In 2012, 77 arsons plagued a small, rural community on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Over the span of five months, Accomack County residents and firefighters could not pin down the culprit, who was widely suspected to be a member of their community.
Ask any St. Patrick’s Day reveler what constitutes a proper Irish meal, and meat, potatoes and stew might come to mind first. But that meat-and-potatoes-heavy image has undergone a quiet Celtic conversion in the past two decades under a new breed of creative chefs. Leading the pack is Cathal Armstrong, whose focus on fresh, local ingredients has both redefined American cuisine and the traditional dishes of his native Ireland. We rediscover Irish cuisine with Armstrong just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
- Cathal Armstrong Owner and Chef, Restaurant Eve (Alexandria, VA); Author, "My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve" Founder, Chefs as Parents
Cathal Armstrong’s St. Patrick’s Day Recipes
Reprinted with permission from “My Irish Table” by Cathal Armstrong, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography credit: Scott Suchman © 2014
Chef Cathal Armstrong On St. Patrick’s Day Traditions
Armstrong talks about what he sees as some American misconceptions surrounding Irish food and chats about the kind of food his family ate in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day.
Cathal Armstrong Demonstrates How To Cook Brined Pork Belly
Armstrong cooks brined pork belly with thyme and garlic, served with pea shoots, kumquats, smoked onions, and sunchokes. After the meat has been brining for several days, he cooks the pork skin until crispy and adds the spring vegetables, emphasizing that the dish represents a transition between winter and early spring.
MS. JEN GOLBECKFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Jen Golbeck from the University of Maryland, sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, ask any St. Patrick's Day reveler what foods define Irish cuisine, and you'll probably get a list of the usual suspects, stew, soda bread, corn beef and cabbage, and the ubiquitous potato. It's a meaty list of comfort foods that doesn't seem to leave much room for creativity.
MS. JEN GOLBECKBut Ireland's reputation as a place for pub grub and Guinness has undergone quite a Celtic conversion in the past decade or so, thanks to a renewed focus on fresh local ingredients and contemporary takes on traditional foods. Leading that charge is one of the Emerald Isle's most celebrated culinary experts, Chef Cathal Armstrong.
MS. JEN GOLBECKHe's an internationally acclaimed chef who's made his mark on American and international cuisine from tables at his quaint Restaurant Eve in Alexandria to Capitol Hill to the White House and beyond. But at heart he's an Irishman, and in his first cookbook, he celebrates the bounty of his homeland just in time for St. Patrick's Day. Chef Cathal Armstrong joins us in the studio. He's owner and chef of six restaurants, including Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, and he's the author of "My Irish Table: Recipes from the Homeland and Restaurant Eve." It's good to have you here.
MR. CATHAL ARMSTRONGIt's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
GOLBECKSo this is your first cookbook, which you wrote with the help from food writer David Hagedorn, and it's one that you say is a culinary coming-of-age story. So I'd love to start out by talking about your upbringing in Ireland and how that influenced your career path. You say that food in your household in Dublin started with your father who took a lot of pride in cooking. So tell us about him.
ARMSTRONGYeah, my dad is a great cook, great natural talent and a great sense of how food feels, you know, which is once you get that thing under your skin where you actually sense the food. And I think he has that naturally more than anybody that I think I've ever met in my life, which is really odd for an Irishman in that era, you know.
ARMSTRONGNone of my friends' fathers cooked. Only the mother cooked, and it was like the -- everybody had stay-at-home moms in those days. And it was always the mothers that did the cooking. So, you know, he was a unique man and a very, very strong, dominant personality. He -- in addition to cooking, he's a hobby gardener and with great success grew as much as he could for fun, literally hundreds of things out of the garden. And then the third piece of that puzzle was that he was a tour operator in Europe selling the package holidays.
ARMSTRONGSo he had a tremendous -- probably more connection to the European countries than most of the Irish families would have had in those days. So, you know, we had strong connections to Spain and Tunisia and to Greece and France, and, you know, so access to foods that nobody else in Ireland was eating.
GOLBECKSo what were meals like for your family in Dublin with all these international influences and a garden? Can you describe a typical meal that you remember from your childhood?
