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Watch out for this short series starting on RTE television in early January 2008. It’s called ‘Guerrilla Gourmet’, and each programme involves a restaurant chef doing his/her thing in an unusual setting or simply doing something you might not expect them to do. I’ve just finished an exhausting but very rewarding week of filming. When I was first approached about it, an idea came out of my mouth before I had really thought it through. To be honest, I didn’t really think it would ever happen, another of those interesting projects that never get off the ground but are fun to talk about. Well, it did happen and it turned out to be an amazing experience for everyone involved. The idea was for me, a vegetarian chef, to cook a dinner in Bandon cattle mart and, what’s more, to convince some of the farmers and dealers who use the place to come and try the food. I don’t even own a television and I would have plenty of negative things to say about most of the stuff produced for tv, but you have to admire the sheer neck and fearlessness of people who listen to a proposal like that and then say, yeah, sure, we can make that happen.
We spent a couple of days at the mart sales, learning about what goes on there and talking to some of the men – and one woman – bringing stock to sell or hoping to take a few beasts home. I was impressed by their good humour when they might have told me to take a flying jump, as well as by their open-minded curiosity which was enough to get a crowd of 40 diners signed up for the event. I told them that the menu would be based on traditional ingredients, locally sourced, the stuff we’re all familiar with: cabbage, turnips, carrots, brussels sprouts, parsnips, apples and pears. And that it would be in a way that they wouldn’t recognise either in terms of flavour or appearance…and that there would be no meat. In fairness, most who said they wouldn’t be interested in such a daft meal said it with humour, sometimes with a little pity for the crazy man who would even imagine it was possible. The ones who came along did it in a very generous spirit of fun. Sure, what else would you be doing on a cold Monday night in Bandon?
This is in stark contrast to the reaction I got when I had earlier addressed a meeting of the IFA in Mallow in north Cork, hoping to drum up some business. Hostile and fearful would be a fair description of the mood in the room, and it left me quite taken aback until I began to think about the difference between the people north and south of the Cork-Macroom road. That could make a documentary in itself one day.
In one day, a restaurant was built inside an old disused building full of holding pens, and I mean a complete restaurant – kitchen and dining room, from stoves and ovens right down to tablecloths, candles and fine glassware. That evening, we – Johan, Glory and me – served up a four course meal to the forty brave souls. The room looked beautiful, the contrast between the formal table settings and the ivy-covered stone walls and the cattle pens giving the place a slightly surreal air that definitely added to the incredible buzz that everyone got from the evening. I swear, and this is not a boast because it’s not only a result of the food, that by the end people were high from the euphoria of the pleasure they had allowed themselves. In the sales ring afterwards, a one-man-band played a few Walls of Limerick or the like, finishing with a fine version of Mount Massey the Flower of Macroom, which had everyone waltzing around on the straw in a blissfully happy state.
I don’t know if this will make good television, but cameras or no cameras, it was a hugely worthwhile event that will be remembered for a long time by everyone there. It might not be enough to tempt me to get a tv again, but hats off to the people who made it possible. And a big thank you to Pat McCarthy of Bandon Mart for having the courage to see the potential good in it.
Posted on: 21 November 2007