We have had an amazing time filming with the wonderful Rachel Allen, for her new series Coastal Cooking. We've experienced almost all the seasons, and seen some incredible coastline. The best thing about the filming, though, has been meeting so many lovely people who have participated in the show on camera and behind the scenes. Everywhere we've gone, the welcome has been fantastic. Watch out this autumn for the new series, by Liverpool Street Productions on RTE and UKTV!
Our adventures began in Dungarvan, with the team assembling at Paul Flynn's Tannery restaurant for an evening meal to kick things off. On Saturday morning we began our first day of filming, and Paul's twinkly humour got things off to a fun start. He suggested Rachel experience lobster fishing first-hand. And it was certainly an experience! With rolling waves and the rain blowing in, the fresh catch that Rachel cooked was enjoyed by all. A small supporting crowd at Boat Strand was on hand with much-needed hot cups of tea. Then it was off to the Jameson Experience, where we saw old whiskey casks being mended, and Rachel was also invited to a whiskey tasting. After baking gingerbread loaf in the old Head Distiller's Cottage we shared the delicious cake with the fabulous Molgoggers who gathered around Rachel and sang a hearty sea shanty or two to her.
Our travels continued as we moved to Kinsale. The lashing rain and wind didn't deter us. And we ventured to the tempting Diva Bakery, before finding out about the microgreens grown by Till and Bloom. And Rachel created a pretty dish of beetroot soup in Glebe House. The next morning the sun was shining, in time for some free-diving with Olivier. Rachel donned her drysuit, and Olivier warned her of the dangers of overheating and becoming "like a beached whale in August". Advice heeded, Rachel put on a weight belt for the first time, and successfully dived for crab. OK, it was a small one, but it was a crab nonetheless. Then Rachel and Olivier created a tasty crab salad, with help from Ivan our energetic home economist. We headed over to Skibbereen, for Rachel to go sea kayaking with Jim Kennedy. His wife shared some of her lovely foodie treats with us, and we were serenaded by their daughter for a beautiful evening. After getting hopelessly lost, we made our way to Liss Ard for a delicious duck and rabbit pie (for my birthday).
Next it was off to Gubbeen Farm, where they make some fantastic cheeses and chorizo, and where Fingal makes amazing knives. We saw the man in action, and he created a chef's knife for Rachel. Rachel used the knife for the rest of the series, and brought it up to Fingal's back garden to create a cod dish with chorizo. We moved on to Allihies and were lucky enough to see inside the old Copper Mines. It was eerie and beautiful in equal measure. Afterwards Rachel cooked outside the Copper Cafe, on the wall, to produce a heart dish of beef cheeks. The theme of rocks and carving out a living continued as we visited the Hag of Beara and Ann McNally told Rachel about the many myths and legends attached to the stone. The rain returned, but it made the stories more atmospheric and touching.
Our next stop was Valentia Island. What a stunning spot, right at the edge of Ireland! Rachel went out on a boat to find out about Valentia scallops, and saw some being brought up for the co-op. She then took some of these scallops to Glanleam House, with its incredible sub tropical gardens, and cooked on the sea wall. When the scallops starting leaping about, Ivan came to the rescue. We then visited Valentia Dairy and Rachel went out for a ride on their horse and carriage to see some of the scenery around the island. The horse had a tendency to do large and smelly farts, which turned the romantic ride into something a bit funnier. Back at Glanleam House, Rachel cooked buttermilk scones, using buttermilk from the Dairy. And next morning we got up really early to catch a boat to see the Skelligs. This truly was a wonderful experience. The Skelligs are an incredible sight. A less appetising vision was three of the crew lying down in the boat suffering from sea sickness.
Off to Dingle, and we stayed in Heatons, a lovely B&B with a choice of 24 different dishes for breakfast! Over to Ballydavid, where Rachel was guest judge at a mini Spud-Off competition. Three locals pitted their potatoes against one another, and Rachel selected her favourites. It was a tough job. Then we took the prize-winning potatoes onto the beach to make into a tasty soup. We moved around the head to Ballyferriter and went foraging with Breege and Daruch, cooking up some of the results on the beach below - with the Blasket Islands in the hazy distance. Then we took a boat trip out in search of Fungie the Dingle Dolphin with the charming TP O'Connor.
Our halfway point was county Limerick, and first port of call was Rigney's Farm. The cleanest farm we'd ever seen, and brimming with rare breeds. Rachel caused a stir when her oil heated up a little too much in the pan, and caught on fire. Ivan came to the rescue, as the cameras continued to roll. We used the now blackened (but character-ful) pan for the rest of the series. Val O'Connor shared some of her fermenting secrets, and Rachel cooked out in her sweet back yard. Then the weather was good enough for Rachel to go flying in a Cessna with the Limerick Flying Club - to see the Shannon region from a new perspective. We stayed in the classy One Pery Square, and then the team had a rare day off!