ARMSTRONGI mean, dinner was always a big affair for us. You know, we were a big Catholic family, six kids, and you were expected to be at the dinner table regardless of the circumstances with the one exception of participating in a sporting event, because we were always mad sports fanatics. And in fact my mother is the world's number one sports fanatic.
ARMSTRONGLike, she'll watch anything. But, you know, so everyone was at the dinner table. And dinner's always, you know, usually 6:00, 6:30. And a three-course meal would be typical. I don't think we ever went a day without something for dessert. And...
GOLBECKMy kind of household.
ARMSTRONGAnd everybody had their place, and, you know, we all sat in our own particular place at the table. You were not permitted to leave anything on the plate. So you ate what you got, and you were glad of it, except once. One time Dad cooked tripe, and it was a disaster.
ARMSTRONGHe'll admit it himself. And, you know, I think he cooked it for 30 minutes when you really need to cook it for about 30 hours. And it was completely inedible, so we went out for dinner that night, which was exceptionally unusual for us. We never ate out.
GOLBECKSo when the chef knows he screwed up, then everybody benefits, or at least doesn't suffer.
GOLBECKSo were other Irish households having these three and four-course dinners when you were?
ARMSTRONGNot at all. Not at all. When I was about 6 years old, due to a small tragedy that we don't need to get into on this show, we -- I was at a friend's house in the neighborhood for dinner. And they all sat around on the floor having TV dinner...
ARMSTRONG...Bird's Eye cob, frozen fish fingers, which, you know, would never, ever happen in our -- like, we weren't allowed to watch television during dinner because it was that, you know, sacrosanct of an event. And except in the rare, rare occasion where there was a big sporting event that had to be watched and couldn't be missed, then the TV got dragged into the kitchen rather than having dinner be dragged into the living room.
ARMSTRONGYou know, but, like, it was such a tremendous experience because the conversations around those tables, around those dinners about the world and society and school and, you know, everything that was going on in everybody's life was just a huge part of our education that is, you know, sadly missed, I think, in a lot of families nowadays.
GOLBECKAnd this is the same argument that you hear now Americans making about bringing people back to the dinner table and not watching TV and having those conversations.
ARMSTRONGYeah, no doubt. I mean, it is a tremendous important part of the family unit. And, you know, we, I think, for a period, we've kind of gotten the sense that when you send your kids to the school where there are teachers, then they come back educated, right?
ARMSTRONGBut that's only part of their education. Math is only part of the education of a human being, and there's so much more to it than that.
GOLBECKYeah. You can also join our conversation. Is your family Irish? Do you have favorite recipes that have been passed down through the generations? You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending a tweet to @kojoshow. So at the age of 7, you were shipped off to get your first taste of continental cuisine. How did living in France at such a young age shape you and shape your palate?
ARMSTRONGFunny thinking back on those times, like, imagine sending a child, a 7-year-old child alone on an airplane to a foreign country where the language is different. And I try to think of what it was like arriving in Orly in the airport outside of Paris and at 7 years of age, having no clue about anything.
GOLBECKDid you speak any French?
ARMSTRONGNo. No, not a word. But somehow I made it, and I stayed with this great family, the Boudain family, in an area just outside of Paris called (unintelligible). And they, you know, like a typical French family, had a four-course meal for dinner every day. But four courses, you know -- like, one of the courses might have been yogurt with a little bit of sugar sprinkled over it or a piece of fruit.
ARMSTRONGBut it was a distinct four-course meal for just normal family dinner every day, all, you know, the same natural food that we were getting in our house. And, you know, it was literally the worst of times and the best of times.
ARMSTRONGI remember crying my eyes out as a little kid for my poor mammy, you know, and...
ARMSTRONGBut the first year, I went for, I think, about two weeks. And then by the end, after, you know, seven or eight or nine years of going there every summer, I was there for the whole summer and had such a blast. And it was a -- you know, they, like every French family, took summer vacation around France, so we would visit different areas, like (unintelligible) and Lourdes and up to the Alps and (unintelligible) and Brittany, and just by their nature, we were eating pots of mussels straight from the Atlantic Ocean.
