Irish Examiner - March 2009

Feast for organic lovers.

It was a memorable feast around a giant table, adorned with thoughtfully sourced ingredients, all very simply cooked.

All 40 diners at The Strawberry Tree Restaurant licked their lips afterwards. The occasion was the recent Garden Slow Food Convivium’s tenth anniversary, celebrated with an Organic and Wild Food dinner at BrookLodge in Macreddin Village in Co. Wicklow.

Evan Doyle moved form Killarney in 1999 to open a hotel in the beautiful Wicklow hills. His ambition was to own the first organic restaurant and hotel in Ireland, no easy task when over 80% of organic produce sold in Ireland is still imported.

He quickly set about creating links with local farmers and food producers to supply BrookLodge with organic produce – both fresh and wild.

Meanwhile, he experimented with smoking his own salmon and beef. In 1999 Evan discovered and bought a smoker from the lovely Innes Walker from Scotland who came over to give hands-on lessons on how to get the best results from the smoker.

Both the Macreddin home-smoked beef and salmon were part of the menu on Saturday night. The salmon was served with citrus poached pear and avocado jelly. The beef came with a grape tapenade and blue cheese.

Evan’s kitchen team are every bit as passionate about sourcing good produce as he is. Early in the day Evan, head chef Tim Daly and sous chef James Kavanagh all went to pick wild garlic and lots of wild greens and leaves.

One of Paul Crotty’s plump organic chickens was anointed with wild garlic butter and roasted until

the skin was crisp and golden. We almost fought over the last pieces. There were squabbles too over JJ Ahern’s duck from Born Free Farm near Carrigtwohill in Co Cork. That was not all we tasted along the way.

Kerry Castle is Ireland’s proud contribution to the Worlds Heritage of rare breeds. Considered by many to be a dairy breed, I too can vouch for the fact that they produce wonderful meat with rich yellow fat. Raymond Halliard of Killarney introduced Evan to these beautiful black cattle years ago.

Even works with several farmers to get a supply of this prized indigenous meat throughout the year. The succulent venison came from Michael Healy down the coast in Rathdrum.

There was also some baked haddock served with wild sea spaghetti. Organic Vegetables, Roast Beets and Swede Turnips came for the local farms of Dennis Healy. Alan Pierse and Mark Winterbotharn in Kiltegan and Aughrim.

But the most memorable flavours of an altogether memorable meal for me was the salad of wild leaves picked that afternoon – penny worth, wild sorrel, tiny dandelion and primrose leaves, simply dressed with extra virgin olive oil from Evan’s olive groves in Basilicata in Southern Italy.

As one cynic remarked “If there was a strike, there would scarcely be a bite of food in a restaurant in Ireland”.

There are exceptions, chefs like Evan Doyle who go out of their way to source local or at least Irish Food.

- Darina Allen