What’s the USP? Recollections from a pioneering Irish chef and restaurateur with 250 recipes that span her 60 year career in hospitality.
Who is the author? Maura O’Connell Foley’s career in Kenmare, County Kerry began in 1961 with Agnes, the first tea shop she ran with her mother, and continued with The Purple Heather Restaurant and Piano Bar, The Lime Tree Restaurant and Packie’s (named after O’Connell Foley’s uncle). With her husband Tom, she continues to run Shelburne Lodge, a converted mid-18th century Georgian farmhouse which she restored over a five-year period and which she opened as a guesthouse in 1996.
Is it good bedtime reading? A forward by Irish celebrity chef Derry Clarke of L’Ecrivain restaurant in Dublin and a lengthy introduction and cooking notes by O’Connell Foley are supplemented by introductory essays for each of the eight recipe chapters. They include breakfast, starters, fish (O’Connell Foley’s ‘real love’ which is reflected in her extensive notes on the subject), meat, vegetables, desserts and baking, sauce, stocks and staples and dinner parties. Each recipe has its own introduction that includes useful and interesting background information or cooking tips, so there is plenty to keep you informed and entertained.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? O’Connell Foley says that it’s ‘vital you aim to source the best ingredients, especially if you want the best outcome’. So that means eschewing the supermarket and heading to your local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer if you are fortunate enough to have such things in the 21st century. Otherwise, the pandemic has opened up access via the internet to highly quality ingredients usually reserved for restaurants, but they come at a price. You’ll probably need to forage for your own elderflower heads to make gooseberry and elderflower compote for breakfast, and unless you live in Ireland you’ll need to find an online supplier for Gubeen Chorizo (or just substitute your favourite brand), but that all said, you should have no problem getting you hands on most of what you need to cook from the book.
What’s the faff factor? The wide variety of recipes means you can go from the plain sailing rocket, pear and blue cheese salad with toasted walnuts and apple and walnut dressing or a classic moules mariniere to the more demanding baked fillet of turbot en papillote with salsify and red wine sauce.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Very few complaints here. Weights and measures are supplied for nearly every ingredient including herbs, although ‘a few sprigs of thyme’ does crop up once or twice in the book and of course there’s the old ‘juice of a lemon’ classic (why does no one give ml quantities for lemon juice? I know, I’ve said that before in other reviews). Methods are detailed and well written so you won’t find yourself up a blind alley halfway through cooking a dish.
How often will I cook from the book? With 250 recipes to choose from, My Wild Atlantic Kitchen offers something for pretty much any occasion. Irish classics including brown soda bread, colcannon, beef and Guinness casserole and traditional Irish stew, cooked in a sealed pot and made with waxy potatoes only to avoid mushiness, (‘Irish stew is a broth with solids, like a bouillabaisse’, states O’Connell Foley) are all present and correct.
But there are plenty of influences from around the globe too, most noticeably France with dishes such as a Normandy-style chicken Valee d’Auge made with apple brandy, cider and apples, and brochettes de fruits de mer with sauce choron. The vegetables chapter with dishes like gratin of leeks or roast fennel will come in handy for when you need inspiration for a mid-week roast or grill, and the baking chapter with sweet treats like Tunisian orange cake will fill up a weekend when you fancy spending a bit of extra time in the kitchen.
Killer recipes: See above but also Drop Scone Pancakes with Dry Cured Bacon and Apple Syrup, Confit of Duck Leg with Pear and Ginger Salad and Twice Baked Hazelnut Goat’s Cheese Soufflé.
What will I love? Norman McCloskey’s beautiful landscape photography, the book’s timelessly stylish design, the illustrated dinner party menu suggestions and the vintage restaurant menus.
What won’t I like so much? The indexing could have been a bit more accurate – for example, Irish stew doesn’t appear at all in the index (and yes I checked ‘I’ for Irish, ‘S’ for stew, ‘L’ for lamb and ‘T’ for traditional).
Should I buy it? The recipes are great, the book looks fantastic and you’ll learn about an important piece of Irish restaurant history too. My Wild Atlantic Kitchen is one of my favourite books of the year and I bet it will yours too.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book
€35 Order from mywildatlantickitchen.com
(The book is also available from Amazon
My Wild Atlantic Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections
£35, Maura O’Connell Foley)