ARMSTRONGI mean, it was just a tremendous, tremendous experience. And without even knowing it, you get this stuff being fed into the brain that becomes your experiences and makes you part of who you are later on in life.
GOLBECKAnd that's a really interesting way to get a tour of a lot of different kinds of cuisine, even if you're just staying in France, right?
GOLBECKYeah. So you're well known for your emphasis on locally-sourced, homegrown ingredients and your love of horticulture. You have a garden at Restaurant Eve, right?
ARMSTRONGWe do. We're fortunate to have a little walled garden that sees the morning sun, which I'm told is the most important sun for growing plants. And we're able to grow things -- 'cause the garden is walled in, we're able to grow things that may not typically do as well in this area. When I bought bay bushes for the garden, the garden center said, you know, these won't survive in this climate, right? But they've been there for almost 10 years, and they're flourishing, you know. And, I mean, they're struggling -- the winter was a little harsher this year than we've had.
ARMSTRONGBut they're -- you know, they're doing fine. And it's the walled garden that really helps protect them.
GOLBECKIt'll be interesting to see how all that comes back. I have a lot of herbs and bees in my own garden, and none of them have made it very well through the winter. So, hopefully, the spring will bring us some new things.
ARMSTRONGI hope so. We're ready for spring.
GOLBECKYeah. A lot of people might think that the meat-heavy Irish diet is a pretty unhealthy one. As you focus on fresh, healthy eating, have you had to rethink some of the ingredients to some of those traditional Irish dishes?
ARMSTRONGWell, not necessarily. I mean, I think, you know, we had great opportunity with the process of this cookbook to kind of investigate the food of Ireland and looking at how modern cuisines have developed, how the modern American cuisine developed, how the modern French cuisine, how the modern Irish cuisine developed using ingredients that are indigenous to its locale.
ARMSTRONGAnd, you know, there are a lot of misunderstandings about Ireland. The first one is that its latitude is the same as Newfoundland. So you have one area on the west of the Atlantic Ocean that's frozen most of the year, and then -- and a small island on the east side of the Atlantic Ocean that -- where the seas never freeze because of the effect of the Gulf stream running across North Atlantic keeps the climate moderate, temperate. So Ireland is actually green 365 days of the year, pretty much.
GOLBECKA beautiful green, yeah.
ARMSTRONGRight. And many, many shades of green. So, you know, they have grass for grazing cattle and sheep year-round, which is a tremendous advantage to the dairy market, to the beef market. And, you know, then we can also grow vegetables, produce, year-round outside, the hardy vegetables that can stand the cold of the winter, like broccoli and Brussels sprouts and cabbage and all those Brassicas that do really well in the winter months. And then -- but then it's also forgotten that Ireland is a tiny little island that's surrounded by rich, rich seas that are filled with some of the best oysters...
ARMSTRONG...the best lobster, the Dublin Bay prawn, which is one of the most exquisite luxury products that you can find. If you're lucky enough to be in Ireland, make sure you get the Dublin Bay prawns. You know, so the cuisine never really flourished because of its history, because of its association with Britain and that we were occupied by Britain for about 400 years.
ARMSTRONGAnd so you kind of forget that all this raw material is there to make this amazing food. So it isn't really just about boil the hell out of it, you know, which is kind of considered to be the Irish cooking technique for years. And, you know, it is a cool, moderate climate, so these braised meat dishes that we see, the stews and the, you know, the Irish stew and the beef stew and that kind of thing are -- they make sense in that climate. They may not make sense to us here in the summer months, but they definitely make sense in the climate of Ireland.
GOLBECKRight. We have an email from Sarah in Alexandria who wants to know what your favorite meal or food was as a child.
ARMSTRONGStill to this day, my favorite thing to eat is rack of lamb. I love lamb chops. And Michelle, my wife, hates it, so we never get to eat it at my house. And any time I go home, it's the first thing they cook for us, you know, and, you know, when I go home alone. When Michelle comes with me, they have to do something else. But the lamb, you know, grass-fed lamb, which is coming to American fairly soon, is absolutely fantastic.