Our adventures continued in the magical world of The Burren - inspiration to Tolkein, and the kind of place that people visit and never leave. We went to the amazing Burren Perfumery where their scents are created against a backdrop of eerie landscapes and tenacious plants that manage to find a home in the limestone pavement. Rachel cooked a delicious fish dish in the herb garden, which was an absolute sun trap. We also visited the amazing Lough Avalla Farm, where the Jeukens family bring a caring and hand-crafted approach to their farming. The ancient farmland boasts fairy ring and holy wells, and traditions that date back to the ancestors buried on top of the nearby mountains. Rachel baked on the jetty, looking out over a sparkling lake. And then the lure of the water saw us heading up to Fanore Beach, for a lesson with the Aloha Surf School. Sadly the waves had flattened out, but that didn't deter us. Rachel learned to paddle board. We overnighted in Gregan's Castle, where Tolkein also once stayed, and enjoyed a lovely evening in a spectacular setting.
We headed on to Galway City, and ventured out in waders with the lovely Kelly Brothers to see first hand how they harvest both rock and native oysters. Rachel got stuck in, and enjoyed all the re-takes when she was sampling the oysters. We then cooked on the sea wall, and watched chopped herbs flying away in the breeze. Next we went foraging with Enda McEvoy in a secret woodland. Sadly the midges had also discovered it, and had a feast of their own. Meanwhile we found some woodruff for Enda's sauce. After much discussion we had a change of plan, and instead of making a sauce to go with Rachel's red mullet, Enda made a starter of asparagus and woodruff, whilst Rachel cooked the red mullet. The result was two divine courses instead of one! And then it was back into a boat for a trip in an elegant Galway Hooker. The boats are magnificent and smelt of old wood and oil. Emma, our director, slid about the deck as the boat sailed into the harbour. And then Rachel was at the helm, doing a fine job of steering the boat. It really was a highlight of the trip.
Connemara was our next destination, and we arrived at Kilary Fjord to an incredible crew lunch. The fjord draws in the cloud and it was rather a wet start to our filming, but we enjoyed getting all layered up in our waterproofs. These were definitely needed, as Rachel pulled in the rope of mussels only to be sprayed by dozens of fiendish sea squirts. The rain eased off enough for Rachel to cook on the shores of the fjord, and the cloud lifted enough for us to see the beautiful surrounding mountains. The mussels were absolutely delicious. We also visited Connemara Abalone, to see how Cindy harvests abalone and sea cucumbers. It was absolutely fascinating, and the sea cucumber in tempura was very much like calamari. Rachel also tasted abalone and sea cucumber soup. We went to the nearby beach for Rachel to prepare a raw cucumber soup of the vegetable variety. Then we went to the Connemara Smokehouse to meet Graham Roberts, who prepared gravadlax on the rocks next to the smokehouse. The waves started lapping at our wellies, threatening his impromptu outdoor kitchen. The gravadlax was delicious.
We stayed at the fabulous Knockranny House, and guess who else was there? Only Sir Tom Jones! Anyway, once I'd got over that we headed off to find out about Connemara lamb which has protected status and is farmed in Connemara and Mayo. Rachel tried her hand at sheep shearing, whilst some lovely lamb shanks bubbled away in the kitchen. We had a lovely audience that day! Up in Blacksod we went out into the wild meadows with Barbara who collects wild flowers to make into candles, scents, and teas, and she made us some soothing red clover tea. That went beautifully with the honey and almond cake that Rachel baked on the wall of her father's garden. And then we all went off cycling on the famous Greenway. The lovely Clew Bay Bike Hire even found us a last minute tandem so that Ivan and Rachel could cycle together!
Sligo is famously home to WB Yeats, and there is so much to inspire - the sea on one side and the imposing mountains on the other. We met up with Prannie Rhatigan on the sea shore to go foraging for sea weed. Prannie is one of the world's leading authorities on seaweed, so it was a real pleasure to spend time on the beach and in the sea with her. Rachel got into a wetsuit (again!) and went to see the different zones of seaweed. Prannie's husband Johnny brought in some fresh mackerel, which Ivan filleted. Then Ivan and Rachel cooked his special crispy pancake recipe, whilst Prannie made some seaweed salads. All followed by a restorative seaweed bath for Rachel. Then we met Charlie on the beach in front of Lissadell House to go cockling. Charlie told us about his business and how he kept the company going when disease struck the clams. He's made a success of his oyster and cockle company, supplying surrounding restaurants. And he came up to the beautiful Alpine Garden at Lissadell House to taste the smoked haddock and cockle soup that Rachel prepared. That evening we ventured into a tiny pocket of Leitrim to find Teapot Lane, so that we could go glamping. What a wonderful place! Yurts, a treehouse, little cottage and campfire. We were joined by a group of friends who gave us a wonderful evening of singing around the fire. A fabulous and memorable evening that left a few of us worse for wear!
We filmed the last show in the series up in Donegal, and stayed in the beautiful Castle Grove Country House (where we had some delicious food!) Right up in the Fanad Peninsula we saw where Dill's Dexter cattle graze, and we visited the farm shop in Letterkenny. Back at the farm we set up a barbecue to cook up some delicious steak, and again we were lucky with the weather. The views were stunning. We also visited Kemal in his Scarpello Bakery - unexpectedly up at his home, and in gorgeous surroundings, with a walled garden, fields and polytunnels. Kemal shared some of the secrets of his award-winning sourdough. And Rachel made a fruit tart with some of his blueberries and sour cream pastry. Then we went to the Tap Room at Rathmullan House for an evening of Kemal's pizzas and local beer from Kinnegar Brewing. We also found time to visit the lighthouse at Fanad Head - voted the world's second most beautiful setting for a lighthouse... show me the number one, because this was right up there!