultural and educational endeavor a memorable one.

Walk in here to the Uillinn and you will cry, silently perhaps, but you will weep for the individual losses and the communal loss that dealt a close to knockout blow to the Irish nation, a blow that still reverberates. Who knows how this country would now stand if the four million needlessly lost to us through death and emigration had remained fed and healthy.

One poor soul has reached the end of the hungry road in John Coll's Famine Funeral (above), the corpse carried by a quartet who themselves are on their last legs, each wondering who will remain to carry him. And will there be someone there to identify him and make sure he is buried in consecrated ground? Many weren't given that privilege, vagrants and new-born babies among them.

The exhibition features works that focus on the time of the famine and its aftermath. Paintings dominate but the handful of sculptures, most of them modern, make powerful statements just like Famine Funeral. Many escaped the famine by boat only to die on arrival in New York and they are honoured by Rowan Gillespie's Statistic 1 & 11.
Detail from Rowan Gillespie's Statistic 1
There are paintings by well-known artists such as Jack B. Yeats and Paul Henry. Many paintings tell of emigration, a living death as most of those about to board ship were never to return. Gorta, a stark and powerful work, tinged in blue, by Lillian Lucy Davidson, depicts a poorly attended funeral. A child is being buried. The few relations have nothing and face a future of nothingness. One fingers a rosary beads.  Eli Eli lama sabachthani? (My God why hast thou forsaken me?).
Accompanied by a rich and diverse programme of performances, talks, lectures and events at Uillinn, and off-site in other locations in West Cork, Coming Home is a unique opportunity for the people of Cork and visitors to the region alike to experience artworks by major Irish and Irish American artists of the past 170 years such as Jack B. Yeats, Daniel MacDonald, Paul Henry, William Crozier, Hughie O'Donoghue, Dorothy Cross and Alanna O'Kelly. See it in Derry( January-March 2019).

The Uillinn
Associated Events (some now completed):

Explore the West Cork schools programme; a series of artist residencies in association with the Crawford Art Gallery and University College Cork; a unique performance by acclaimed Irish artist Alanna O'Kelly for Schull Workhouse, Anáil na Beatha; a reading by Jeremy Irons of The Cummins Letter – a letter written by a local JP, in 1848, to Wellington describing conditions on Reen and appealing for help, taking place at Reen Farm Sculpture Garden, where internationally renowned artist John Jelly lives with his family; a celebration of the legacy of young women who emigrated to Australia after the Famine called 110 Skibbereen GirlsChronicles of The Great Irish Famine concert with Declan O’Rourke and guests. There are the Famine Stories Walking Tours, garden trails at Reen Farm Sculpture Garden, an artists talk in the gallery with Robert Ballagh, the world premiere of Rua Breathnach’s Welcome To The Stranger at Skibbereen Town Hall, the Canon Goodman Concert with LúnasaPoint Of Departure: A Lament film screening and drama workshops for children, a poetry reading by Cherry Smyth of her long form poem Famished as well as day long field trips, family friendly Discovery Boxes and numerous Heritage Centre Talks.
Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger is a major historical, cultural and educational event, spreading throughout West Cork and over 3 months, that should not be missed.
Visitors to A Taste of West Cork, take note!
See it in Derry( January-March 2019).

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Great West Cork Distillery Tour. Beautiful Baltimore

Great West Cork Distillery Tour

Beautiful Baltimore. Bountiful Clonakilty. 

A terrific tour of the West Cork Distillery in Skibbereen was the highlight of the first part of our twenty four hours in West Cork. A twenty four hours that had some changes to the “plan”, a rather loose one admittedly.

First hiccup, if you could call it that, came on the way down when a phone call to Baltimore revealed that the two o’clock trip on the SeaSafari was off as the craft was out of the water for the afternoon and being cleaned up.

So then the Distillery tour, one o’clock start, was pencilled in. Got into Skibbereen in good time and called to a busy Apple Betty’s. Ordered a panini. That was a little slow in coming but it was gorgeous, a terrific filling of bacon, Cashel blue and a fantastic relish. Rushed it a bit and hot footed down the street to the Distillery.

John O'Connell (foreground) in the Distillery
Things didn't look good here as people were coming away rather than going in! Apparently, the Distillery weren't very happy with the time published in the "Taste of West Cork" brochure. Director John O’Connell explained they couldn't do the tour at one but would have “a good one” at three.

It worked out well, at least for us. We headed off in the sun (the weather forecast was not exactly spot-on either) to Baltimore, packed with people who seemed to know more than the forecasters. So packed, we didn't find a space in the car parks.

Off out the road we went to the Beacon and enjoyed marvellous views both on the way and during our walk up to the Baltimore landmark. Great views over the islands, Sherkin the nearest, and back to the little town. Later, we had a pause and a walk by the harbour. Hiccups yes but this day was going very well indeed.
The Beacon
So well, we nearly missed the tour or so we thought. But there was no rush as dozens and dozens of people arrived, the big numbers a surprise to John and his friendly staff. Still we were all settled, with a glass of their Drombeg, perhaps their most famous whiskey so far, and a good one too for this time of day as it is just twenty per cent abv.

John then took us on a walkabout of the distillery where the staff were still working. He took us through the process, from the malted barley coming in, and along the journey to the casks (they use sherry casks) and the bottling at the end.

Great informative stuff and more whiskey before we left, with tastings of their West Cork whiskey, the normal and the cask (57% abv!). If you like your whiskeys flavoured then Kennedy’s is the one for you. You may have it Spiced, Honied, Limed and Chillied! They also do a gin, poitin and a vodka here, under the Two Trees brand. And that’s not all.

The ferry, from Sherkin, just arrived in Baltimore
But that was it for us and we headed through the town and off to the Inchydoney Island for that evening’s magnificent nine course dinner “A Taste of West Cork”, all part of the week long food festival in the area. Read all about it here.

And there was yet more whiskey on arrival as we were pleasantly surprised with a glass of the lovely Irish Mist. Time then for a walk on the fantastic beaches here.

The Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa is a four star hotel on the Wild Atlantic Way but I must say that the facilties and service that we enjoyed there were closer to five star. Great place with great staff. The only hiccup perhaps was a delay at breakfast but I think that was down to the many customers that all came together at about ten o’clock on the Saturday. Hard to legislate for that!

At Apple Betty's
They support local produce here obviously and I enjoyed my Scrambled Egg and Ummera Smoked Salmon before we headed off to Clonakilty in the morning mist. It had dried up by the time we arrived and we wandered through the streets looking for the Lettercollum Project shop.

We found it and it was busy, selling salads, tarts, cheese, wine, nuts, seeds, breads and so much more, much of it based on produce from their walled garden in nearby Lettercollum. We went off with enough salad (mixed beans) and bread for two delicious lunches over the weekend.

And we also found Vic and his organic Dexter beef in the market. The main market is on Friday but you’ll find some stalls operating on Thursday and Saturday. I’ll soon have a separate post up about Vic and his tasty beef but for the latest check out his Facebook page

Our twenty fours in West Cork were up and it was time to head back to the city. But we’ll return. Again and again!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tapas at Skibbereen’s Riverside Café

Spanish delights in Skibbereen evening sun
Albarino, almost same colour as the olive oil behind
Having spent a day in the West Cork sun last Saturday, and having walked every step in the exhilarating MizenHead experience, I was looking forward to dinner in Majella O’Neill’s Riverside Café in Skibbereen.

Had checked out the fish specials and thought they were just what were wanted. But there was a change of plan on entry to this lovely restaurant. The lady looking after us was from Galicia and so too was the chef. We noticed the Tapas Tasting menu on a board and went for it.
Seafood Bon Bon
We were seated close to the windows with a nice view over the River Ilen. Indeed if the weather had been a degree or two warmer we’d have been sitting at an outside table. Still we enjoyed the sun inside and indeed there were times when we could have done with the sun glasses. All very Spanish as we waited for the tapas.

But first a decision had to be made on the wine. The French and Italian were on a loser here and we choose the Atlantik Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain (of course), and priced at seven euro a glass. I liked their description: While it may slake the thirst of many a Camino pilgrim, this Albarino is far from penitential. Really enjoyed it and it had an outstanding colour almost as gold as the olive oil alongside it (see photo).

