A Food Writer’s Experience With Good Food Ireland: It’s Deeper Than Just the Food

As a food writer, I start working on my angles long before I reach a destination. In the case of my trip to Ireland with Good Food Ireland, I did even more pre-trip research than usual. You see, I thought it was going to be a challenge. Knowing Ireland’s boiled-meats-and-lots-of-potatoes reputation, I was prepared to have to dig deep to find the culinary gems. I memorized the names of all the traditional dishes, read all I could about Ireland’s food history, and made a list of noteworthy cheeses. My purpose was to make sure nothing important passed me by. I was prepared to be on the lookout for authentic —and good—food experiences in a country not well known for either. I thought I’d really have to keep my eyes peeled. I was blindsided. As it turns out, Good Food Ireland has already found Ireland’s culinary gems. It’s what they do. That means that I didn’t have to keep an eye out. Every place I went was noteworthy, and every dish I tried had a story to tell. Those stories came to mean as much as the flavor of the food, because woven together, they said more about Ireland than any travel guide ever could. One of the most telling things about the chefs, growers, and food producers I met in Ireland was that they were humble about their own work. In case after case, though, they were often more willing to talk about their colleagues and competitors than they were about themselves. I got the strong sense that they don’t do their jobs for the accolades, but because they believe in what they do, and care deeply about it. At Gilroy’s, Chef Justin O’Connor showed deep respect for Chef Ed Cooney (not to mention a friendly rivalry). When I met Chef Cooney at the Merrion’s Cellar Restaurant, he in turn was raving about Jack McCarthy’s sausages. The Shelbourne Hotel’s Chef Garry Hughes couldn’t say enough about Knockanore cheese, blissfully describing a vegetarian sandwich made with melted Smoked Knockanore Cheddar and tomato relish. Earlier, I had met dairy farmer Eamonn Lonergan, who makes Knockanore cheese. He raved about everyone. That sense of interconnectedness extends beyond the people to the countryside of Ireland. You can see the flavors of what you’re eating reflected in the outdoors. The lush green grass that nourishes the dairy cows can be tasted in a creamy bite of Toons Bridge Mozzarella. You can taste the sea salt clinging to a perfect Wexford oyster at A. Caviston’s while you look upon the sea. Those pops of color you see dotting the landscape show up on your plate in the form of edible flowers at Cliff House. The restaurants on Good Food Ireland’s list range from humble to sophisticated, but there’s a distinctly common thread. Whether simple or lavishly-prepared, the food is stunning. That expertly-chosen oyster at A. Caviston’s was perfect without adornment. It stood in contrast to the rich and decadent mussels in Guinness cream sauce at Gilroy’s—but I wouldn’t want to choose between the two. I also wouldn’t want to choose between the rustic lamb stew at Farmgate Cafe or the elegant Lamb Wellington at the Saddle Room. The common denominator? Fresh, local ingredients prepared with care. In some ways Good Food Ireland has it easy. The food speaks for itself.  But on the other hand: how do you articulate something that goes this deep—that’s so much more than good food? All I can do is tell you to plan a trip. A big one, a small one: just make sure you visit more than one Good Food Ireland provider. With each taste experience, you’ll enrich yourself further, and you’ll understand better. Good Food Ireland’s standards are high, their aim is true, and their philosophy is edible.