GOLBECKWe're talking with Cathal Armstrong, owner and chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria. You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850 or emailing us at email@example.com. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. Stay tuned.
GOLBECKWelcome back. I'm Jen Golbeck, from the University of Maryland, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking with Cathal Armstrong about Irish cooking. You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. What makes a good cook, do you think? Practice, instinct or creativity? Have you been to any of Cathal Armstrong's restaurants, and where did you go and what did you taste? We have lots of callers and emails. And I'm going to start with Calpana, calling us from Dublin. Go ahead, you're on the air.
CALPANAThank you. Hi. I am actually a D.C. transplant to Dublin, Ireland.
GOLBECKI didn't think you were from Ireland, as soon as you started talking.
CALPANA(unintelligible) give away. But I've lived here for a couple years and I find the food scene here really interesting. Dublin, in particular, has a really international feel, a lot more immigrants from all over the world. I'm just curious what kind of influences Cathal is taking from sort of the contemporary food scene here in Ireland. And as you say, it's got great ingredients. The cheeses alone, you know, you could eat them every day of the year. And I'm just wondering what kinds of influences you're taking back to my poor Americans that I've left behind.
ARMSTRONGHow are you? Good morning, still -- I think it's afternoon here. Yeah, finally. Every time I go to Dublin I always stop into l'Ecrivain and Chapter One there. Still my two favorite restaurants. And Derry Clarke and Ross Lewis I think have kind of been on the forefront for a number of years, on the Irish modern cooking movement. And there are lots more coming and around the country.
ARMSTRONGA couple of years ago I was in Gregans Castle in Clare and had an absolutely fantastic meal there. I always hit Sheridans, the cheesemongers. And look for the Irish cheeses particularly. And I smuggled a bunch into New York City once. But it's great seeing ingredients, like the Clonakilty Blackpudding and the cheeses that you mentioned and the salmon and all these great artisanal ingredients that are being produced in Ireland, on these fine dining menus. And they're always inspirational. The hard part for us is sometimes getting the ingredients here, but you have to figure out how to make your own black pudding. There's a good recipe for it in the book.
GOLBECKThanks very much for you call, Calpana.
GOLBECKLet's take one more call. From Marie, in McLean, Va. Marie, you're on the air. Go ahead.
MARIEHi. Thank you for taking my call. I've been to the Restaurant Eve. It's a great restaurant. I love it. I really didn't know that the chef there was Irish. So this is even better. I was wondering -- my mother was born and raised in Liverpool, England. And it has a huge Irish population. And a lot of the cooking she did growing up here in America, when she came here in her 20s, she kind of Americanized a lot of what she would call an Irish dish or an English dish. Do you find that in Ireland they're Americanizing a lot of their dishes?
ARMSTRONGNot in Ireland so much. The Irish is one of those little tiny countries that is like the mass that roared, you know. And they're very strong about their culture and their nature and their language. We have to protect our language very carefully there. So you tend to see the Irish being very protective of their own heritage. There used to be a Tex-Mex restaurant in Dublin, which was so bizarre to find Tex-Mex in Dublin. But I think they've still been very careful about their own dishes and maintaining them true to their heritage and what they were designed for.
GOLBECKSo you mentioned black pudding. And I think Irish puddings are where a lot of people put down the fork when tackling Irish cuisine and Irish breakfast. So start by telling us the difference between white pudding and black pudding.
ARMSTRONGOkay. So white pudding is a course sausage that's poached. And it usually has a couple of different textures, with how you grind the meat. So you have a fine grind and a course grind and then they get mixed together. And then it gets emulsified in a food processor so you have that kind of smooth texture to it. Different herbs and spices go into it, depending on whose family is coming up with it. And some people put oatmeal, some people other grains into it to give it their own take on what they want their white pudding to be. But it's all ground pork.
ARMSTRONGAnd then black pudding is made from blood. So they add fat poached pork fat to it and some people add oatmeal. Some people don't. Again, some spices. It's pretty heady with clove in it. And so you mix all that together and then you put that into a sausage casing and you poach it. And it comes out. You know, an acquired taste, but it has a distinct texture.
