LOCAL AND SEASONAL???
Every restaurant in Ireland seems to be shouting about the above 3 words, but what does it all mean? I have eaten out of season Grouse in Dublin, Mackerel in Clare, and Strawberries everywhere! I have seen restaurants with ‘local’ written on the window serving prawns from Asia, eel from France, and more recently have noticed ‘Honestly Irish potatoes’ from Israel!
Environmental Health Officers have been told to crack down on the origin of food in the kitchen, but seem too caught up in regulations and red tape to see the woods from the trees (‘you need to write on your menu that the beef is of Irish origin, I don’t care if you have hand-picked the beast from a farm in Claremorris and have printed the menu on a copy of the animal’s birth cert!)
Some restaurants may say ‘That’s all very well for you to say, but we cannot afford to spend €23 on a log of local goat’s cheese when we can buy a dutch one for €8. Or we cannot afford to change our menu’s with the seasons.
Irish chicken costs up to 50% more than imported chicken, this is a fact of life.
How does one be true to their customer and to themselves, while keeping their head above water?
The answer is there is no easy fix and each restaurant must choose their path and stand by what they are saying to their customers.
When I became a chef 20 plus year ago, no-body gave a monkey’s where their butter and salt came from, know I know by name all my suppliers from the meat and fish to the butter, condiments and utensils!
Some restaurants only source foods a certain amount of kilometres from their door, and that is an admirable practice.
For myself, I refuse to deny myself the chance to use wonderful produce like Thornhill duck from Cavan or Smoked Fish from the Burren. To me, Irish is Local, knowing about the product is paramount, not buying local for local’s sake. Local does not guarantee Good!
Regarding Seasonality, this too can be challenging. I have 2 restaurants here in Lodge, Wildes and The Quay Bar Brasserie. We change the menu’s in Wilde’s quarterly to follow the seasons, but we are not bound to this. For example, we know we can only have really good Mackerel and Gooseberries for 5 weeks in the summer, then we need to change to another dish. This keeps it interesting for our chefs, who all have input into the menus.
The Quay Bar Brasserie is more challenging, this is a busier restaurant which may serve over 100 covers a day, and our menu only changes once a year. So this must be a menu of produce that I know I can source all year round, so simply write on the menu ‘when available’ (native oysters etc).
We now have 3 polytunnels producing a massive amount of leaves, flowers and veg for us, we will add one tunnel per year and always have 1 tunnel that is educational and experimental, the others will be supplying us with produce for the restaurants.I hope to one day be able to produce all the vegetables for the hotel on our land. This also works wonders with one’s GP% margin.
To finish, I recommend a realistic, honest approach to seasonality and locality, if you are true to yourself, then others will see that.
Be happy, and put you faith in Irish ingredients
About the Author: Jonathan Keane
Jonathan is the executive head chef at the Lodge at Ashford Castle in Cong.
Jonathan and his team believe in using the best local produce available, staying true to their roots and letting the product do the talking.
They try to follow the philosophy and principles of Slow Food and Euro-Toques.
They forage for food daily and have started growing their own vegetables.