As some of you might know, recently I was over in Dublin as a chef judge for the 5th annual World Steak Challenge hosted by the Fire Restaurant and Lounge . However, unlike previous years, the following day after the judging, we were taken to various foodie places by the Irish food board, Bord Bia, who wanted us to sample some of the food and drinks homegrown in Ireland.
First, though I have to give a big thank you to Executive Chef Richie Wilson and his team, for their amazing hard work and organisation to make the 2019 contest a big success.
The following day Richie’s restaurant sent over 8,000 unused steaks to a homeless shelter, together with chefs to cook the steaks for the next couple of days.
I ought to also give a big thank you to Richie’s other sister restaurant, Sole Seafood and Grill. Traditionally the judges get together for dinner the night before and it made sense to eat something like seafood before all that delicious steak tasting. We all chose our own main course but Richie’s team had prepared an amazing selection of seafood starters from his menu. The seafood was as fresh as could be, no wonder Sole has just won “Best seafood restaurant in Europe” at the World Luxury Awards. There were 850 entries for the awards this year and restaurants were shortlisted on a voting basis with guests, travellers and industry players casting over 100,000 votes over a four-week period to select the winners.
Study Tour of Ireland
As a chef I always enjoy any opportunity to meet and chat with food producers, and hear their unique foodie stories. The next morning the other judges and I were collected at the pick-up point ready for our first stop of the tour:
Nolans Butchers, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare
Whether in England or Ireland, I’m a big fan of getting my meat from a local butcher when possible. Not just for the better quality a top butcher will give you but also as a source of information and ideas of how to cook the meat you buy. Master butchers like these should be cherished and acknowledged for their skill in the same way that we hold award winning restaurants in high esteem.
We arrived at Nolan’s Butchers and were greeted by the owner, James Nolan. The family have been butchers in this small town since 1886. Dubbed by many as the “Social Centre of Kilcullen” locals come to buy their meat and stay for the meet. Over the years the Nolan family have not stood still and have continued to expand and develop. Part of the investment included a new abbatoir so that the Nolans could continue their own slaughtering, ensuring quality of their meat right from the start, truly “Farm-to-Fork”. In 2006 James Nolan actually demolished the butcher shop ( excluding the front façade ) and rebuilt it to the award winning butchers they are today.
Jim Hogan, Rathrush, Ballon, Co. Carlow
Then onto visit Jim Hogan at his family’s farm; the Hogan’s have farmed in Rathrush for seven generations operating a traditional, grass-based beef production system. The Hogans breeding herd is made up of approximately 100 mostly Hereford-cross suckler cows; suckler cows are kept especially for the production of beef, rather than milk. Their calves stay with the herd and are allowed to be fed by the Dam. The Hogans generally adopt a closed herd policy, and so breeding bulls are the only animals brought in. With the exception of females selected for breeding, all the calves born here are carried to beef as prime steers and heifers at 24 and 28 months of age. Even to the untrained eye you can see the herd are calm and well looked after.
The Hogans are long-time members of the Irish Hereford Prime beef producer group, which markets beef from Hereford-sired cattle. A key characteristic of Irish Hereford Prime beef is the fine grain marbling throughout, which makes it both tasty and tender.
Green Barn Restaurant, Athy, Co. Kildare
After our busy morning I was looking forward to a hearty homemade meal at the Green Barn Restaurant. Within the grounds of Burtown House, an early Georgian Villa built for the Quaker Robert Power in 1710, is the Green Barn Restaurant. The Villa is home to the Fennell family who run the restaurant with the help of Chris (restaurant manager) Phil ( head chef) and Dermot (head grower) and their excellent team. Everything served at the restaurant is both fresh and organic, ingredients are either grown on the estate or sourced locally, such as, Burtown’s own Dexter beef, reared outdoors in grass meadows. Dexter Beef is a bred that originate from Ireland and is the smallest of cattle bred in Europe. Roughly half the size of a modern day Hereford, Dexter beef was classified as a rare breed until recently but has gained in popularity as local chefs look to source local ingredients Keeping with the beef theme, for my lunch I couldn’t resist the Guinness and Dexter Beef pie, of course washed down with a local beer.
Another attraction to this restaurant is the art gallery
The Wendy Walsh Gallery, named after one of Ireland’s foremost botanical artists, and who lived at Burtown House until she died in March 2014 just shy of the age of 99. In addition to Wendy’s art, the gallery and the surrounding gardens are host to a number of exhibitions including, ‘Art in the Garden’, which features some of Ireland’s finest artists, displaying art from various mediums such as sculpture, photography and blown glass. Another exhibition is the Zimbabwean Sculpture Show, which features 50 pieces of stunning Zimbabwean stone sculpture. This exhibition is a tribute to the family’s Zimbabwean relatives, who now live in New Zealand and are Australasia’s largest importers of Zimbabwean sculpture.
Ballykilcavan Brewery, Ballykilcavan, Stradbally, Co. Laois
Our final stop of the day, was the Ballykilcavan Brewery, to wash down our delicious lunches. The brewery is owned and run by David and Lisa Walsh. Their family has farmed the land for 13th generations since 1637. Like many farmers they needed to diversify since growing crops on their own was no longer financial viable.
David has been home-brewing since 2007 and had a dream to one day to have his own brewery, but the changing financial fortunes of the farm was the catalyst for him to put his plan into action. For at least 3 generations, the farm has been growing and malting barely which in the past had been sold to other brewers, so why not brew his own?
Along this journey David has learned the craft of beer making and is now IBD certified brewer and IBD certified maltster (both with distinction). The malting of the barley is done locally by specialised craft beer malters who roast the barley to David’s specifications ensuring he has control of the beers he produces, from field to bottle.
The brewery began in December 2018, and is set in their 380 year old family farm. The stone buildings include an 18th century farmyard and 230 year old grain store. It was fantastic to see these beautiful old buildings being kept alive, thereby preserving history and farming traditions for future generations. However, the farm is evolving, as David, Lisa and their team are planning on converting the mill house into a visitor centre and tap room. The delicious beers that we sampled are conditioned in the bottles and named after fields on the farm, Bin Baw, Long Meadow and Brickyard. Currently the Brewery sell their beers to restaurants, bars and shops within 50 km of the brewery, which will increase as the brewery expands production.
World Steak Challenge 2019 Results
For the the second year in a row by the narrowest of margins Finland won the title of World Champion, entered by JN Meat International. The owner of the company swears it’s down to the clean air and water that Finland has. JN Meat won Best Ribeye as well as the best grass fed. Besides the over all World Champion there were 3 winners, of the best fillet , best sirloin and best grain fed.
Overall there were 106 gold medal winners from 40 different companies. 255 medals were awarded in total including the 106 golds, 90 silver, and 59 bronze. The complete results for the 2019 Wold Steak Challenge can be viewed here. Once again, congratulations to all the medal winners of this years contest; the steaks continue to be of the highest quality , making the job of judging challenging but also very enjoyable.
Thanks to William Reed, Richie Wilson and his team, I think Aidan Fortune will definitely agree that the contest has come back this year even stronger than before. Production values have improved and hosting outside of London has opened up the contest, which I believe is important for raising awareness and continued success.
This year’s competition was made particularly memorable because of our wonderful Irish hosts, who were very keen to share their food passions and stories. It’s their friendly nature that brings many a visitor back to Ireland again and again.
So if you are ever in Dublin looking for a great place to eat a steak, just make your reservations at Fire Restaurant and enjoy the warm welcome and excellent food.