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The Irish Times – The Story of How I Moved to London

So very recently I had the privilege of being asked to write a piece for the Generation Emigration section of Ireland’s national newspaper; The Irish Times. It was a really exciting opportunity and getting to write down the story of how I ended up living in London was very interesting indeed.

I have posted a link to the article here but the full post is below. Thanks for reading.

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I was tempted away from Ireland by a guy from Kerry making me a job offer I couldn’t refuse. My first experience of Barbecoa was during a frenzied call about whether I would be free to work at a festival that weekend. It was a Barbecue festival. All day Friday, all day Saturday and all day Sunday. I got this call on a Thursday evening. I would be managing the demo tent. I immediately agreed.

I had been working as a chef in a Mediterranean style place in Dublin but my heart had always been with Barbecue, so the opportunity to work at Ireland’s first big Barbecue festival was not one I could pass up. When I showed up the next morning I was introduced to John, the then Head Chef of Barbecoa, a high end steak and smoke house right by St Pauls Cathedral in London. He is one of the craziest, goofiest and off the wall characters you could ever hope to meet, no surprise then when I realised he was from Duagh, a place in Kerry that is not so much a town as it is a slightly wider bit of road.

As soon as we met we immediately hit it off. He was at the festival doing five or six demos a day and I was basically there to assist him in whatever way he needed. This ultimately came to him and me brainstorming all sorts of things we could do and try in our area with our few little smokers. We were making beer-can chickens and whole shoulders of pork. We cooked steaks, smoked duck breast and broke down whole lambs into primal cuts and smoked them all day. That’s not to mention the main event. A pit smoker made out of cinder blocks. This thing was huge, two metres wide and three long. Into this pit we placed a whole pig, Carolina style BBQ. It was an incredible thing to see. John had previously worked with one of the modern godfathers of Barbecue, Adam Perry Lang and had been running a barbecue restaurant for four years. So, needless to say, I learned more about smoking in that weekend than in every day of my life leading up to it.

By the end of the first day he was telling me how I had to come to Barbecoa and try the food, “Next time you are in London give me a shout, come in for dinner, see the kitchen.” The next day it had progressed to “You have to come over for a week to work with us, you have to!” That night he started saying jokingly “Well once I get you in my kitchen I don’t think I will want to let you go. You might have to stay and work with us forever.” I knew he was joking and I didn’t really consider it an offer but it stuck in my head. The final night we wrapped up the demo tent and as we were bidding each other goodbye, I asked him, “So about that job offer in London, were you being serious?” Not really knowing what answer to expect, or what answer I was looking for, I waited. For the first time all weekend, he dropped his goofy grin and looked me dead in the eye; “Absolutely.”

Cut to; Six Months Later

I arrived in London, a bag full of chef uniforms over my shoulder and my knife case under my arm. I walked into Barbecoa in a mingling state of terror and excitement not entirely sure of what to expect. The restaurant was four times bigger than anywhere else I had previously worked and it was in a discipline of food I had only really done in a very amateur setting. Also I had just moved away from my family, my girlfriend and all of my friends. There was a lot riding on this going well. I had to do a trial shift, just so the Executive Chef could see what I could do. It did not go well. Somewhere along the line, between the pressure and the new environment something clicked and I messed it up, definitely not my best day of work ever.

But thankfully, they decided to keep me. Over the next six months I worked my ass off in every corner of the kitchen I could and they soon made me Pitmaster which was an incredible honour. Now I work every day with amazing chefs cooking stunning quality food. I have met wonderful people and I continue to learn from them every day of the week. I get to spend my days basting ribs and seasoning pulled pork and slicing beef ribs and building fires. I can honestly say without an ounce of irony that this is my dream job. And that is, I suppose why I left. To find my dream job. To get out and see the world. To live in other countries and meet new people and try new foods.

Before I met John I had no idea where my life was going but I did have the thought of moving abroad in my head. Then he showed up and gave me exactly what I wanted, all wrapped up in a nice little package. Now, equally I have no idea where I am going, so who knows what the future will hold? Maybe a random encounter with another mad leprechaun is only around the corner, waiting to whisk me off on the next adventure. Till then, if you need me, I’ll be the guy in the cloud of smoke playing with meat.

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My Trip Home

So I’m just back from my first real trip home since I moved away in January. It was a hell of a few weeks, rounded out very nicely at the end with a little referendum you may have heard of.

The big highlight for me was making my (now annual) pilgrimage to east Cork for the Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine. An incredible three days of talks and demos from a huge array of people from all walks of the culinary life. From the First Lady of Slow Food, Alice Waters to London Restauranteur Mark Hix, to New York Chef April Bloomfield. It really is an amazing weekend.

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Last year was a huge eye opener for me. I had only recently begun working a lot more on the new blog and pushing myself with the photography end of things aswel. Going down to Ballymaloe gave me a huge push to pull the finger out and work harder and harder at it. This year however was different. I learned a lot more about style and audience and what kind of cook I want to be.

After coming back up to Dublin for another few days I got to spend some time horse-riding with my sister. One of my secret terrors but thankfully she mercifully gave me the littlest pony she could find so I didn’t feel too petrified.

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Afterwards we headed up into the Wicklow mountains a little to Powerscourt Waterfall for a bit of an afternoon Barbeque. I made up a quick marinade for some chicken and a couscous salad. It was a delicious little dish, perfectly framed by the epic backdrop of the falls behind us.

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But I am back in London now and far away from that idyllic Irish countryside. I’m not sad though. I really am loving my new life in this awesome city. It is tough being away from home but I do also consider this home now. I have two homes. The place I am from and the place where I live. And that is a very cool thing indeed.

Borough Market – My Happiest Place on Earth

This weeks post isn’t a recipe so much as it is a day in the life kind of thing. I am still fairly new to this city. Still finding my way around and figuring out my favourite places to go and things to see. One of the first things I fell in love with and one of the first things I started doing regularly is going to Borough Market. This is one of those places that is pretty high on the list of anyone interested in food or anything for that matter.

It is an incredible sight to behold and the atmosphere there on a sunny afternoon is immense. Here are just a few of the photos I have collected over that last month or two of the stalls and some of the surrounding area. I hope it gives you some send of the grandeur, elegance and character of this culinary mecca.

Getting Emotional About Onions

I am a huge believer in the emotional power food has over people. I have no idea why that is but it’s something I would love to learn more about, if anyone knows anything more about it I would be thrilled to hear it!

Grilled onions are one of my favourite things to cook, when I have no idea what to cook. There is a certain distracting, almost meditative quality to having a huge bunch of onions to peel and slice. (I’ll tell you, as a trainee cook, that is a really good quality to have). Then the slow and diligent turn of the onions as the gradually sweeten and caramelise and reduce in their own liquor. It just makes me feel good inside and I can’t really explain it.

You probably all have something weird you do when you aren’t feeling great and just want a simple distraction for an hour so you don’t have to do that whole “thinking about things” nonsense the world seems so caught up with these days. For me, it’s grilled onions.

So when it came time for my first big home cooking day in my new home, there was really only one choice wasn’t there?

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-This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a cooking principal. Hence; no ingredient list. It’s just onions. I recommend at least six to eight medium onions to get the best result. That’s it. A little sunflower oil and a pinch of salt but other than that, it’s just the onions.
-I’m going to take your through a pretty foolproof way to get world class onions but if you think at any point it’s a bit too complicated, just know you can prepare them pretty much whatever you want and they will probably still turn out damn good.
-Start by peeling the onions, but keep the root on for the moment. Take off the stem end then run a shallow cut down the side of the onion through the outer layer. The whole skin should come off easily enough.
-Next cut the onions in half from root to tip, they should all stay together pretty well.
-Lay half of an onion flat on your chopping board. Holding the onion in one hand and the knife securely in the other, slice off the root at a slight angle to get all of it.
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-Rotate the onion by 90 degrees, still on the chopping board, then start slicing, as finely as you can, from the top of the onion to the bottom.
-You should end up with Pretty evenly sliced sickle moons of onions. Perfect for getting a really consistent finished product.
-Repeat this with the rest of the onions until you find yourself with a giant pile of onions you have conquered.
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-Next get a large, heavy bottomed saucepan with a few tablespoons of sunflower oil onto a high heat. RFH as my uncle would say, Really Fucking Hot.
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-Add in the onions, all at once and leave them there. They will sizzle and spurt and sound like they are burning but just leave them to it for ten minutes.
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-After ten minutes start to turn them. Make sure all the ones at the bottom get rotated to the top and vice versa.
Now it’s kind of up to you. For the first while you are going to keep the heat high and move the onions ever five minutes or so. The weight of the onions pressing down on each other and the hot oil is going to darken them up and cook out a lot of moisture pretty quickly.
-Once they start to shrink considerably, reduce the heat and keep turning them every few minutes.
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-After about forty five to fifty minutes you should be left with a seemingly tiny quantity of dark, sweet, jammy onions just covering the bottom of your pan.
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-The only thing left to do now is season them up and you are ready to eat.

