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Friday, 23 August 2013

Celtic Cook Off - foodie fever mounts



How do you showcase the produce of a region?

Well, if it is as good as that from West Cork - think Caherbeg Free Range, Ummera, Gubbeen, Woodcock Smokery, Irish Atlantic  - you almost don't have to. Great Cheeses, Meat and Charcuterie, Fish and Seafood, Vegetables and some brilliant producers and processors, and a powerful hospitality industry.

So West Cork Week is a celebration of the best produce and producers, as well as a showcase for the region.

But how do you show it off to the best?

Gather a strong selection of chefs and have them cook off against each other using only West Cork produce ( and one "joker" ingredient of their choice).

Then introduce an extra element of competition by selecting one chef from each of the Celtic Nations and Regions, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Brittany and the Isle of Man. The Celtic Cook off is born.

Now in its third year the competition goes from strength to strength and is back on September 11th in the West Cork Hotel Skibbereen.

On the night two sets of three chefs cook off in front of a live audience of over 200 food enthusiasts with commentary and interviews by event compere John McKenna of McKenna's Guides.

Members of the audience will have a glass of sparkling wine, and canapés made by the contestants before settling in to enjoy the evening. A ballot amongst the audience will also produce an audience panel who will have the chance to taste and comment.

Six judges, working in pairs will taste the dishes before retiring to mull over the food and announce the winner.

A wide range of interest and experience is shown by the make up of the Judging Panel which includes Veronica Steele of Milleens Cheese, Virginia Sumison of Loch Fyne Oysters, Aoife Cox editor of The Daily Spud, food writer Joe McNamee and last years winning chef Gary O'Hanlon.

As all of the chefs will be using local produce, an Indoor Market featuring the best of West Cork artisan produce and producers will be held on the evening so the dishes can be replicated at home later.

But it is so much more than a cookery competition, an added theme this year is encouraging new and trainee chefs into the hospitality business. Neil Grant of the organising committee, and West Cork Hotel, explained how this would work, "All of our Celtic Cook Off Chefs have a fantastic ethos of working with local, seasonal produce and we all are passionate about great food. We want more chefs to enter the business with that thought process to help keep up the standards and increase the pool of available, passionate, skilled cooks. So we are involving trainee and commis chefs in a Master Class during the day of the Celtic Cook Off evening.

A large group of them will work with previous competitors Martin Shannahan, Jack Stein, Gary O'Hanlon and Kevin Williams, using West Cork produce to make lunch for the producers themselves, visiting journalists and invited guests. Education has always been an element of the Celtic Cook Off and this year we are bringing it to the fore. We will start the event with the winners of last year's Taste of West Cork Schools Competition working with one of the professionals to cook their signature dish, It should be really exciting.

Neil also highlighted another direct benefit from the interaction that the competition had produced " A direct result of the Celtic Cook Off has been the growth of a virtual Celtic Food Network where we all bond, share ideas, promote good food in the Celtic Regions and keep in touch. There have been some amazing examples of this already where previous competitors have taken part in joint ventures at food festivals all over the Celtic Territories" One example of this is Ondine Restaurant in Edinburgh having a special menu during the Rugby Six Nations where West Cork produce was combined with Scottish to make brilliant dishes.

I am really excited about attending the Celtic Cook Off 2013, and hope that in future years it could become a Culinary Six Nations with each region hosting an event and promoting local food and producers.

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