By Rory Morohan
This time last year, before we knew the full extent of the COVID-19 crisis, I felt disappointed about the cancellation of the culinary programme at the St Patrick’s Festival in Cyprus. I had been commissioned by the Irish Embassy in Cyprus to carry out a programme on Culture Through Food for the festival.
In addition to creating the menu for a reception at the Landmark Hotel in Nicosia, I was to appear on Cypriot TV, take part in festival events in Larnaca and Paphos, perform cookery demonstrations for the Alphamega supermarket chain and the Big Green Egg BBQ company. I also developed a signature dish for the Moondog Nicosia, a popular international bar, a Celtic Irish Burger with a Guinness onion marmalade and Celtic potato wedges.
I had visited Cyprus and the Irish embassy in January, addressing most of the festival business before returning to Ireland to work on the menu with unique Irish products such as blackened salmon with Guinness, which I oversaw the production of in Killala, Co. Mayo. I made a visit to the Cypriot ambassador here in Dublin as she had shown an interest in the St Patrick’s festival events.
I had also contacted a number of Irish food brands asking for supplies, which I collected and sent to Cyprus by airfreight two days before I was due to fly out on 12th March. On 11th March I was contacted by the Irish ambassador and told that COVID-19 had hit Cyprus and they were going into lockdown. After all that effort, everything came to a stop and that was the end of Culture Through Food.
In February thus year I was contacted by the Irish embassy again and asked if I available to do some online virtual culinary work for the St Patrick’s virtual embassy reception, which all Irish embassies around the world took part in. This time we planned that Culture Through Food would be centre stage at the embassy’s reception, which would be attended by An Taoiseach, with a connective signature dish linking both island countries in culture through food.
A few ideas were mentioned including doing something with the Irish coffee. I got to work and contacted a film crew that designed the culinary programme. As I was out of work during COVID-19 like so many others, my resources were at a minimum. I asked by network for their support during the challenge and they came through.
The Clayton Group and Stephen McNally gave me the use of Jury’s Hotel Ballsbridge; David Tallon Ready Chef provided all the fruit and vegetables for the recipes and display; and M&K Meat, Genovese, and Caviston’s in Glasthule, and Wicklow fishmonger Alan Hegarty also gave support. Dan Signs Wicklow provided signage, Harry Gill covered film production, and Sean Nelson provided the special Quan BBQ equipment.
On the day of the shoot , I lit the fires of the Quan BBQ in my front garden in Bray at 8am to create the unique 'Salmon of Knowledge' with the Cypriot twist for the first shoot. Secondly, I shot a video for the Genovese using the harissa paste before packing up and heading to the hotel in Ballsbridge for 10am with all the equipment, mobile kitchen, signage and ingredients. It was a long, hard day.
When I arrived in Jury’s Ballsbridge the hotel was empty and airy. It was not open to business and only caretaking staff were on site. Normally this hotel would be full tilt with rugby season in full swing, but instead it was like The Shining -- all long corridors and nobody home.
We set up the mobile kitchen, cameras and light displays and prepared the ingredients with the help of a chef who was on hand in the kitchen. All in all, we shot 10 videos one after the other and did not finish until 10pm that night. The last shoot was two versions of the Irish coffee in English and as Gaeilge as Seachtain na Gaeilge was coming up and I am a gaeilgeoir, and it was my duty to support the Irish language with an interesting piece to camera.