The iron beams dart across the ceiling in seeming war with the wooden furniture and warm russet brick walls, providing a perfect visual metaphor for the night as it unfolds. The Refinery Rooftop Bar is already buzzing: the tables filled with all kinds of food – from basic bread to smoked salmon to citrus truffles – while New Yorkers chat at every turn. Two young women dressed in delightful ruby coloured dresses hand out clear liquid cocktails made with Ruby Blue Spirits (a small-batch distillery that pulls its ingredients from the Irish countryside). It is light and refreshing, not something often associated with the famous heavy Irish whiskey. This is Fare Plate: an event embodying the juxtaposition of old and new, and a perfect reflection of Ireland’s emerging culinary identity.
Fare Plate founder, New York resident Bridget Bray, got the idea for an Irish tasting after she first
“discovered” the beautiful simplicity of Irish food “over soup, bread, and butter” After realizing the inherent pleasure in such a straightforward meal, she said, “I started looking into and learning more about Irish food and drink: visiting markets (for example the Limerick Milk Market), restaurants, cafes, and learning more about Irish artisan / craft producers on my visits to Ireland, but I was also on the hunt for Irish products in New York City.”
Bray points out the well-rounded Irish Arts scene as well and she wanted to fill the gap. “There are many Irish
focused dance, theatre, music, literature, history groups and events, but I felt there was an opportunity to create a focus on Irish food and drink. In January 2015, I formed the ‘New York Irish Food & Drink’ meetup group – then developed the plan for an Irish food event: Fare Plate. Fare Plate: a spin on the commonly used Irish term ‘fair play’ for a job well done.” Her use of the pun underscores the Irish love of language and contributions to the art world. Ireland is now embracing their legacy in the food arena: artisan food production, small farms, and food tourism are on the rise. Fare Plate is helping lead the charge in New York, with two events under their belt and a third planned for March 11, 2017.
Fairly well-known food producers, such as Kerrygold and Flahavan’s Oats, were represented as well as up and coming items such as the vibrant Hanlon’s Smoked Salmon, tasty NearyNogs chocolate and creamy Coole Swan Irish Liqueur, with real cream sourced from an Irish dairy farm. There was even a gift box filled to the rim on display curated by Irish Taste Club, which will deliver Irish artisan foods to your door every month here in the States. Certainly, this plethora of products flies in the face of the “corned beef and cabbage” stereotype many Americans have today. “The story behind many of these burgeoning companies is as delightful as the taste of the products themselves. And no, Irish fare is not limited to just beef, cabbage, potatoes and soda bread,” Bray says.
“Farm to Table,” “Grass Fed,” “Slow Food,” are current buzz words in the food world, but I will let you in on a little secret: Ireland’s always known about real food and simple pleasures. However, not until the implosion of the Celtic Tiger did they truly embrace their food destiny. People, in order to find new careers, returned to the green lush fields and a true Irish food revolution began.
However, new Irish food artisans face obstacles if they want to produce products for the U.S. market. During the night, I met the North American Director of Bord Bía (Irish Food Board), Karen Coyle, who was a fount of knowledge about the Irish food scene. She spoke of the realities food exporters face should they try to sell in the United States. “You may have the greatest granola to sell at Whole Foods that costs $12 a bag but if they already have a similar one for $8 a bag, then it will not work. I help people figure these logistics out.” She also mentioned the energy and new opportunities happening in the Irish food scene embodied in Bord Bía’s Food Academy (which develops new small business food products) and their relationship with University College Dublin’s Graduate Business School Executive Development Program – many of the food representatives at Fare Plate were part of this initiative. On my trip to Ireland this April, I am visiting an organic farm, with a honey specialty, whose owner is working with Bord Bía’s Food Academy.
The featured Fare Plate guest was Imen McDonnell, a new cookbook author, who summed up Irish food beautifully as “profoundly honest.” She was on hand to sign books and talk to participants about her experiences as an American woman living on an Irish farm. Her traditional Irish, yet with a modern twist, recipes formed the backbone for the evening in the VIP Tasting and again demonstrated a harmonious duality at play.
The Refinery Rooftop staff cooked and served up her creations on rustic long boards, giving the hearty fare a nouveau cuisine style presentation. The food was both light and rich, something which is key in current Irish food. The first course was McDonnell’s Bread, Cheese, and Chive Pudding. Bread and cheese are seemingly heavy ingredients but the dish was surprisingly light and savory. Another interesting and entirely new dish for me was the Down and Durty Baked Eggs, using the delicious Ballymaloe Relish (a tomato type sauce, not like American relish). The hearty baked eggs were topped with this refreshingly light sauce: a perfect balance. We finished the meal (for it was a three course dinner rather than a tasting, true to the notoriously generous Irish hospitality) with a perfect Irish coffee, featuring the amazing Teeling Whiskey: a sweet and smoky concoction to cleanse our palates.
Today, people want healthy, local food; but more importantly there is a desire for connection and a sense of community around the table, something we lost in the United States with our fast-paced culture before the most recent economic collapse in 2008. Fare Plate was all about slowing down and savouring. Ireland has long embodied these core values as well and now the country is in the perfect position to capitalize. In Ireland what is old is new again. Coole Swan Liqueur, one of Fare Plate’s sponsor’s, uses Yeats’ poem “The Wild Swans at Coole” as their inspiration. Fitting, since the piece expresses the desire to grasp beauty despite its changing nature. There is beauty in traditional Irish meals, and as Ireland grasps the past, it is exciting to see them leap into the future.
For more information visit:
Fare Plate, www.fareplate.com
Bord Bía, www.bordbia.ie
Imen McDonnell (her great blog)
You may also purchase The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm from Amazon.
Libby Page is the founder of irishfoodrevolution.com, a website devoted to Irish food in all its forms, featuring spotlights on food artisans, a glossary of Irish culinary terms, and new recipes. If you have recipes, eatery suggestions, stories to share, or need ideas for food places to visit in Ireland, please contact her: