ABOUT REBECCA SWEENEY
Originally from Galway, Rebecca is the Head Chef of Hooked Restaurant, Sligo. She graduated from ATU with a Bachelor of Business degree in Culinary Arts Management. Rebecca was one of the Taste the Atlantic Ambassadors for 2022, collaborating with Bord Iascaigh Mhara and Chef Network and is the Granddaughter of well-known Kinvarra Fisherman, Rainer Krause.
TASTE THE ATLANTIC AMBASSADOR PROGRAMME 2022: MY EXPERIENCE
The Taste the Atlantic Young Chef Ambassador Programme was proudly supported by:
After coming across the social media input of 2021’s Taste the Atlantic (TTA) Ambassadors, I was introduced to the TTA Program created by Chef Network and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, I had to apply, especially with my family history of oyster farmers and fishermen! Alongside four other talented chefs, I had the privilege of being chosen for the second year of the TTA Program.
The program began in late June, and mostly ran its course in my beautiful home county of Galway. Our first event was held at Aniar with JP McMahon. JP had an amazing variety of fish delivered to the kitchen that morning, including salmon, turbot, oysters, mussels and lobster. We learned about preparing each product, flavour pairings, how to maintain the delicate flavours of these seafood items through cooking, handling and seasoning. It was also a great team building experience for all the young ambassadors, being our first in-person meeting.
The following day we met Brigitta Hedin-Curtain at The Burren Smokehouse in county Clare. Brigitta told us her story and the creation of the now well-known Smokehouse. We learnt about the preparation and handling involved and the different smoking methods they use. The Burren Smokehouse use 100% organic Irish salmon and they promote sustainability and display this in their educational Centre on-site. Later that day we enjoyed some Flaggy Shore Oysters for lunch; one of the two hatcheries in Ireland. They have a 2 to 3-year life cycle, before they are much-loved by diners at Linnanes Bar. The Flaggy Shore oyster has a mineral flavour.
In late July, each ambassador visited their assigned producer. I had the pleasure of being paired up with Jimmy and Marion from Irish Premium Oysters, Donegal. Irish Premium Oysters is a family run business which began 33 years ago. They have become massively successful especially within the Asian Market, where this unique Irish shellfish is celebrated in 11 countries around Asia, exporting 2 Tonnes weekly. Their clientele typically enjoys their oysters in a buffet setting.
Irish Premium Oysters have a 2.5-year lifespan, where they spend the last 6 months “fattening” in grade A bog water which contributes to the remarkable sweet notes when tasting. Jimmy and Marion kindly gifted me a box of their oysters, which I created into a delicate saffron and fennel stew. I lightly poached the oysters in the velouté, maintaining their flavour, as JP McMahon had taught us.
In August, the ambassadors and I met again at Connemara Oysters to take a glimpse of DK's farm. DK presented us with a 258g oyster, which one of the lads bravely took on! From there we headed to Killary Fjord Shellfish, who are well known for their mussels. Killary Fjord is one of the 3 of its kind in the whole of Ireland. We met Kate and Simon, the creators of Killary Fjord Shellfish, who had an array of seafoods and salads awaiting us in their marquee. Oysters were bubbling away on, all while surrounded by Connemara’s fantastic scenery. This experience inspired me for my potential dish ideas for the final event!
In late August, after having a couple of weeks to plan and create recipes, we presented our ideas to JP McMahon. JP mentored us for the day in Aniar and advised us on how we can enhance our dishes. Our dish had to include a product from our assigned producer to support them and show a variety of ways in which their products can be utilised. Jimmy from Irish Premium Oysters adores travelling to Asia and the food culture, therefore I decided to embrace that in my dish. I created a tempura Irish Premium Oyster bao with a white cabbage, fresh horseradish and green apple slaw in an oyster kewpie mayo and burnt corn salsa. That dish had a variety of flavours that complimented yet didn’t overpower the oyster. I wanted to capture the flavours of Asia while using Irish products such as using a local seaweed blend to season the tempura mix.
Coming into our final month of the program certainly didn’t fall short. The Ambassadors and I had the pleasure of working with Master Fishmonger Hal Dawson. We completed a fish handling and preparation course in Clonakilty at the BIM Seafood Innovation Hub. We prepared an extensive variety of fish species including Mackerel, John Dory, Monkfish, Gurnard and more. Hal was passionate about his craft and his course made me understand how to optimise and maintain the quality of fish while also reducing waste.
The final event was the International Galway Oyster Festival. This popular event celebrates the molluscs and holds the international oyster opening championship. Here we presented our dishes and described our experience to an audience. We then commemorated our time together for the remainder of the evening. What an end!
However, it truly isn’t the end, as this experience will forever be a fond memory of mine. I have had many opportunities also arise during and after the programme. It has amplified my career and changed my perspective on the food industry in a positive manor. I met many incredible personalities throughout my journey that I will keep in contact with thanks to Chef Network and BIM. It is important to network with others in the industry, as support and teamwork is necessary to succeed in the culinary sector. I look forward to what may arise in the future and passing on the legacy of being a Taste the Atlantic Young Chef Ambassador to the next lucky team of chefs.