An Irish Chef in France

A keen observer of the changing food scene, Euro-Toques chef Martin Dwyer is well known in Ireland for the excellent restaurant that he and his wife Sile ran in Waterford, until they moved to France in 2004. They now live in the Languedoc, where they take guests - and feed them very well.  

As I write this at Hallowe’en, we are in a second lockdown in France so we are not a bit sure whether or not we will have small “Trick or Treat” people calling at our door tonight. This is the twelfth year we have been here for Hallowe’en and in these twelve years the appearance of this holiday has changed a great deal in our village.

It was probably about our third year in residence when the first tentative knocks on the door happened at Le Presbytère and on opening we found a rag bag of children trying to get their tongues around “Trick or Treat”. That of course was the giveaway, this tradition was being imported in directly from America, probably on the back of various Hollywood movies. As the years have gone on since, the callers have certainly become more numerous and last year our neighbours recorded over a hundred at their door.

Previously the holiday of Toussaint was marked as the holiday of the departed. On all souls day, it was the tradition to visit your family graves and put flowers there. This was a beautiful sight for the first few weeks in November as the graveyards were a mass of floral splendour. Nowadays the feast has moved closer to the Irish ( American) tradition. From the middle of the month the supermarkets will be offering the usual ghastly (in its true sense) range of scary toys and ephemera.

Of course in the years we have been living here in the Languedoc this is not the only holiday which has been overtaken by the Americans, in the same time they have managed to get their hands on Christmas too.

The time I remember that hitting me - again in the supermarket - was some weeks before Christmas some years ago. This started as an almost subliminal spur which had me humming “Santa Claus is coming to town”. Then I pricked up my ears and started actually listening to what Muzak was playing in the background. It was exactly the same as it would have been in a supermarket in Ireland - lots of American Christmas standards like “Jingle Bells”, peppered with a few traditional Carols like “Silent Night”.

The American tradition had arrived it seemed as a complete parcel.

But I have also observed that the food conquest has not been so complete. Yes there are turkeys available for eating on Christmas Day but all the shops and markets will have a large range of shellfish for the night of Christmas eve. ( I like to loyally follow both traditions and follow my Lobster and Prawn dinner on Christmas Eve with a Turkey and all the trimmings on the 25th.)

Of course at the same time the food choices in Ireland have not remained the same. Irish shops and markets (as I discovered this summer on a visit) have changed enormously since we left. Now we will be offered a large range of international foods, spices and sauces which I haven’t ever used, and the range of cheeses can sometimes even surpass the French selection.

In the many years while I was working in my restaurant in Waterford I would long for my summer holidays in France, I would savour the thoughts of little runny goat’s cheeses, and rough savoury charcuterie, and crisp bread for mopping up sauces and croissants for breakfast - now I can get all of these things in Ireland, although I still find the French charcuterie has an edge on the Irish.

In Ireland the great traditions of international food have been welcomed . My grandsons now will have Peanut Rayu with their eggs and even make their own Sushi.
Strangely in this cosmopolitan acceptance of “foreign” foods the Irish are ahead of the French, but then the original playing field was hardly level. Twenty years ago or so the choices in Ireland would have been a lot more limited.

We are living in interesting times.

Martin Dwyer started cooking professionally over 40 years ago in the legendary “Snaffles Restaurant” in Dublin. After a time in a Relais Chateau in Anjou and in “The Wife of Bath” in Kent he opened his own acclaimed restaurant, “Dwyers”, in Waterford in 1989. In 2004 he sold this and moved south to France where he and his wife Síle bought and restored an old presbytery in a village in the Languedoc. They now run Le Presbytère as a French style Chambre d’Hôte. Martin however is far too passionate about food to give up cooking so they now enjoy serving dinner to their customers on the terrace of Le Presbytère on warm summer evenings. Martin runs occasional cookery courses in Le Presbytère and Síle’s brother Colm does week long Nature Strolls discovering the Flora and Fauna of the Languedoc.


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