The Darina Allen Column

Recently, I spent an amazing two days at Food On The Edge, meeting and listening to an inspirational group of chefs, food activists, artisan bakers, millers, heirloom seed producers, food archaeologists and leading thinkers chosen for their passion and drive and their ability to inspire chefs around the world. The theme this year was Social Gastronomy.

Some speakers like the American food researcher Bill Schindler, Arlene Stein from Canada, Gísli Matt from Iceland, Petra and Paul Moinea from Romania and London-based Anissa Helou were present in person. Others like Bertrand Grébaut and Théophile Pourriat flew in from Septime in Paris to deliver their presentations while others like Alice Waters from Chez Panisse delivered their fifteen-minute talk virtually from San Francisco, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mexico, Ghana, India, Peru and London…The Happy Pear twins, Stephen and David Flynn were there, exuding energy as ever, living examples of the benefits of eating real food and living the good life, while spreading the message of a plant-based diet.

The seventh edition of FOTE, the brainchild of leading chef, JP McMahon, was held outside Galway for the first time this year - appropriately at Airfield Estate, a working urban farm of 38 acres in Dundrum. A superb educational facility, its mission is ‘to inspire and enable people to make food choices that benefit people, planet and pockets’. Much of the delicious food for the event came directly from the farm and gardens and was curated by Luke Matthews in conjunction with Gather and Gather.

Virtually all the speakers referred to the lessons learnt during the pandemic by a sector that hitherto considered itself to be ‘unshakeable’. There was a realisation that much of the current staff shortage crisis had been brought on by the industry itself over many years of unacceptable kitchen culture and poor conditions. A chastened industry is now determined to create optimum working conditions for our ‘second family’, so they feel valued and fulfilled! ‘The job must be rebooted – it’s all about the team’. Other speakers shone a light on the challenges for women chefs, the ‘Me Too’ movement and LGBT issues.

There was an emphasis on sharing and exchanging knowledge. Chefs were also focusing on reducing food waste in restaurant kitchens. Joshua Evans of the Novel Fermentations Research Group and senior researcher at the Danish Technical University’s Center for Biosustainability in Copenhagen urged chefs to be leaders and rethink waste – ‘No such thing as waste, just another product’. Joshua, along with his colleagues at The Nordic Food Lab has spent years researching and relearning and experimenting with fermentation techniques, preserving and enhancing the nutrient value of what many would hitherto consider to be waste food.

Incorporating wild foraged and fermented foods into menus is an exciting ‘new’ area for a growing number of cool chefs. Ellie Kisyombe and Michelle Darmody who created the ‘My Table’ project where refugees and asylum seekers can cook and share their food, focused on the importance of creating cooking facilities in direct provision centres so residents can cook their indigenous food for their children and themselves. Dee Laffan, Mei Chin and Blanca Valencia of ‘Spice Bags’ also highlighted the not to be missed opportunity for the sharing of food cultures with the ‘new Irish’ and the conditions needed for that to become a reality.

Several other speakers including myself focused on the vital importance of teaching children to cook from an early age, so they experience the joy of delicious food and are equipped with the practical life skills to feed themselves properly. Others, like Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills in South Carolina, were making valiant efforts to recover heirloom and landrace varieties of grains and seeds that withstand the rapidly changing conditions as climate change accelerates.

There was so much more – 40 speakers in total, all the presentations can be found online:



Recipe taken from The Irish Cook Book By JP McMahon published by Phaidon
Serves 4

250g (9oz) crabmeat
extra virgin rapeseed oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
sea salt
For the Cheese Custard
150ml (5fl oz) double cream
150ml (5fl oz) milk
100g (3 1/2oz) Irish smoked cheese, grated
4 egg yolks
chopped chives and seaweed powder, to garnish (optional)

To make the custard, add the cream, milk and cheese to a medium pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, bring a separate medium pan of water to the boil.
Add the egg yolks to a large heatproof bowl and gradually pour the hot cream mixture over the eggs, whisking all the time to avoid scrambling. Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and cook for about 20 minutes until the custard thickens.
Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste.

Pick through the crabmeat for shell and season with the oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt. Place the crab in the bottom of four bowls and pour the custard over the top. Refrigerate for 2 hours until set.

Serve garnished with chopped chives and seaweed powder if you wish.

This recipe has stood the test of time – it’s been on the menu at Chez Panisse since it opened and comes from ‘Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook’ published by Random House Inc. now a collector’s item.

