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Echoes of the Millennium: For ‘The Druid Chef,’ Irish cuisine is positively Celtic

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Margaret Johnson

While many Irish chefs continue to rely on native ingredients for their "new cuisine," don’t be surprised to find dishes peppered with Thai, Mediterranean, Asian, and fusion influences as well. Vegetarian and organic eating is also extremely popular in Ireland today, and nearly every good restaurant offers a meatless or a vegan dish on its menu.

But one chef has gone in another direction completely, reaching into history and legend to awaken the spirit of the ancient Celts and to bring their culture into the modern world by developing what he calls "Celtic Cuisine."

Dubliner Ruairí Ó Móracháin, who bills himself "The Druid Chef," has combined his interest in Irish history with his training in the kitchen and developed a cooking style that embraces the idea of rustic, wholesome food with the organic factor that would have been the true Celtic diet. His food philosophy combines classical and modern-day cooking techniques with all the elements of Celtic culture.

"As we know from our history books, the Celts mainly lived around the coastline," Ó Móracháin said. "They were a race to live off their own natural surroundings. Their food was indigenous of the region and prepared very intelligently. The more information I gathered, the more facts came to light about the Celtic way of eating. It is proven that it was organic, wholesome, and rich in nutrition. Today it would be a very trendy diet, full of meat, fish, berries, grains, fruits, and nuts."

Ó Móracháin not only researched the types of food that would have been part of the Celtic diet, but he incorporates their ancient images into his food styling. He found that the Celtic concept embraces three images –folklore, land, and spiral — so Ó Móracháin applies the rustic art of Druid times to create what he calls "a picture of Celtic art on the plate."

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"Folklore celebrates the magic tradition of ancient story-telling, so dessert might mimic the folk tale of the Swans of Lir and be expressed by swan meringues swimming on a pool of wild berry sauce," he said. "The land recalls the fresh tastes thrown up from the wave-swept coastlines, the monuments, and the strong scent of baking over a turf fire, so I bake a whole fish over a turf fire and impress spirals into the skin. The circular design embraces the organic flavors of the wild, so I set three fillets of lamb on two sauces as a symbol of Glendalough, the Glen of two lakes. For Newgrange Cheesecake, I even combine a few tablespoons of charcoal with egg whites and icing sugar to simulate the rocks surrounding the ancient monument."

Without a doubt, Ó Móracháin is on a mission to promote what he thinks is the cuisine that was hidden from the Irish through Famine and poverty. "We have great music and dance and songs and stories, traditions which have continued from the times of Cuchulainn to the present day," he said, "but our minds have been starved of the rich rewards that were once offered by the great culinary pioneers of Celtic times. I see it as my personal challenge to bring that feast of ideas back to the modern world."

Ó Móracháin also believes you can’t have a Celtic cuisine without a Druid chef, a role he willingly assumes for cooking demonstrations, food festivals, and corporate affairs. He’s anxious to introduce the concept to American audiences and expects to make several appearances here in 2000. For information on the Druid Chef, E-mail him at celticcuisinef@clubi.ie.

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