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Ireland’s top chef shares her food fantasies

Darina Allen

Ireland’s top chef, Darina Allen, shares her food fantasies

Ireland’s top chef, Darina Allen, shares her food fantasies

April/May 2016

Breakfast If it’s a lovely morning, which of course it would be, I’d take a picnic to the cliffs of Ballyandreen, which we do often in summer. I’d get up early to make white and brown soda bread and Spotted Dog, an Irish sweet loaf, and set my grandchildren to squeezing oranges for juice. We’d pack laundry baskets with bacon and sausages, freshly laid eggs, and flasks of hot coffee and milk. Just below the spongy-grass cliffs there is a little shale shelf where we’d build bonfires to fry the eggs and bacon. The sea air makes everyone ravenous and after we’ve eaten, the kids will play on the pebble beach.

 

Lunch I’d travel across the world to the Usumacinta River in Mexico, which is where I spent my 50th birthday, exploring the Yaxchilan ruins in Chiapas. We drove a long way through Lancandon Indian territory to the river bank where dug-out canoes took us deeper into the jungle. We then walked for hours to reach the ruins, and spent a good deal of time marvelling at them. By the time we returned to the river, we were exhausted, hungry and gasping for water. In a tiny thatched cottage, Coca-Cola was fished out of prehistoric cold-boxes – I never drink Coca-Cola, but at that moment it was like nectar. A woman was making lunch, using a wok over an open fire, of rice and minced beef flavoured with chilli and cumin. For pudding, we were given slices of sweet Mexican pineapple. I know the mystery of the ruins, the heat and the sounds of the monkeys and toucans made it a heightened experience in all ways. Still, I said just this morning to my husband: will you ever forget the flavour of that mince?

 

Tea I’d beat a path to Hackney, east London, to have tea at Claire Ptak’s Violet Bakery. Claire worked for Alice Waters in California, and I remember Alice telling me that she was one of the best pastry chefs Chez Panisse had ever had. But then she married an English fellow and moved to London, where she set up her own bakery, and each thing she makes is more delicious than the next – because Claire is not only a brilliant baker, but she’s also fanatical about ingredients. I’d go there with friends and we’d drink pots of loose-leaf tea and eat a selection of her little cakes, éclairs, tarts and scones. We’d have lots of chat and emerge feeling a glow of wellbeing. 

 

Dinner The Ahilya Fort is an 18th-century palace in Madhya Pradesh, overlooking the sacred river Namada. It’s a beautiful hotel now, but instead of a dining room, you eat meals in different parts of the fort each evening. We were there once at full moon. We assembled by the temple, then walked through the moonlight to the river and got onto timber boats where we were given delicious pakoras and fritters to eat, while musicians played Indian music. Once across the river, the hotel staff laid out rugs and lit small bonfires. There was a spit-roasted kid served with spinach grown in the fort’s garden. It was utterly delicious. On the way home, we launched night lights onto the water, one for each loved one, while the music played.

Darina Allen was talking to Daisy Garnett

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