Cooking on the Edge

With the world set to look to Ireland for a slice of culture on Paddy’s Day, Sam Gaffney talks to TG4’s Ruairi O’Morachain about the lost indigenous art form, cookeryIreland has long been one of the most distinctive of worldwide cultures; our music, literature and even our dancing are celebrated across the globe, but a national culinary tradition has been neglected in favour of a diet of ready meals and imported dishes. The Druid Chef, Ruairi O’Morachain has long been on a personal crusade to establish the ‘Celtic Cuisine’ that had been eradicated by the Great Famine and never replaced. “We gave more money per head than anyone else during Live Aid in 1985; there's an underlying thinking that we suffered famine and that we never really dealt with it; we swept it under the rug. It's a black cloud in our history and in order to get over it and strengthen our food philosophy, we have to embrace what we have today.”O’Morachain has watched as various aspects of Irish culture have come to prominence, shaping the international perception of Ireland. “Ireland is very strong in its culture,” he happily admits. “If you look at Riverdance, you can see that we always had hidden talents in our dancing, but we never produced it as a performance, and when that opportunity came along, in 1994 I think it was, it clicked straight away. I think the same applies to food. If someone comes on a tour to Ireland, they are looking for the food, the welcome, the culture.”Through two series of TG4’s Celtic True Food and with over thirty years of kitchen experience, O’Morachain has created an indigenous recipe book, not only through indigenous ingredients, but through national history as well. “I try to reference my recipes back in time and history, and also with locations. So we talk about folklore and stories; I would research the area and come up with a recipe, so that I underpin it with knowledge of the story and use the unique ingredients of the location ... That's where the whole magic of cookery comes from for me.”As rooted in culinary nationalism as O’Morachain’s pursuit is, there’s clearly a need to spread this thinking in Irish households and there are practical concerns in its implementation. “The market is out there, but we have to look how we're teaching Irish cuisine in the schools, how it is marketed, how it is looked upon. Also, any good chefs that have travelled come back with all these great ideas, but we need to turn that around, so that foreign chefs take something from their time here.”Maybe now more than ever, it is time to go back to basics. “People are buying local produce and there is more interest in cookery in the home. People are shopping smarter and care about what produce they're buying. We went wild with the Celtic Tiger ... And now we're after learning a lesson.”