I got to go back to Ireland the other day, just for a few hours.
The occasion was the 10th anniversary dinner at Raglan Road, the denouement of a months long journey that included an actual trip to Ireland. The dinner at Raglan Road, which recently changed its address to Disney Springs without having to actually move, was prepared by the winners of a contest the restaurant had as part of the celebration. They included Central Floridians Aaron Van Swearingen, Colleen Kerney and Janice Epaillard, and Heather McBroom Walker of Scottsdale, Ariz. Linda Rohr of Darien, Conn., was unable to attend the dinner.
Contestants had submitted YouTube videos telling Raglan’s chef/partner Kevin Dundon what they would prepare for a 10th anniversary dinner. From those videos, Dundon selected the five winners, then flew them to Ireland and his Dunbrody Country House where he also has a cooking school.
In the modern kitchen classroom of the old country estate, Dundon took each cook’s recipe and changed it, keeping the main ingredients but improving on it as only a master chef can, adding foam here or fancy croquettes there. They practiced and prepared, and then flew home to await the big day.
That was Wednesday, Oct. 21, at a dinner for a group of invited guests in Raglan Road’s private dining room. Each one had to prepare his or her course in the massive kitchen while the regular RR cooks worked next to them serving a regular contingent of guests. (We’re talking hundreds of dinners every night; this is a hugely popular restaurant and the kitchen constantly thrums.)
Kerney was first with Colleen’s Cape Cod Oyster Soup with Honey Tarragon Foam. It was just one oyster in the briny broth, but it was beautifully coated and crisped. The wines for the evening were curated by Amy F. Mednitz, reserve portfolio manager of Coastal Wine & Spirts. She chose the Ruinart Rose, a crisp brut Champagne, to serve as a greeting toast and to go with the first course
Epaillard was up next with Janice’s Georges Banks Sea Scallop on a Smoky Bacon & Potato Foam, with Salmon Roe & Smoked Speck. A delicious scallop, but what else is needed when you’ve got bacon and potato foam? Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, from Australia’s Margaret River, was the perfect pairing. I liked that there was plenty of fruit in the nose and the palate but that it was light on grapefruit — not always the case with sauv blancs. A lovely wine.
McBroom Walker’s course, Heather’s Pan Seared North Atlantic Haddock, with Pea Puree & a Jonah Crab Croquette, was the third course of the decidedly seafood centric menu. It was a beautiful chunk of firm fish, deftly seared and with a buttery note. Peas, both pureed and un-, surrounded the haddock. The fish perhaps was not as fresh as those that we all caught from a fishing boat on the Irish Sea then cooked that evening, but it was pretty close. Vocoret Chablis from Burgundy added flavors of peach and lemon. This wine really came forward when it was tasted with the food.
The team and Raglan’s cooks pitched in to prepare Rohr’s course, Linda’s Lamb Noisette with Heirloom Tomato Monde, Dandelion Greens & Natural Pan Jus. They all did her proud. The lamb was a perfect medium rare and had the distinctive light gamey characteristic. And could there be a better pairing than a 2010 Aurelien Verdet Gevrey-Chambertin? The answer is no. Rich forward red fruit flavors — I alternated sips with bites of lamb and then did something I rarely do at these dinners: I cleaned my plate.
Van Swearingen finished things up with Aaron’s Caramelized Bartlett Pear & Star Anise Tarte Tatin, with Jameson Butterscotch Ice-cream. How could it not be Jameson? The Veuve Clicqout Demi-Sec was a dessert in its own right.
Van Swearingen, who is a professional photographer, presented Dundon and his Raglan Road partners Paul Nolan and John Cooke a bound book of photographs that he and others on the trip had captured. It was a beautiful collage of images that had me longing to go back to Ireland. That was something I never thought I would say. I had been twice before, and had pleasant experiences, but nothing that made me long to return.
Until now. Now I find myself reminiscing about the sights we saw and the kind people we met — the true Ireland beyond the pubs of Dublin. And I find myself looking over the schedule of cooking classes at Dundon’s Dunbrody Cookery School. I know I’ll go back.