"Keeping food simple, cooking with care and using the best produce is the key," writes Maura O'Connell Foley, and it's unlikely many chefs would argue – except she was following the ‘local and seasonal' mantra before it was cool.
My Wild Atlantic Kitchenis the first book by the cook and restaurateur behind a host of hospitality businesses in Kenmare in the south west of Ireland.
The book travels through O'Connell Foley's career, from setting up the Purple Heather tea shop with her mother in 1961 to creating the Lime Tree restaurant, converting her uncle's grocery shop into Packie's Food and Wine restaurant and renovating a Georgian house and relaunching it as Shelburne Lodge guesthouse in 1996, which she still runs with husband Tom.
The author is largely self-taught and credits cookbooks and the generosity of fellow chefs with their recipes and stages for her inspiration, with the likes of Pierre Koffmann, Nigel Slater and Richard Corrigan name-checked within.
But the characters that come alive in the book are the residents of Kenmare – her family and the farmers, chefs and suppliers. These range from her grandmother, who hand-churned ice-cream for the town; the local farmer, who she convinced to turn commercial and supply her restaurant; and the woman who used to sell fish from the boot of her car.
Recipes are separated into chapters on breakfast, starters, fish, meat, vegetables, desserts and baking, sauces, stocks and staples, illustrated with beautiful food photography, but also images of the local area by Kenmare-based landscape photographer Norman McCloskey.
The recipes are mainly home comforts (roasts, gratins, casseroles, stews) and French classics, and are rarely complex. Rather than count against the book, this could serve as a reminder that sometimes the simplest dishes can be the best.
I was particularly taken by the tea shop-style traditional cakes and desserts – apple tart, coffee and walnut cake, and sticky toffee pudding – which first ignited her love of food.
My Wild Atlantic Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections, by Maura O'Connell Foley (£30)
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