The Source of All Flavours – Gavin McDonagh’s Food Journey Around Ireland
In the introduction to “The Future of Food” supplement in last week’s edition of The Sunday Business Post (Sunday 26th April 2015); Ian Kehoe pointed out that Irish food & drink exports out performed all other sectors of the economy over the past five years.
Even in the darkest days of the great recession Irish Food & Drink remained a good news story. This revolution in the sector is based in the natural entrepreneurial spirit of the individuals involved and a strategic approach from state agencies such as Bord Bia to boost exports in a withering economy.
The diversification of farming has led to an ever growing number of indigenous food companies and farm sourced produce. These companies are delivering the very highest internationally award winning products available. This has been nothing but a boon to the ever dynamic restaurant sector in Ireland. Chefs with focus on flavour, quality and locally source produce have had an ever-growing basket of fine Irish products to select from. Part of this development is also about gaining a deeper understanding of the motivations of the producers, the production method itself and the passion that underlies all this.
One of those chefs, Gavin McDonagh of Brioche in Ranelagh, is undertaking a trip around Ireland to meet with and discover more about the artisan suppliers that furnish his kitchen with the high-end ingredients he demands. Gavin’s need to understand the origins and production methods of the food he uses underpins his approach to cuisine development and flavour profiling where he focuses on only bringing to the table the very best in-season Irish produce.
On this first part of his journey Gavin visited a family farm that diversified from dairy to organic vegetables in Ballinasloe and a pasture-reared poultry farm near Athenry that uses Tatra Mountain dogs to protect the flocks.
Beechlawn Organic Vegetables
Padraig Fahy and Úna Ní Bhroin have an obvious passion for growing things as naturally as they can. They met while studying for Diplomas in Organic Horticulture at The Organic College in Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick at the turn of the century. Considered by many to produce the finest organic produce in Ireland, sustainability of production methods is at the heart of Beechlawn’s values.
Beechlawn Farm has been in Padraig’s family for over 90 years where diversification is generational. The farm was at first a horse farm changing to dairy in later years and then concentrating on raw milk production until 2001 when, as Padraig and Úna say, the current business germinated.
Gavin met the couple for a tour of the farm that has grown from the 2 acres in 2002 to its current 20 acres. Beechlawn now includes 16,000 square feet of protected growing space under poly-tunnels for the more delicate crops and a packing shed. The farm is now truly a national supplier with a stall at the Loughrea market and deliveries to shops and restaurants from Cork to Dublin and Glasthule to Spidal.
On the visit Gavin discussed seasonality; range and availability of the vegetables Beechlawn grow. “We spent the morning looking around the farm and discussing what produce would become available when and the possibility of growing certain items for Brioche”. Gavin was looking for a producer who could grow and deliver diverse produce to demand “My Head Chef Damien and I will put a plan together and talking to Padraig in the near future about our requirements.”
The Friendly Farmer
Athenry followed where Gavin met Ronan Byrne AKA The Friendly Farmer. Ronan is the third generation to farm the 35 acres just outside of Athenry. The farm is a great example of the viability of a small mixed setup. Free range pigs, beef cattle, and seasonal poultry are included but pasture-reared Hubbard chickens are his speciality. These birds roam free across the grassy fields their whole lives. They are protected from predation by bird friendly Tatra Mountain Dogs that hail from southern Poland.
Ronan seems to be motivated to ensure and oversee that the conditions of his livestock remain excellent right up until slaughter; and this occurs for many right there on the farm itself at his own hand. Gavin was quite impressed by this, “Ducks are dry plucked and dry aged similar to the way the best quality Irish beef is treated; he is the only one in the country doing this! We will be showcasing his ducks in brioche from next week.”
This attention to livestock welfare certainly pays off; in 2012, after competing in a blind tasting, his chicken’s won a Euro-Toques Food Award, a prestigious accolade indeed. This was followed most recently by a “Local Food Hero” award in the current round of the Irish Restaurant Awards.
After such a successful first outing Gavin is looking forward to bringing all the newly discovered and planned produce to the menus at Brioche soon.
Beechlawn Organic Farm,
T: +353 (0)90 9646713
M: +353 (0)86 1799007
The Friendly Farmer
T: 087 109 1805