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These keep really well in the fridge for about a week to be used with a sandwich or a steak or noodles or a casserole or whatever you have to hand. Never doubt the power of the Grilled Onion.

Braised Oxtail Tacos

When I’m in on an open shift in the restaurant I usually get out of there between five and six in the evening. This will usually give me time to catch a film with the girlfriend, a few pints with the lads, an early night or a bit of experimentation in the kitchen. Rarely do I get to fit in more than that. So when leaving work I have to choose carefully. On this particular evening most people were busy, there wasn’t much on the big screen so I decided a bit of home cooking was in order. Wondering the aisles of the supermarket I saw that there was Oxtail on special. An evening to do a slow braised dish with an off-cut? Challenge accepted.

I decided to go with a recipe I had previously tried out in my time in Cooks Academy for a mock exam. Mexican Oxtail Tacos. The meat is succulent and rich enough that you only really need a small amount to deliver big flavour so it was ideal. How to get it to cook in time for me to eat without trespassing into the wee small hours of the morning? I realised recently that if you are cooking in a dutch oven, like this one, the meats cook a little faster. This is due to many boring reasons such as heat conduction, thermodynamics and the “Painting it red makes it go faster” trope.

The bottom line? What would normally cook in six hours cooks in three. Happy days.

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They like to watch me cook. It’s weird.

1 Whole Oxtail (about 800g)
2 Carrots
2 Red Onions
1 Red Pepper
2 Chillies
3 Cloves of Garlic
1Tbsp of Smoked Paprika
2 Tins of Chopped Tomatoes
1 Tin of Tomato Puree
1 Cinnamon Stick
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-Preheat your oven to 160 degrees.
-If your oxtail is still in one piece then roughly chop it into five or six segments.
-Get a large Dutch oven style pot onto a high heat with a little sunflower oil in the bottom.
-Add the oxtail pieces into the pan. We are going to brown them off really well before cooking all of our vegetables.
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-Finely chop up the carrots, the onions, the red pepper, the chillies and the garlic.
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-While you are chopping make sure to continuously turn the oxtail every few minutes to ensure the brown on all sides.
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-Once you are happy with the colour, remove the meat from the pan and set it aside. Reserve the oil and fat in the pan for your vegetables.
-Return the pot to a high heat and vigorously fry off the onions and carrots.
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-After about five minutes they should have taken on a decent amount of colour, at this stage you want to go in with the red pepper, the chillies and the garlic.
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-Cook these for about another five to ten minutes on the high heat. Keep stirring it every minute or so so that everything gets an equal amount of heat and contact with the pan.
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-When you are happy with the colour you can add in the smoked paprika for a minute of cooking.
-Then place the browned oxtail pieces on top of your sautéed vegetables.
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-Pour in the two tins of chopped tomatoes and the tin of tomato puree.
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-To make sure that everything doesn’t reduce too much while cooking you should also add in a full tin worth of boiling water.
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-Bring this all back up to the boil, then place a tight fitting lid on top and put it into the centre of your oven.
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-Each oven is different but I cooked this for about three hours at 160 and the meat came out perfectly. Test it after two and a half hours and if the meat falls off the bones without any resistance, then you are good to go.
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-Take the oxtail pieces out of the sauce and set them aside to rest.
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-Use a soup gun, food processor or blender to puree some of the braising liquid. This will give you an impromptu barbeque sauce.
-When the meat has cooled a little, start to pick the meat off the bones. There shouldn’t be too much work to this but I find a fork really helps to get around the awkward bits.
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When all of your meat is picked and your sauce is blended you are ready to go. I like to serve these on some flatbreads with a little pickle, chopped spring onion and coriander. It is a winner every time.

A Casual Fling and Breakfast Burritos

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Dublin is undergoing something of a “fling” with the burrito. It’s ok though. We both know what it is. It’s just casual. We are both having fun. Neither of us is looking for something serious right now. Dublin is just experimenting with different kinds of food. We just got out of a string of long term relationships, first the Breakfast Roll, then the Chicken Fillet. We needed something fun for a while.

