First things first: An Irish Food Story is a captivatingly beautiful work of art.
Yes, it's a book of recipes, but the elevated ambition of everyone involved in this project means that they have created a book that is unprecedented in Irish publishing. It's gorgeous. It's sexy. It's art. There has never been anything like it. Every one of Barry McCall's portrait photographs, for example, is a defining portrait.
Secondly, the art is concerned with things like pig's tails. On page 83 Ross Lewis writes that “If I were to nominate a dish to tell the story of Chapter One, this would be it. This is my cooking at its most heartfelt: making use of the tail of the pig”.
The dish is “Pig's tail stuffed with Fingal Ferguson's bacon and razor clams, basil purée with land cress and mustard lime fruit.” It is pure Chapter One: utterly elemental and utterly sophisticated, all at the same time.
It shows two sides of Mr Lewis's character: the Cork boy and the city restaurateur, the roots and the reasoning, the rations and the rationalising, the instinct and the intellect.
Chapter One has always been a duality. Firstly, it's two guys, Mr Lewis and Martin Corbett. Secondly, Mr Lewis writes and conducts the score, but the instruments are provided by his treasured artisan producers.
And then there is the matter of Mr Lewis himself, and his path to being the most admired restaurateur in Ireland. That career path has a duality as well: there is the phase in the early 1990's after they opened when the restaurant was conventional. Then there is the period since 1996, after Lewis worked with Ferran Adria. Adria liberated his creativity, shattered the timidity, and scuttered the caution that had characterised the chef before. Ross Lewis never looked back.
After El Bulli, he was free, and the glorious results are here, a cuisine that is all his own, and which moves endlessly forward according to its own logic, its own ambition. Lewis knows where the art rests: it's in the transformation, in the graft and sweat that underscores the liberation of these gorgeous presentations, in making a silk purse out of that pig's tail. The food here isn't simple but, even if you never ever cook a dish from the pages of An Irish Food Story, you need to have this book, because it makes you proud to be Irish.
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