“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.” – Paul Prudhomme
When I set out to discover Ireland’s best foodie experiences with Traveling Spoon, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was told my first stop would be foraging with a French Chef in the midlands. So in my head I was driving two hours South of Dublin to collect and eat rabbit food. Typical Irish mindset! “What had I let myself in for?!” I thought.
The reality, as often is when you travel, was surprisingly different.
Our first stop was Monasterevin where we met Aymar, otherwise known as “The Skinny Chef”, an energetic and chatty Frenchman who has called Ireland his home for almost two decades.
After giving us a quick tour of his incredible kitchen set up, where he personally cooks the largest pots of soup you’ve ever seen, we set off to small woods near his house to go foraging. While there was definitely a bite in the air, the sun was shining and I was excited to take in some fresh air in the Irish countryside. While it might not have made my top things to do in Ireland list, turns out the area around Monasterevin is actually very beautiful!
It was my second day back in Ireland after 8 months abroad, so the little things really put a smile on my face. Are our fields really that green?! Are Irish roads really that winding?!
We set off into the woods with a basket to see what goodies we could find in the wild. Aymar seemed to know everyone, stopping by to chat with some locals, discussing what one might find in the woods today or enquiring as to what they cooked up for dinner last night!
For Aymar, it quickly emerged, food wasn’t just his job or something we eat to survive, good food for him is a celebration of life and all its goodness.
After about an hour of foraging in the woods, our basket was filling up with wild garlic, wild mushrooms, nettles (which were carefully picked with gloves!), and a selection of wild flowers which Aymar said are great for the garnish on soups and desserts and are 100% edible. In the summer, he tells us, the foraging is even better and you can pick all types of wild berries.
Once we’ve explored the woods and filled up our basket, we head back to Aymars home where the real magic happens. Aymar is an absolute wizard in the kitchen, quickly and skilfully chopping and preparing an assortment of ingredients that together form the most delicious dishes.
He brings us out into his garden to pick some Rhubarb, which he tells me I’ll be using to make our dessert! Despite coming from a farm in Cork with 45 acres of rhubarb, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never cooked the stuff! I’m immediately put to work in the kitchen, and we all work side by side, preparing and cooking a mouth watering three course meal.
It was the most incredible experience to eat what felt like Michelin Star restaurant food in someones own home. Eating soup made from foraged nettles and chicken cooked on a bed of wild garlic and mushrooms, would never have been my dream lunch but it turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Having a chef as talented and experienced as Aymar teaching you the simplest cooking tricks, such as how to brown your chicken but keep it moist, was something money can’t pay for.
I left his home like an excited child who had just made some sort of revelation in school, telling all my friends what I had learned and how we’ve been doing it wrong all these years.
I learned that there are so many fresh ingredients in the wild, that are not only free but will make a meal taste a million times tastier. I learned to make one of the quickest, most simple desserts I’ve ever heard of, yet one that will most definitely impress at a dinner party. And I learned that one does not have to be Irish to show true Irish hospitality.
It could only take a Frenchman to teach me that “the simpler the food, the better the taste”, and it could only take an honorary Irishman, integrated beyond recognition into Irish society, to show me the hospitality, welcome (and wine!) that Aymar showed us all.
While Traveling Spoon pens itself as a site the helps you book private meals and cooking classes around the world, it’s not really about the food. Traveling Spoon experiences are an insight into another persons life. They take you inside someones home and allow you to experience a cultural exchange like no other: cooking, helping, chatting and laughing and eating, elements that make up the foundations of the perfect meal.