Duck Pate
We were to enjoy four tapas on the Tasting Menu that cost €18.50. First up was a Sea Food Bon Bon, served in two little shot glasses with a garlic and olive oil mix. A great mix of flavours and we were on our way to the North West of Spain.
Pig's cheek
Our second plate saw the arrival of their Homemade Duck Liver Parfait, served with salad, caramelised red onions and crostinis. That didn't last long either!

Pig’s cheek is making a comeback in these parts and we were about to get the Galician version: Pork Cheek Confit, Truffle mashed potato, Savoy Cabbage, carrot chutney and Port salsa. Pig’s head with spuds and cabbage in other words. In one word: gorgeous! In two words: super tasty.
And the best was yet to come: Roast Rump (had lump down first!) of Lamb, served with aubergine Zaalouk and sauce of red peppers. Superb stuff indeed.
Lemon Pudding
And still room for dessert (not included in the tapas menu). We each went for the Lemon Pudding, served with chocolate cigars and meringue (€6.00). Delighted with that too and finished off with a pot of loose leaf Earl Grey before stepping out into the sunshine and a long enough walk to the car. If you do book the Riverside (and I recommend that you do visit), remember that Saturday is mass night in Skibb and, with the church very close to the Riverside, all the nearby parking will be taken.

*By the way, the Riverside is a great supporter of local produce. “Our list of suppliers changes with supply and demand but among our regular sources of products are:
Ballyburden Meats, Busby Strawberries, Caherbeg Freerange Pork, Carbery Milk Products, Clona Milk Products, Cork Coffee Roasters, John and Mary Cronin Feirm Ur Milk & Yogurt, Durrus Cheese, GlenIlen, Gubbeen Smoke House, House of Tea ,Independent Irish Healthfoods, Lorge Chocolatier , Milsean Artisan Chocolatiers , Pandora Bell, Seafood Cuisine, Shannonvale Chicken, Skeaghnore Duck, Thornhill Organic Farm,,Valleyview Freerange Eggs, Woodcock Smokery.."

Monday, April 29, 2013

Dining at Liss Ard

Dining at Liss Ard

Visited Liss Ard Estate near Skibbereen for the first time recently and decided to join a few of the other residents for dinner in the main house. Head Chef Cliona McCarthy uses lots of produce from local suppliers including Caherbeg, Gubbeen, Glenilen and Sally Barnes. The food on the table is, as they say themselves, “simple uncomplicated food bursting with freshness and flavours”.  It is also fairly priced.

We started off with two salads (7.50). My pick was the Caherbeg Crispy Bacon and Potato Salad. Some really fresh leaves here with excellent flavour from both the bacon and potato. It was much the same with CL’s Warm Chicken Salad with Glenilen Yoghurt and Mint Dressing, another very simple yet satisfactory plateful.

You don’t have a great choice here but there is no shortage of quality in the five starters and five main courses. We both settled on the same mains: Roast Union Hall Cod with Lemon Herb Butter and a Mussel Risotto (about 18/19 euro). This was as fresh as you’d expect and the risotto was really well executed.

The wine list is also rather short but appropriate to the demands on the restaurant and again there is quality there. We certainly enjoyed our Main a Main Chardonnay from the Pays d’Oc, unoaked with a gorgeous gold/yellow colour, fresh and fruity and a balancing citrus zest, all for €25.00.

The evening’s dessert was a New Season’s Rhubarb Fool with homemade shortbread (6.50). Again, quite a simple dish but delicious.

Service was excellent at dinner but more hit and miss at breakfast time (two bookable sittings 8.45 and 9.45). For instance, you do have to make your own toast. No big imposition but the toaster (and remember you can have maybe more than twenty people in the room) is your ordinary domestic two slice job and the bread slices are supplied in drips and drabs. So you may have to visit the hall more than once and then be lucky to have bread and access to the toaster at the same time.

Some of you might like to know that there is no bar here. But they do have an “honour bar” from which you may help yourself to a bottle of beer or wine and sign for it on the nearby blackboard!

The estate itself is huge with many woodlands paths that lead you to different features such as the Water Gardens and a Wild Flower Meadow, both of which will probably look better in another month or so. By the way, there is a unique long term approach at work here with the gardens as a whole  expected to reach maturity in thirty to fifty years time!