But I think it’s only polite that after a night of Pinto Bean Passion that we offer to make breakfast before kicking the poor thing back out onto the streets. At least until we drunk text them after the work night out next Thursday that is.

I think I might have a suitable breakfast right here. The Breakfast Burrito. The perfect combination of our loves and theirs. An even playing field. But something I don’t think Dublin has seen much of yet. For shame on all those burrito establishments! Well here is your no strings attached breakfast burrito, sorted.
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Ingredients
6 Slices of Smoky Bacon
100g Chorizo
5 Eggs
3 Spring Onions
100g Cheddar Cheese
Small Bunch of Fresh Coriander
2 Small Tomatoes
2 Large Flour Tortillas
Tabasco Sauce
Chipotle Sauce

-Slice up the bacon and the chorizo and add them into a hot pan with the finely chopped stalks of the coriander. They might need a tablespoon of oil to get started but the fat should render out of the chorizo quick enough. Preheat your grill to high.
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-When they have gotten dark and crispy, remove them from the pan onto a piece of kitchen paper, try to reserve as much of the rendered fat and oil as possible for the eggs.
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-Crack your eggs into the pan, still over a high heat. Let them cook together for about 5 minutes or so or until the whites are nearly set.
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-While these are cooking, grate your cheese and slice up the spring onions.
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-When the eggs are good to go scatter all of the cheese and spring onions over the top and place your pan under the hot grill for about five minutes.
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-While the cheese is melting, finely chop up your tomatoes and coriander leaves.
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-When the eggs come out from the grill they should look gooey and melty and delicious.
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-Using a spatula, lightly break and mix up the eggs and the cheese all together so you end up with a kind of scrambled eggs. Don’t be afraid of bursting your perfect yolks, these are going to give you a totally unique scrambled egg consistency.
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-Lightly heat your tortillas under the grill for about a minute each side and then lay them out. In the centre of each one (you should get two servings from this recipe), pile a big spoonful of the egg mixture.
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-Next, add on the chorizo and bacon, and the tomato and coriander mix. Sprinkle a little Tabasco sauce to give it an extra bit of bite.
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-Starting from one end, wrap it up tightly in the warm tortilla and you are good to go.

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Serve this beast with a side of chipotle sauce and you have a hangover breakfast that will help you forget anything that came before.

Toad in the Hole

British food is not something that I eat a whole lot of. Saying that I don’t think British food is something British people eat a lot of either. So rooted is the modern culture in the curry houses and Chinese take aways, the sushi and Mexican, the diners and Italians that there seems to be a collective loss (from both Britain and Ireland) of our culinary heritage. A loss of the food we would have eaten even just fifty years ago.

One dish that I have always wanted to try from that kind of era is Toad in the Whole. A combination of cheap sausages, a few onions and some Yorkshire pudding batter. Perfectly British. Perfectly moreish.
Ingredients
3 Eggs
150g Flour
100g Milk
12 Small Smoked Sausages
3 Cloves of Garlic
2 Red onions
1 Stalk of Rosemary
1 Stalk of Thyme
1 Tsp Fennel Seeds

-Prick the sausages a few times and get them into a square roasting dish.
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-Pick the leaves from the thyme and rosemary and add them to the dish.
Step 2
-Peel and roughly chop the garlic and add that along with the fennel seeds into the dish.
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-Lastly go in with the onions, peeled and sliced thickly.
Step 4
-Season well and cover with about two tablespoons of sunflower oil. Give it a good mix making sure everything is coated well.
-Place into a preheated oven at 180 for about twenty minutes.
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-Give them a shimmy about and if they need more time let them cook a little longer.
Step 7
-While they are in you want to get your batter ready.
-Place the eggs, milk and flour into a large mixing bowl.
Step 5
-Beat them just enough to bring them together as a batter.
Step 6
-When your sausages are done, pour the batter into the dish and get it quickly back into the oven.
Step 8
-Keep them in the oven, without opening the door at all, for 25 minutes at least. Keep checking it every few minutes after the 25. It should be risen and golden and crispy on top and soft to the touch.

Step 9

Serve this up on its own as a lunch or with peas and roasted carrots for a cheap alternative to the Sunday roast.