Serves 4
3-4 x 6cm (2 ½ inch) rounds of fresh goat’s cheese, each about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick
175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dried thyme
110g (4oz) approx. fine dry breadcrumbs
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
about 4 handfuls garden lettuces (rocket, lamb’s lettuce, small oak leaf and red leaf lettuces, chervil)
16 garlic croutons
Garlic Croutons
1 baguette cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices
50ml (2fl oz) melted butter
2-3 cloves of garlic

Marinate the goat cheese in 50ml (2fl oz) of the extra virgin olive oil with the sprigs of fresh thyme for 24 hours. Mix the dried thyme with the breadcrumbs.
Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking the remaining olive oil into 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar until the vinaigrette is balanced and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Wash and dry the lettuces.
Make the garlic croutons. Preheat the oven to 180?C/350?F/Gas Mark 4.
To prepare the croutons, brush each slice of baguette with melted butter and bake in the preheated oven for 5-7 minutes until the croutons are light golden brown. Rub each crouton with a cut clove of garlic while they are still warm
Preheat the oven to 200?C/400?F/Gas Mark 6.
To bake the goat cheese, remove from the olive oil marinade and then dip them in the breadcrumbs. Put the cheese on a lightly oiled baking dish and bake in the preheated oven for about 6 minutes, until the cheese is lightly bubbling and golden brown.
Meanwhile, toss the lettuces with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat them and arrange them on round plates. Place the cheese in the centre of the plates with the browner side up and arrange the croutons around the cheese.

Recipe taken from The Irish Cook Book By JP McMahon published by Phaidon
Serves 4

2 small pumpkins or butternut squash
rapeseed oil
a few sprigs of thyme
150g (5oz) oyster mushrooms, thickly sliced and scored
25g (1oz) butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
edible flowers and fresh herbs such as parsley, fennel, sage or thyme, to serve (optional)
sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400?F/Gas Mark 6.

Halve the squash horizontally and scoop out the seeds. In a roasting pan, coat the squash with oil, season with salt and add the thyme. Put into the preheated oven and roast for about 25 minutes or until soft.
Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat and fry the mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Add the butter towards the end of the cooking time and finish with parsley. Place the mushrooms in the centre of each piece of squash. Garnish with some fresh herbs and serve.

Taken from The Happy Pear, Recipes for Happiness by David & Stephen Flynn published by Penguin Ireland

Growing up, Bounty Bars were always Dave’s favourite chocolate bars, so it was important that we created something equally delicious! These are really easy to make, and as they are dairy and gluten-free, they’re perfect for everyone. This recipe makes about 18 small bars, which might seem like a lot, but you’ll be surprised how quickly they disappear!

Makes 18 small bars

3 tablespoons coconut oil
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g (7oz) desiccated coconut
75g (3oz) ground almonds
a small pinch of sea salt
250g – 300g (9-10oz) dark chocolate

Put a medium-size saucepan on a medium heat and add the coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Heat until the coconut oil has melted, ensuring the liquid does not boil.
Put the desiccated coconut, ground almonds and salt into a mixing bowl and mix well. Once the coconut oil has melted, add the heated liquid to the bowl and mix thoroughly.
Place some baking parchment on a baking tray and spread the coconut mixture over it. Shape the mixture into a square shape roughly 20cm x 20cm x 2 1/2cm thick (8 inch x 8 inch x 1 inch thick).
Place the baking tray in the freezer for 20 minutes, for the mixture to harden. After 20 minutes, the coconut bars should be firm enough to cut into sold bar shapes. You should get about 18 small bars.
Next place the dark chocolate in a glass bowl and melt it over a saucepan of gently simmering water, stirring occasionally until it fully melts. Remove from the heat.
We have found the best way to cover the coconut bars with chocolate is to place a bar on a palette knife or large knife and pour the chocolate over the bar with a spoon or ladle until fully coated. Try to avoid dropping the coconut bars into the chocolate, as they will melt and make your chocolate lumpy with coconut. Put a little chocolate on the bottom, repeat and leave to harden. If you want ridged lines on the top of the bars, use a fork when the chocolate is still soft. It will most likely take a few goes to get this right, but it is fun to practice!
Place the now coated bars on fresh parchment paper on a baking tray and pop them into the fridge for 10-15 minutes, to allow the chocolate to cool and harden.

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