Editor’s note: Scott was hosted on the trip by Raglan Road and Dunbrody Country House Hotel. Read Raglan Road Trip to Ireland, Part 1, here.
COUNTY WEXFORD, IRELAND — The group — five contestants and five media reps, along with our guide, Aileen Ferguson — had spent the first two days in Ireland in Dublin and then motoring south to this region on Hook Peninsula to Dunbrody Country House, the elegant hotel and cooking school owned and operated by Kevin and Catherine Dundon. The main house is a stately old manor that was once the hunting lodge of an Irish prime minister. (Only prime ministers warrant hunting lodges with 22 bedrooms.)
While the main structure keeps true to its 1800s heritage, Dundon’s Cookery School, located in perhaps an old stable structure, is a modern facility where students are given instructions designed by Dundon and often carried out by his full-time chef de cuisine, Julien Climot.
It was here that the contestants gathered on the morning of the third day to learn what dish they would be assigned to cook for the 10th anniversary dinner at Raglan Road back in Orlando in October.
All five had submitted videos that demonstrated a three course menu. From those submissions, Dundon selected five that would make up the anniversary dinner.
But not quite.
Dundon chose the basic dishes, but then added embellishments and enhancements.
For example, Colleen Kearny had proposed an oyster soup. Dundon turned it into one with a lightly fried oyster, a butter sauce and a honey foam.
Janice Epaillard’s roasted shrimp and scallops with sauteed leeks became a pan-seared scallop served on mashed potato foam with crispy bacon, a garnish of micro greens and trout roe.
Heather McBroom Walker had suggested Rosemary and Orange Haddock Bundle with Parsnip Stuffing and Rainbow Puree. According to Walker, “Kevin chose my entree, but changed and simplified it significantly for the better. He used the Haddock fillet, but instead of the stuffing he made a small, deep fried croquette with crab and panko bread crumbs. The Haddock fillet was pan seared and bathed in brown butter as it finished cooking. He also used a puree, but he used minted peas instead of the asparagus I had used. The dish was plated with fresh pea sprouts and pods from his vegetable garden.”
Linda Rohr’s Wexford County lamb made the cut, but it was tied up with herbs inside (and both Rohr and I made notes about how to do the tying).
Dessert was left to Aaron Van Swearingen, but instead of the caramelized pear tart that he had put forth in his video, Van Swearingen was instructed to make it into a pear tart with with star anise in a puff pastry with whiskey butterscotch ice cream. Julius Mayo caught Van Swearingen’s expression when he tasted the difference (above).
For the next couple of hours, the students/contestants practiced their new recipes, then it was off to be tourists for the afternoon. We visited the Hook Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse in the world (though modern navigation tools have largely rendered it quaint) and Loftus Hall, which bills itself as the most haunted house in Ireland. (I personally rolled my eyes so hard that I pulled an eyelid.)
But the house does have a place in history, and is the source of a phrase you’ve no doubt uttered without knowing its provenance. Originally Redmond House, it was coveted by Britain’s Oliver Cromwell, who vowed to confiscate it. I told you that we were on Hook Peninsula; across the bay is Crook. And Cromwell pledged that he would take Redmond House “by Hook or by Crook.”
Back at Dunbrody, we repaired to The Local, a pub the Dundons have opened on the grounds of the estate, for some pub grub. When I first read of the pub, I had the idea that it was maybe an Irish estate’s equivalent of a dude ranch — something to give the visiting tourists a taste of authenticity, but actually far from real.
Was I ever wrong. This was about as authentic and real an Irish pub that I’ve ever been in, and it was aptly named, because most of the patrons that filled the place were indeed locals.
If they hadn’t come for the great live music and cold beer (Dundon is currently installing a rather impressive brewing facility out back) they came for what just may be the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. The key, Dundon told me, is that the fish is so fresh.
We found out how fresh when we all boarded a forty-foot fishing charter the next morning and headed for the Irish Sea just past the lighthouse.
Captain Walter and his first mate, Nobby, gave us all pre-baited poles, and within seconds of lowering the lines into what James Joyce so vividly called “the snot-green sea,” we began catching fish. Van Swearingen was first. Pam Brandon pulled in two on one line, and I came up with a cod myself.
For dinner that night, we were tasked with gutting and filleting the fish, and then we cooked them, some pan fried, some done with a tempura. All just a little bit tastier for having been our own.
We toasted each other, the Dundons — and their Raglan business partners John Cooke and Paul Nolan — Climot and his kitchen staff, and of course the well-trained servers in the Dunbrody restaurant, and said our good nights.
The next morning was back to Dublin to board a plane back to Orlando.