GOLBECKSo it's definitely not something the average American will have encountered in their eating here. Can you convince some Americans that it's worth trying to acquire that taste?
ARMSTRONGIt's only for the brave. I mean, I love it. I love black pudding, but it is definitely, you know, even in Ireland there are definitely two groups. There are the black pudding eaters and the ones that don't, you know.
GOLBECKRight. You can join us. What are your favorite Irish dishes? Do you have specific Irish food that you serve on St. Patrick's Day? You can call 1-800-433-8850 or email us at email@example.com. So let's go back to your past a little bit because that's a big part of the book. You mentioned that your dad is a tour operator. And so that really had the opportunity for you to be exposed to many other countries. Did all of the children in your family travel together, first off?
ARMSTRONGYeah, so, in brief, the way the tour operator works is he buys chunks of hotel rooms and then chunks of seats on airplanes and they put that into a package and they make a brochure out of it and then they try to sell it to people. And because we were fortunate enough to be in that business, there'd be an occasion where everything wasn't sold and we'd be sitting at the table having dinner on Friday night and dad would say, "Do you want to go to Portugal tomorrow?" And we'd go, "Okay." And off we went.
GOLBECKSounds pretty nice.
ARMSTRONGRight. It was a blast, you know. And that happened to us quite often. And the original package holiday business really was Spain and the Coast Del Sol and Majorca. And then it expanded to Ibiza and the Canary Islands, and then they went out to Tunisia and Greece and, you know, expanding further and further to try and escape the crowds. And we ended up in these exotic places.
ARMSTRONGOne of the cool things about it was that my dad would have representatives in the areas where they were selling the package holidays. So if there was something having a holiday in Alicante and they needed something for any reason, he would call Ramiro and Ramiro would go down and help them out. So on the times when we would all go visit them we would end up in Ramiro's house…
ARMSTRONG…with his grandmother. You know, digging a hole in the ground to cook the paella.
ARMSTRONGI mean it was just phenomenal.
GOLBECKAnd were you paying attention to the kind of food you were exposed to then or was it just kind of part of the background that you didn't really specifically notice?
ARMSTRONGThat's really just what we did, was food. And my parents have come to visit us here. We have the first grandchild in the family. And four of their eight grandkids live in America, so they come here often to visit them. But it's funny because the amount of times that they've visited, I don't think we've ever been to a single monument in this city because all we do is breakfast, lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch, dinner. And at breakfast you plan what's for lunch, at lunch you plan what's for dinner.
GOLBECKYeah, this sounds like my trips, too. I miss a lot of things that are important, but for a lot of really good eating. Let's take another call. Brian, in Washington, D.C., you're on the air. Go ahead.
BRIANHi, good afternoon. I will say I had an opportunity a few years ago to work with Chef Armstrong on an unfortunately not picked up child's cooking program. I'm also an educator here in D.C. For years I taught after-school cooking classes and all my emphasis all the time was on fresh local ingredients, teaching the kids how to cook an easy meal and the importance of cooking at home.
BRIANI often took the kids down to the Main Avenue fish market, the old Florida Avenue market and any of the available farmers' markets around just to show them what's available in the city, where they can get it and nothing is that hard to cook. I also got my inspiration from my father in the kitchen and I've been passing that on to my son Seamus, as well. He's in the kitchen with me all the time.
BRIANI also just (unintelligible) the best meal I ever had was a personal health day in Clifden, on the west coast of Ireland. My wife went and got Reiki healing and I got a giant plate of oysters and a nice pint of Guinness. Thank you.
GOLBECKThanks for your call, Brian.
ARMSTRONGYeah, in Galway every year there's an oyster festival not to be missed. If you're an oyster lover it is one of the premier oyster evens in the world. It is absolutely fantastic.
GOLBECKAnd Galway's a beautiful little town.
ARMSTRONGYeah, great country town.
GOLBECKDespite his love of cooking, your dad wasn't exactly thrilled when you announced that you wanted to go into the restaurant business. How did your parents react when you quit school to become a full-time dishwasher at a pizza joint?
