THE DARINA ALLEN COLUMN- Rekindling the Fire, Food and the Journey of Life

Excited by two speakers who riveted the audience at last autumn’s Food On The Edge symposium, Darina shares her enthusiasm for a book that they have since published...

Food On The Edge held in October last year at Airfield Estate in Dublin was a beacon of light and hope in a deeply challenging year. Chef JP McMahon from Aniar and Tartare in Galway gathered an impressive line-up of speakers from around the world to encourage and inspire us. The theme was Social Gastronomy with the stated aim of gathering ‘a network of like-minded chefs together to build long-term partnerships around the world using the power of food as a vehicle for change and development at a grass roots level’.

In an open sided tent on the Airfield Estate in Dundrum, I heard many inspirational speakers. Some were online, others there in person, shared their pandemic experiences, insights and hopes for the future. Many iconic names such as Alice Waters, Anissa Helou, David and Stephen Flynn of The Happy Pear, Eoin Cluskey of Bread 41, Joshua Evans, May Chow…and also a couple of speakers whose names I had not been familiar with previously. I particularly remember Martin Ruffley and Anna King who shared the stage and gave a riveting talk. Anna has a doctorate in Philosophy (ethnography) from NUI in Galway and a lifelong interest in mindful meditation. She became hooked on the healing benefits of eating seasonal, natural foods, she has lived and studied on a number of organic farms, both in the UK and France, who follow the philosophy of Mahatma Gandi and Rudolf Steiner.

Martin Ruffley, a recovering alcoholic, spoke with enormous courage about his lifelong struggle with addiction and his long and convoluted journey from ‘dark to light’. He told how cooking and sharing food became a vitally important part of a cathartic process of exorcising his demons and finding peace. Martin, now a chef lecturer at NUI Galway, has travelled and ‘staged’ in top restaurants around the world, fuelling his passion and honing his craft in pursuit of culinary excellence. In 2020 he received the prestigious President’s Award for Teaching Excellence. He spoke humbly and honestly, the audience were riveted, there was scarcely a dry eye in the tent and at the end there was a unanimous standing ovation.

Fast forward to March 2022, he and Anna King have collaborated to produce a cookbook entitled ‘Rekindling the Fire, Food and the Journey of Life’ – it is dedicated to all those still struggling with addiction…. ‘May the light of loving kindness illuminate your path, and the darkness of the night inspire your wildest dreams’.

Anna and Martin hope that this collaboration will inspire anyone who reads their book to cook. ‘The recipes offer home-cooks, amateurs and seasoned chefs alike an opportunity to experiment with both new and old techniques, through easy-to-follow, concise instructions that will really ‘up anyone’s game’ in the kitchen. ‘You will learn how to create some magical dishes, as well as discover invaluable insider tips that will transform a meal from the ordinary to the exceptional’. The title is a combination of Anna’s beautiful prose and Martin’s eclectic recipes gleaned from 40 years of experience and his travels around the world. Martin believes as I do that travel is an essential element of any chef’s education – I’ve chosen to share some recipes that are accessible to home cooks but there are also many tantalising recipes for professional chefs between the black covers of this unique cookbook – from darkness to light.

RECIPES TO TRY – all from ‘Rekindling the Fire, Food and the Journey of Life’ published by Austin MaCauley Publishers

Serves 4

100g (3½ oz) pork belly
4 baby gem lettuce leaves
a few mint leaves
1 tablespoon chives
1 pack of rice paper wrappers
10g (scant ½ oz) mooli (julienne)
10g (scant ½ oz) carrot (julienne)

Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
a dash of sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste
6 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2-3 tablespoons peanut butter
a splash of water
1 red chilli, finely diced

Slow roast the pork belly for 3 hours at 140?C.

To construct the roll.
Soak the rice paper in cold water for a few seconds until it is soft and
Lay out the rice paper and add your prepared ingredients and the
sliced pork. Don’t be tempted to add too many ingredients because
it will be harder to roll.
For the dipping sauce, add all the ingredients except the water. Check for consistency, then add water to achieve the desired consistency. It should be thick enough so that it adheres to the Goi Cuon.
To Serve
Place the spring rolls onto a plate and serve the dipping sauce on the side.

NOTE: The traditional Goi Cuon includes pork and shrimp. However, you can construct your own versions with different ingredients.


Serves 4

200g (7oz) Arborio rice
1kg (2¼ lb) beetroot
1 litre beetroot stock/juice
70g (scant 3oz) butter
100g (3½ oz) shallots, finely diced
60g (scant 2½oz) Smoked Gubbeen Cheese
salt and pepper

Bake one whole beetroot (*Darina’s tip: bake the beetroot in a preheated oven 200?C for 1 hour approx., by which time the skin will rub off easily), and then juice the remaining beetroot.
Add some of the butter to a suitable pan and sweat the diced shallot until slightly translucent. Add the rice and stir until each grain of rice has been coated in the butter. Add a ladle full of hot beetroot juice into the rice until the rice has absorbed the beetroot juice.
Repeat this procedure until the rice has swollen and is almost tender.
The rice should be soft but not chalky. It is usually cooked in 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the diced beetroot, butter and half of the grated Gubbeen. Check for seasoning, cover and allow to rest for 3-4 minutes.
Eat immediately with some grated Gubbeen on the side.

The Lebanese are a very hospitable people and would often welcome us into their homes. This recipe is a take on a dish that I had in the village of As Sultaniyah, just north of Tibnine, where we were treated to an excellent lunch of chicken cooked on a charcoal grill with salad, followed by a glass of chai on the veranda.
Serves 4

12 chicken thighs
zest and juice of 2 lemons
120ml (scant 4½ fl oz) olive oil
4 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
5g (scant ¼ oz) cumin seeds
5g (scant ¼ oz) coriander seeds
10 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1-2 teaspoons sea salt
300g (10oz) Greek or plain yoghurt

Toast the coriander and cumin seeds on a dry pan to release the oils and pass through a spice grinder. Alternatively, pound in a pestle and mortar.
Grate and juice the 2 lemons.
Transfer the chicken pieces into a bowl (or a zip lock bag) with the lemon juice and zest, olive oil and all the dry ingredients. Mix well and refrigerate overnight.
To Cook
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking. The chicken pieces can be skewered and grilled on a BBQ, or can be transferred to a suitable dish and roasted in a hot oven for 25-30 minutes.
To Serve
Drizzle with yoghurt and serve with manoushi bread or pitta bread.
Note: Chicken breast can also be used. Butterfly the chicken breast and bat it out, then marinade (as above). This will cook on a grill in 8 to 10 minutes.


Small Plates, Big Flavours at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Tuesday, 12th April.
Still one of the hottest food trends and a great way to eat. An appetiser can be a starter, a trio of little plates can make up a meal and provide the opportunity to try lots of dishes on the menu, something new and tempting, or even something scary that one may not have ordered before. Small plates are also perfect for those who may have a concern about the price point without the potential of a wallet busting experience. For chefs, small plates are an opportunity to experiment, to use small quantities of local, seasonal, even foraged ingredients. The concept has made dining out more communal, less formal and more convivial. For home cooks, a selection of great recipes that show off excellent ingredients and are great fun to have at home as a starter or during and informal party. In this half day course you will be inspired by a whole range of multi-ethnic dishes and lots of hot new ideas for small plates meant for sharing. For more information, see


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