My husband and I were transferred to the United States in 1996. He, an Englishman working for Lloyd’s of London and I an Irishwoman, a new mum of 3 months. During the initial few years, as we moved around the country, I noticed that people’s perception of Ireland, the Ireland I grew up in, was somewhat distorted and at times outdated, if not completely misguided and misinformed. I wondered how this could be, in a world where we are so connected to each other, now more than ever before. In the year 2000, I embarked upon my mission to bring the Real Ireland to people’s lives. It is more than a mission, it is indeed a passion. Passion is a deeply rooted belief, for it’s when you have this belief that you can continue on no matter what. Passion knocks on the unlikeliest of doors. It taps continuously until you answer it, and when, and if you do answer it, you had better brace yourself for the ride. The ride is rocky and bumpy, it hurls you off and then throws you a life line so that you can climb back on and continue this erratic and tough journey. Along the way, passion lifts you up like an eagle allowing you to soar for just enough time to get that bird’s-eye view of what could be and then propels you back to earth with a thud. It was but a moment, a moment to refuel and reenergize you. Passion is a coat of armor, protecting you from giving up. It fills a void and a purpose that money can never fill. Passion stems from emotion and emotion stems from strong feelings.
My sons returned to school this morning after their Spring break and my husband returned to work. My home was quiet and I sat with my coffee and had resumed work on an article I am writing for Irish American News. It was 10am and it was time for my daily show ’The Chew’ . For those of you reading this in Ireland, this is a daily show on the ABC network. ’Celebrating and exploring life through food’ is part of the bio on their Twitter handle, @TheChew. Believe me, they do celebrate and explore as it is for this very reason that I tune in on a daily basis. Each and every host is an expert in their field , from Chefs Carla Hall to Mario Batali and Michael Symon to Daphne OZ, author, health and wellness enthusiast to Clinton Kelly, author and entertaining expert. I love them all for who they are and for what they do. They are all passionate about their crafts and trades.
Just last week, I was having lunch at ‘Stampede 66′ owned by acclaimed chef, Stephen Pyles. When the lunch rush was over, Stephen came and sat at our table and chatted. During this time, we chatted about the ingredients available in Ireland and he was more than well versed on the topic. Finally, a chef of this caliber, a fifth generation Texan, creator of 15 restaurants, cookbook author and first person in the Southwest to win a James Beard award for ‘Best Chef’ knew about the world-class ingredients available from Ireland. I was so thrilled and proud at that moment to be Irish.
Today’s show was a St Patrick’s Day special ( airs a day later for us in Texas ). I was looking forward to this. I wondered if they were going to feature any Irish chefs. Perhaps, Neven Maguire, one of Ireland’s greatest chefs, Darina Allen or Clodagh McKenna. No sign of them. Perhaps they were unavailable. That was fine. The show, with such a talented group of hosts would surely delight us with innovative recipes, crafts, facts, decorating tips and photographs of Ireland. Surely a show with this calibre of talent would highlight the array of world-class ingredients that the island of Ireland produces.
Now, here I sit writing this post thoroughly disgusted as an Irish woman. I am only glad that my parents did not have to witness this utter debacle. It stirred a combination of feelings from anger, frustration and sadness. The problem with feelings like this is that they can lead to resentment which in itself is a futile emotion. Rather than ranting and raving I thought it best to be a little more productive and constructive. The show as I said is a celebration. They were laughing and joking and indeed having fun, but the images that were flashing across the screen would make any Irish person cringe with horror. Animated pictures of beer, pots of gold coins and bacon and cabbage. Jokes about being drunk and people peeing in doorways are not something and Irish person wants to hear all the time. I wonder about the research that was involved in this show, I wonder where they found their facts.
Now that St Patrick’s Day has passed, perhaps this is the ideal time for me to throw down the gauntlet . I would like to challenge ‘The Chew’ to revisit this topic. Maybe even come visit Ireland with me? Why Not?
Just last year, I met with two Irish friends in New York. We ate and shopped in Chef Mario Batali’s eatery and retail location named ‘Eataly’. If you have not visited this store then it is a must see when visiting New York. It is tastefully appointed, clean, alive and filled with the finest Italian Ingredients , cookbooks and kitchen accessories. It is a credit to the Italian culture. I have always wanted to do the same for the Irish culture. (Plans are ahead !) The only reason I bring up Chef Batali , is because when we watch and listen to him, he is proud of his Italian heritage, it seeps from him and oozes through the screen. He teaches us about pasta and olive oils, he takes us on journeys through Italy whether through his food, cookbooks, television shows or even when traveling with Gwyneth Paltrow. It is by no means his responsibility to be an Irish ambassador, that’s my job and the job of Irish people. This simply serves as an example.
My intent is not to hurt anyone here or deny people the fun and festivities that surround St Patrick’s Day. We do love to celebrate, but we were not all raised falling off bar stools. I did not grow up in a drinking home. My mother was , and still is a wonderful cook and baker. All I am trying to say is Ireland has a plethora of ingredients, recipes and characters to choose from. It may not seem like much to those reading this that are not of Irish descent, who are Irish or who care about Ireland but for people like my Dad and Mum, my sisters and my brother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my friends, Irish food bloggers,Irish chefs, Irish farmers, Irish cheese makers, Irish fishermen, Irish butchers,Irish bakers , Irish fruit growers and Irish shepherds it’s a place they call home. It is an island they are proud of. They till the land when it’s raining. They fight the savage conditions of the ocean to provide us with fish. They rise at 4am to milk the cows, to bake the artisan breads, to stock the farmers markets. They drive for hours to sell home-made preserves, they line the streets for hours to welcome the Queen of England and to embrace the future. They strive in an economy that has taken the country to its knees, they do not fight in the streets causing riots, they do not like it but the Irish do what they have always done, they accept it and carry on, they put their heads down and continue to work. They find a new way to evolve and sustain themselves and at this particular time ingredients, agriculture, meat and fish are of vital importance and I simply hate to see us denigrated as a nation. We are Irish for 365 days of the year. Now that March 17th has passed us by, my challenge is this:
Just as other cuisines and cultures are featured throughout the year, don’t you think it’s time to ‘Celebrate and explore Irish life through food?’ I challenge you to visit the Real Ireland with me, who knows, we may even be able to give the same opportunity to some of your viewers too ! Lets cook and bake, and farm and fish.
Rachel Gaffney ~ an American Mom, with an Irish Soul