Ok, since everyone has a hit list of best and worst, I thought I will give you my list of my highlights of the year 2013. You might agree with some of them, with others you might not but the people below made the most impression on me last year, not always in big ways but in ways that count. Please note that the list is in no particular order:
Avril is married to Willie and together they run the Caherberg Farm near Rosscarbery. Avril is one of the hardest working women I have ever met and she seems to have a resource of energy that would challenge Superman. Together with her husband, they have scooped up awards after awards for their Black Pudding and Sausages. Avril is researching old recipes to come up with new ways of using her produce – and I am not talking about a full fry-up here. She came up with a recipe of Christmas Cake with sausage meat and if you didn’t know it was sausage meat, you would think you are eating a rich full flavoured cake. She is not afraid of trying new things and I can’t wait to see her cookbook collection which I was told is extensive. You can find Avril at food festivals, markets and online on Rosscarbery Recipes Facebook & Twitter.
Dave & Aidan O’Brien
This brother duo of The Workshop Tearoom have hospitality down to perfection. When you enter the Tearoom in Ballygarvan, you will feel like an old friend who came to visit. The welcome is warm and invites to stay. The combination of excellent cakes, teas, salads and light lunches with cosy seating and antics ready to buy is so simple but at the same time so fantastic that I have been there a few times although it is completely out of my way. This wonderful tearoom is worth any drive. I have bought an antic French Day Bed and have to stop myself every time I am visiting not to buy any more of the handpicked items on sales. Dave (who also paints) and Aidan restore items with a light hand and a lot of creativity. A place where you can forget the cold outside and just relax.
Mairead & Richard Jacobs
If you have ever been to Idaho Cafe, you will understand why this power couple is on this list. They do simple things with perfect precision. They know what they are good at and their customers know it as well. Service is given with a smile and you are never pushed to leave to make room for someone else although there are queues out the door to get a table in this beautiful little cafe. I am not the only one who has recognised the amazing standard as they have won ‘Best Cafe in Ireland’ this year. The wall outside their cafe needs more room to fit all the prizes Mairead & Jacob have scooped up over the years. Over 12 years in business, customers are still in love with them and so am I. What has me mostly amazed is the social conscience both have. Idaho was the first business to join the Suspended Coffee Movement. Giving back to the community is a way of live for them rather than a marketing strategy. All ingredients are Irish sourced and it shows in the final dishes created by Mairead. Make sure to pay them a visit to see what the buzz is all about.
The Rocket Man
Talking about doing simple things right – The duo of The Rocket Man, Simone Kelly & Jack Grotty shows that we just love fresh taste of fresh ingredients. Something as simple as salads are transformed into bursts of flavour with combinations that make your mouth water. Wacky events like hiking up Carrauntoohil and feeding the hungry hordes have made The Rocket Man a household name. Their fantastic salads can be found in Mahon Point Farmer’s Market on a Thursday and in Douglas & Midleton Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. They also cater for larger parties as they did when I organised the Film Feast at last year’s IndieCork Film Festival. Can’t wait to see what Simone & Jack have up their sleeves this year.
I have to admit, I have never met Kevin Thornton but of course I knew about him, having won several awards (one being number 28 in the world). But what made me add him to this list was his talk at last year’s TedX event in Dublin. Bringing us back to basic and following the seasons. His talk was very personal and inspiring. He was preaching to the choir with me but I am using his talk since to underline my believe that we should stop trying to get strawberries in December and start eating what we are meant to eating in the season we are in. As a chef that might be hard to achieve but Kevin Thornton is showing how it is done. You can watch his talk here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTEnbxizUsI
Again, I have not met any of the 2 men involved in the Toonbridge Dairy but I just love what they are doing. Bringing proper buffalo mozzarella to our tables. Now they have started to make ricotta and as I have heard, Haloumi. You can buy the meat as well. If you are near Macroom, make sure to head to Toonbridge to visit the little cafe where you can get homemade cakes, salads and more. The shop next door gives you everything you need to create an Irish-Italian dinner.
You have read above that Idaho Cafe was the first cafe in Cork to join the Suspended Coffee Movement. This movement takes a very simple idea – when you enjoy a coffee in any of the participating cafes in Ireland, just pay for one (or two) coffees. Someone who can not afford a coffee can call in and ask for a suspended coffee. It might not change the world but it will make someones day. You are helping someone in your community and it doesn’t break the bank. Please support this movement by asking your local cafe to join the suspended coffee community.
If you are looking for a cause this year, please make sure that you support Irish Seedsavers who are doing such important work in keeping our heritage vegetables and fruit alive. You can support them by simply becoming a friend for €50 a year or simply buy your seed supply from their online shop. I can’t emphasis enough the important work the seedsavers are doing.