Rory Clarke raves about Cabin Fever Classics, the cooking masterclass that got him through lockdown.
Yes - this is another article which includes the words p*ndemic and l*ckdown, apologies. However, it also includes tales of comfort eating, wine-drinking and laughing at strangers on Instagram. Bon Appetit!
In each video, Matthews, cheered on, laughed at and filmed by his girlfriend Ciara, cooked up a classic dish which had us absentmindedly wiping the drool from our screens.
During the aforementioned pandemic, everyone had their crutch. Some re-watched Game of Thrones (and re-enacted their complaints about season 8). Some ran every day and bragged about it on Strava. Some, like me, became obsessed with a series of Instagram stories by Eric Matthews, the Head Chef of Michelin-starred Dublin restaurant Chapter One. In each video, Matthews, cheered on, laughed at and filmed by his girlfriend Ciara, cooked up a classic dish which had us absentmindedly wiping the drool from our screens. From stellar starters to divine desserts, he showed us how to make the definitive versions of food we were all craving.
Matthews cooked everything from beef wellington to treacle tart, pasta puttanesca to chocolate soufflé, ox cheek ragu to sweet and sour chicken, and even a 4-in-1, the list goes on and on. Some were fancy, some simple, some plain dirty. All looked delicious. The pair laughed and joked their way through fire alarms, sunburn, and lots of butter to film over 70 episodes of what was soon christened ‘Cabin Fever Classics’.
These quickly attained cult status in a certain corner of Instagram and began to make the daily mission – to cook the lockdown pain away – much tastier. The size of this following was revealed around halfway through lockdown, when Matthews teamed up with Deveney’s of Dundrum (the wine seller, who provided pairings for each and every dish) to give a box of wine to someone who attempted one of the dishes made thus far. Re-posts of stories poured in, seemingly in their hundreds, as devout fans tried to outdo each other. My entry, romesco sauce with ratatouille (pictured), didn’t cut the mustard unfortunately – but it was delicious all the same.
For those people that stick fervently to recipes, checking and re-checking whether you’re asked for a ‘level’ or ‘heaped’ teaspoon of something, welcome to a more liberating world. Matthews is almost childlike in his cheerful refusal to give exact quantities, or even ingredients. ‘Whatever works’ is a common refrain, as is ‘a bit of this and that’. Although Ciara does her best to nail him down to even the roughest of quantities (you can hear her desperately foreseeing viewers tearing their hair out at the prospect of trying to recreate a recipe), sometimes it just isn’t going to happen. My go-to strategy is watching his ingredients introduction at the start and just counting how many tomatoes, peppers, eggs, mushrooms etc are on the plate. Science it is not – but it works!
Chefs – TV personalities aside- are often anonymised and demonised. By contrast, Matthews humanises the profession
As he goes, he dishes out practical tips which make cooking so much easier. A cloth under a chopping board to stop it slipping. Adding a pinch of salt to help mince garlic. Even the most obvious of things – a sharp knife – is emphasised repeatedly. Before long, I found myself following his lead with every little thing I cooked. It made life so much easier. For any aspiring food nerds out there, just watching him is a learning experience, and one you’d normally never get to do. Chefs – TV personalities aside- are often anonymised and demonised. By contrast, Matthews humanises the profession, explaining why chefs do certain things, why they prefer certain suppliers or ingredients and what makes professional kitchens tick.
For example, while you may think Espelette (a spicy pepper), given how frequently it’s used, has negotiated a lucrative sponsorship deal with the Dubliner, but it’s just one of his favourite ingredients. By the end, he can’t help laughing as he reaches for the familiar box, knowing the ribbing he’s about to get.
My lockdown experience would have been decidedly different without these nightly cook-a-longs. They were uplifting, funny and inspiring – and gave me ‘something to do’ when that was all any of us needed. Even now, watching them again, they’re an incomparable comfort. I implore you to watch one of his videos. Every one is a classic; the food, the company or, most commonly, both.