“I'll let you in on a little known secret about Irish people…although they are known the world over for our conviviality in the pub, in true Ireland all conversations of note begin and end around the table and therefore sitting down to a good meal is the glue that holds Irish family and friends together,” said Graeme Campbell, head chef at the luxurious Hayfield Manor in Cork, Ireland.
Those are seductive words for a traveler like me. I’ve always believed there is no better entrée into place, a culture, a history, and a people than food. Sitting down at a table to share a few stories along with some local food and drink reveals more than any guidebook will ever tell you. It’s an extra special bonus when the table is as nice as the one at Hayfield Manor, a luxury 88-room manor house and spa in Cork, a part of Ireland known for its abundant bounty and for being the birthplace of the country's slow food movement.
Campbell, originally from Scotland, brings 16 years of experience to Hayfield Manor, along with “a passion for fresh ingredients, sharp knives, and the occasional game of football.” It is Ireland, after all. He also plates an impressive resume, having worked in some of Ireland’s most stellar kitchens. He was at the swank Merrion Hotel in Dublin for four years and was the Senior Sous Chef when it won the coveted Best Small Leading Hotel award in 2004. Before landing at Hayfield Manor, a family-owned, luxury boutique hotel, Campbell was at the 5-star Lyrath Estate Hotel in Kilkenny.
Despite the numerous (deserved) accolades, Campbell's goal is a simple one---to provide diners with that around-the-table “welcome home” that is as much a part of Irish culture as pub songs and hurling.
“Whenever you enter an Irish house, you are immediately offered a cup of tea, but that is secret code for the entire contents of the cupboard to be graciously laid on the table and for all there present to partake and the conversation will flow across the table with the kettle being boiled constantly to keep tea cups full,” said Campbell. “That is a tradition that we warmly embrace at here at Hayfield Manor.”
After spending 10 days in Ireland, I felt as if I were a part of an extended family. No more so than when I was sitting down at a table with lovingly prepared Irish food and friends.
The Foodie 5
1. What is your favorite meal/food memory from childhood?
My favorite food from my childhood was a traditional dish from the north east of Scotland called Stovies, which is a thick beef stew served with pickled beetroot, homemade oatcakes and a glass of milk. I still look forward to having it when I go home.
2. You’re moving to a new kitchen in 5 minutes and can only take one gadget along with you. What do you grab and why?
It would be my lobster tank as we are able to keep lobster on hand and we also keep our oysters in it so they can't be served any more fresh!
3. No one’s looking. What is your secret food fetish?
I am a chocoholic and love Irish chocolate as it is made with fresh milk. Once the bar is open, it never gets put away again.
4. Fill in the blanks: “I’d like to see more _________ on restaurant menus and please, for the love of figs, lighten up on the _______________!
I’d like to see more fresh shellfish and please, lighten up on the potatoes with every dish!
5. Congratulations, you have carte blanche to dine in any country/city in the world! Where would you go and why?
That's not a fair question as there are just too many great places to eat! However if I had to choose, it would be New York for the variety, followed by the north of Spain, which is a culinary inspiration to me.
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