 The main feature of course is the Irish Sky Garden, also growing and developing, where you’ll experience the giant earth and stone works, The Crater, by famed artist James Turrell, with its contemplative 'Vault Purchase' or plinth (below) at its centre.
There is also a large lake in the grounds, used for various sports including canoeing and fishing. We stayed in the Lodge that overlooks this lake. So too did a ten strong group who had exclusive access to the lounge there. If we needed to lounge (we didn’t really), we'd have had to travel up to the main house (either by car or by a pleasant short walk through the woods). You also have to "travel" for breakfast and dinner but we knew that!
 One other handicap in the Lodge (some may not regard it as such) is the lack of a decent signal for your mobile phone – even our receptionist who showed us our splendid room there had to go back to the main house to check something out because she had no reception. Needless to say, the Wi-Fi, available in the main house, doesn’t extend to the lodge. Ideal, if you want to get away from it all!

There is a lot going on in Liss Ard even though driving up the bumpy main driveway, you might be wondering what you are letting yourself in for. But there is a philosophy at work here, allowing you to experience the “beauty, wonder and tranquillity of Irish Nature”. We did see a fox running along the same driveway!

See also Stunning West Cork in yesterday's sunshine.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

West Cork Suppliers on Show

Say cheese: Fooling around with Val Manning

West Cork Suppliers on Show

Some of the top food producers and suppliers in West Cork were gathered in the ballroom of the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen last Wednesday as part of the week long A Taste of West Cork festival, specifically there in the morning so that the visiting chefs for the evening’s highlight, the Celtic Cook-off, could sample and choose from the produce.

Delighted to get an invite to the morning session and meet up with some old friends from the markets and also meet some new ones. Manning’s Emporium  from Ballylickey had a stand groaning with some of the best cheese around: Durrus, Coolea, Gubbeen, Fermoy etc. and Val and Andrew were in top form. More top notch cheese too at the Milleens stand where Quinlan Steele was on duty.

Frank Krawczyk, a citizen of the world who loves his West Cork home, is one of Ireland’s best known salami and sausage makers. Loved his Bresaola and his treatement of a shoulder of pork, both tasty and moist, not to mention his cured ham. Frank, based in Schull, gives regular demonstrations at Ballyvolane House and O’Brien’s Chop House.
Frank Krawczyk

Axel and Marye Miret are the couple behind West Cork Garlic  and their product was used by winning chef Garry O’Hanlon. Caroline Hennessy was on the 8 Degrees Brewing stand and she was displaying the full range of their popular beers. Saw the ale again on the Friday, on tap in Cork’s latest craft beer pub, the Hub in Anglesea Street.

Two of the four people on the Celtic Cook-off working group, Avril Allshire of Rosscarbery Recipes and Sally Barnes (“the greatest fish smoker in the country”, according to one Tom Doorley) of Woodcock Smokery were both busy at their stands.

Lingered also at the Skeaghanore West Cork Duck stand, for the conversation and also for a sample or two. Here they like to keep it simple, natural and additive free. Read all about this wonderful product here.

The chefs had been down to the coast earlier in the mornings so there was no fish stand in the ballroom but the sea wasn’t forgotten as we met Sally McKenna of Bridgestone Guides and Jim Kennedy of Atlantic Sea Kayaking.  They had a very impressive display from the sea and the shore including Dilisk, Carrageen Moss, Sea Spaghetti and Wrack and more. Tasty stuff too and Masterchef winner Tim Anderson was shopping there.

Got to most of the stands but missed out on a few, including Brown Envelope Seeds. All of the suppliers were back for the Cook-off in the evening and the stands were kept busy as hundreds of people squeezed in.

A few more producers came too, including Glenilen and Matson’s Wine and Food Store of Bandon who, with Searson’s, were supplying the matching wines for the cook-off meals. Matson’s are offering 20 per cent off on the show wines for the next while. I got a taste of one of them, the Vallado from the Douro, a terrific red, easy drinking and delicious.

All in all, a great experience that underlined once again the quantity and quality of the producers in the area. And, another thing, these are friendly folk. So why not put the festival in your diary for September 2013. You won’t regret it!

Friday, September 14, 2012

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!