ABOUT SARAH BROWNE
Sarah is originally from Co. Kerry but is now working as a chef de partie in Cava Bodega in Galway. Sarah has studied and honed her culinary skills in CIT and LYIT and has extensive experience working in tourism including at the world-famous Avoca Molls Gap in Kerry. Sarah is from a dairy farming background and is a passionate believer that sustainability in food production is critical and that chefs and producers are key stakeholders in the future of sustainable food production.
TASTE THE ATLANTIC YOUNG CHEF AMBASSADOR PROGRAMME: MY JOURNEY
The Taste the Atlantic Young Chef Ambassador Programme was proudly supported by:
The Wild Atlantic Way is synonymous with incredible scenery and dramatic landscapes. The route shines a light on the beauty of the west of Ireland and brings tourists to rural areas helping to sustain communities. Dotted along the coastline from Kinsale to Malin Head there are hundreds of seafood producers working year-round to bring the highest quality product to market. In 2017 BIM and Failte Ireland launched Taste the Atlantic – A Seafood Journey, highlighting the fantastic seafood and cultural heritage that exists on our coastline. The trail includes around 20 producers and features Oyster farms, Mussel Farms, Smokehouses, Seaweed farms and an incredibly rare abalone farm.
Last year the Taste the Atlantic Young Chef Programme was launched as a collaboration between BIM, Chef Network and Failte Ireland. Myself and four other young chefs were selected to participate in the programme from June to September. Our journey began in Galway with a visit to Kelly’s Oysters where Diarmuid Kelly gave us a crash course in everything there is to know about Oyster farming. We learned that there are two types of oysters farmed in Ireland, the Native oyster which is more round and flat, and the Pacific oyster which is the classic oyster shape that most people are familiar with. It takes three years for an oyster to grow to market size and a huge amount of work goes into ensuring that the shells take the right shape. Seed is placed into net bags and attached to trellises in the bay which is full of nutrients from the surrounding landscape and the Atlantic. As the oysters grow the bags are shaken in order to correct the shell shape, ensuring a deep shell and a meaty oyster. Oyster farming is an incredibly sustainable enterprise because the oysters filter clean the water as they grow and leave nothing behind. The industry supports around 1,300 jobs and is a lifeline for rural communities.
After eating our fill at Kelly’s, we headed back to Galway city for a workshop with JP McMahon. He took us through everything there is to know about cooking with seafood and showed us how simple it really is. When we arrived in the kitchen of Aniar JP had about 12 different types of seaweeds and herbs laid out on the table, most of which I had never heard of before! He showed us some simple techniques for manipulating these seaweeds and herbs in order to maximise their taste and use for dishes and showed us that cooking with ingredients from the sea can be really simple while still creating complex flavours. We learned how to humanely kill a lobster, how to cook it to perfection and also how to make a flavour packed oil from the shells. We all left the workshop feeling inspired and excited to work with seafood, especially when it can be so low waste.
The following day we went out into Connemara to visit Kate and Simon Kennedy at Killary Fjord Shellfish. Simon has been farming mussels since 1989 in Ireland’s only fjord - which is one of the most spectacular locations you could imagine! We were taken out onto the fjord to see the ropes first-hand where we could see mussels growing at all stages of development. Ropes are suspended from floats in the bay and the mussels simply attach and filter feed from the surrounding waters. The farmers go out and check the ropes daily and remove mussels that have grown to full size. Then the mussels are processed through a de-bysser which removes the majority of the beards which the mussels use to attach themselves to the ropes. They’re then washed and bagged and ready for road! After our little trip out onto the fjord we came back to the shore where Kate prepared a huge pot of mussels which we lapped up with homemade bread. It was an incredible experience to have been out looking at the mussels on the ropes and a few minutes later be sitting by the shore eating a beautiful bowl of them!
After our trip to Galway, we were each paired up with a producer and asked to create a recipe in collaboration with them which we would then present at the Oyster festival in September. I was paired with Mulroy Bay Mussels in Donegal and had a fantastic time working with them over the few months. I went through every recipe I could find for cooking mussels and asked everyone I knew for ideas and was told time and time again, ‘Everything has already been done with mussels, you’ll never come up with something different!’. So, I set myself the challenge of coming up with something different. My background is in pastry so I started to think about how I could make mussels into some form of a dessert. I discovered some recipes for sweet escabeches, so I decided to make a sweet pickled mussel with a seaweed ice cream. I had great fun with testing out all the different ideas and somehow didn’t get sick of eating mussels at any stage!
In August we made the trip down to Clonakilty to the BIM Seafood Innovation hub where we were absolutely spoiled with a workshop with Ireland’s only master fishmonger, Hal Dawson. Hal took us through filleting every type of fish in the most patient and elegant way. It was eye opening to watch him fillet, every cut is thought out and made with precision. He showed us how to maximise the takings from round fish because there’s always some waste near the bones. We learned how to cleanly lift two whole sides from a flat fish and leave nothing but bone behind. The workshop was an invaluable lesson in reducing unnecessary waste while also saving time. Once your knives are sharp and you know which cuts to make, filleting is a breeze.
From start to finish the TTA Young Chef Programme was an amazing experience. I feel so lucky to have been a part of it and to have met all the incredible people that I did through it. It renewed my passion for seafood and strengthened my belief in the importance of seafood in our future food systems. In Ireland our seafood industry is under appreciated. Now more than ever we need to look at the sustainable seafood options that are right under our noses and as chefs we have a responsibility to showcase these amazing products to consumers. Tourism initiatives like the Taste the Atlantic Seafood Journey are an ideal way to celebrate the excellent seafood being produced in Ireland as well as being a great way to experience the best scenery that the Wild Atlantic Way has to offer.