I am always hungry for Ireland and love all things Irish — the Pogues, U2 back when they didn’t take themselves so seriously, almost any Irish author, and I am fortunate beyond words to know Darina Allen and Tamasin Day-Lewis, two of Ireland’s culinary muses.
Darina Allen who runs the splendid Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, is the no-nonsense preserver of auld ways, who believes in “sourcing really good, naturally produced ingredients,” as she writes in Ballymaloe Seasons. She wouldn’t recall, but we met once when I stayed at Ballymaloe House, the bed and breakfast run by her mother-in-law Myrtle Allen. Before dinner, I sat gazing out the window into the garden –relaxed, for once — drinking in the sheep-dotted fields, when a woman with a low, flutey voice asked what I’d like to drink. I looked up and there was Darina herself, smiling and wearing her trademark red round glasses. I couldn’t have been more surprised if Martin McDonagh had been acting as bartender. In retrospect this to me typifies how Darina is — she can be the Irish Julia Child and still show some visiting American girl some hospitality, too.
Tamasin Day-Lewis is technically, English. I found out later, only after her book West of Ireland Summers convinced me of her Gaelic nature. I was sold by the title, the photographs of a good many cows and of the windswept landscape that’s my favorite place in the world, her stories of her home in the west. The fact that her brother is the brooding actor doesn’t hurt, either. Turns out her recipes are pleasing, too, and more so is her sensibility. She is the freewheeling school, but like Darina, Tamasin starts with fresh, simple ingredients, which she pairs with an abundant sensibility.
Both women are more into elemental than ornate. So am I. There’s never been anything in molecular cuisine that resonates for me, that makes me say, “Yes — sous vide and foam and celery gelee” the way I can swoon over a bowl of soup made with love and the freshest of vegetables.
Both women write about cooking with a big-heartedness, and both were kind enough to participate in a story I did about wild mushrooms story I wrote for Every Day With Rachael Ray. They have a generous way in the kitchen and on the page, writing about cooking the way I feel about it — as an act of giving that’s simple, personal, profound.
So Darina, Tamasin, thank you for feeding what my soul longs for, for providing a sense of companionship even without being in the same room with me. But I hope sometime you will be. If you’re ever in Miami, please come to dinner, c’ead mille failte.