Not since Theodora Fitzgibbon compiled A Taste of Ireland in the 1960s has a food writer produced a book that can be described as a cultural event even before the first page is turned.
Chef, food photographer and writer Dermot Seberry doesn’t suffer fools in the food industry. After several years working as a chef (in Ballinahinch Castle in Galway, Mount Juliet Hotel in Kilkenny, Cascades in Sun City, the Savoy and Smollenskys in London), he found himself training the chefs of the future.
As a head chef he had been unhappy with the standard of trainee chefs from the London colleges and when he approached them to ask what they were teaching he was asked to take some classes.
After a spell as a manager in Westminster- Kingsway College of Catering in London, he was invited to lecture in the advanced culinary arts course at DIT, Cathal Brugha Street in Dublin, where he helped set up the artisan entrepreneurship course.
Meanwhile, back in his home county of Louth, the landscape had changed. Seberry was philosophical. ‘The M1 motorway put many pubs and restaurants out of business for sure but also put an end to rubbish family run food.’
Restaurants were now using fresh, local produce cooked by knowledgeable and imaginative chefs who understood seasonality and knew that was the key to taste.
This quiet revolution had started in the Scandinavian countries, where the artisans and chefs set the agenda and the menu, which always stated where ingredients were from.
Imaginative cooks, visionary chefs and innovative bakers gave preference to indigenous produce and products with their own distinctive flavours. Ultimately this approach began to influence those who ran the catering colleges.
‘Peer pressure has forced some colleges to rethink their approach to training chefs,’ he says. ‘It is not good enough to accept that old classical French methods are standard teaching practice.
‘It’s simply nowhere near the norm today.’
According to Seberry, many chefs are restricted to the methods and recipes of old and lack creativity of the mind. ‘They don’t love food; they just do the job of cooking.
‘They know what local produce is but don’t know how to use it.’
In the north-east, the culinary mood has been set by the artisans and chefs, and the locals and tourists have not been slow sensing the wind of change.
When Seberry was approached by the county tourism board to represent food, the idea of a colour book featuring maps and photos, local producers and restaurants using indigenous produce to make traditional recipes grabbed the imagination.
This book proves that artisan food from the north-east of Ireland is now established.
It is available online.