CALPANAThey were both appalled. I think a big part of it -- particularly for my mother -- is the kind of antisocial nature of being at work so much and the hours that are involved in it. But you learn your own social center, you develop your own type of friends. It's just a different world then the real world outside. After a little bit of success they've kind of come to grips with it. It took about 25 years.
GOLBECKThey did eventually warm up to you cooking for a living. And your parents helped fund your first restaurant, The Bay Tree, that opened in 1989 in a Dublin suburb. How did that first venture go for you?
ARMSTRONGIt was a complete disaster. I was 19 years of age and I had no clue what I was doing.
GOLBECKYour first restaurant at 19?
GOLBECKI bet you didn't know what you were doing.
ARMSTRONGI had about six months of cooking experience.
ARMSTRONGLike, 19-year-old boys should not own restaurants.
ARMSTRONGBut I did learn everything not to do. So it was kind of -- talk about the school of hard knocks, I definitely learned that it's better to sell the alcohol, rather than drink it all yourself.
GOLBECKThat's a hard one at 19.
ARMSTRONGNever hire your friends because they won't be your friends for long. So it was a tough lesson. It lasted about 10 months, but very good lessons that I still remember today.
GOLBECKHow did you end up in Washington?
ARMSTRONGSo I came here. My original plan, after we closed The Bay Tree, was to come over here, earn some fast cash because the streets are paved with gold here.
ARMSTRONGAnd get out of the restaurant business and go back to college. So I came on a tourist visa illegally, originally. And I worked for about a year. Kind of one thing led to another and I ended up staying here. And then I was fortunate enough to earn a green card in the Morrison Lottery.
ARMSTRONGSo then you had to go back to Ireland -- you have to go back to your place of origin and go to the U.S. embassy there and swear to be a good, honest, upright taxpayer. And then I became an American citizen about seven years ago.
GOLBECKHow did you get the experience that you need to properly run a restaurant?
ARMSTRONGSo after I got my green card I started kind of gradually coming to grips with the fact that my career path was going to be in the restaurant industry. And I met a chef who was in a neighboring restaurant from where I was working at the time. His name is Gregory Hill. And he needed an extra hand at night so I took a job working there at night time. So now I have two full-time jobs, one…
ARMSTRONG…in the morning at Murphy's of D.C. and one at night time at New Heights. And then so Greg had a friend, Mary Richter, who was the chef at Cities in Adams Morgan. And she needed somebody to work the pizza station a couple of nights of week and…
GOLBECKSo you got a third full-time job?
ARMSTRONGSo now I had three jobs.
GOLBECKOh, really, you did have three?
ARMSTRONGYeah. And at Cities I met by to-be wife, Michelle. And we instantly fell in love. I think we went out on a date one night and six days later we moved in together.
GOLBECKWow, that's a great story.
ARMSTRONGSo it was a mad dash. I think we were in a hurry for something, but I don't know what it was.
GOLBECKBut she's still your wife, so it worked out.
ARMSTRONGYeah, absolutely, the love of my life, other than the kids, of course. And so I quit working at Murphy's at that stage because I was inundated with love and three jobs.
ARMSTRONGAnd I started kind of learning more and more about cooking and, you know, serious professional cooking. And then Gregory left New Heights and went to work in a new hotel that was opening, which was the Barcelo Hotel on P Street. And I went with him to be the sous chef and there I met another gentleman who had a lot of fine dining experience. He had worked for Jeffrey Buben and he had worked for Doug McNeill at the Four Seasons Hotel.
ARMSTRONGAnd we kind of became friends and then -- his name was Neil Annis. So Neal suggested that if I wanted to get serious about cooking that I should go work for either Buben or Chef McNeill at the Four Seasons. And coming off of one hotel, I wasn't really that excited about going to another hotel. So I decided to go work at Vidalia. And that was really the first serious fine-dining restaurant that I had worked in. I think Vidalia, at that time, was certainly the best restaurant in the city.
GOLBECKIt still tops a lot of those lists.
ARMSTRONGYeah, absolutely. I mean, there were fewer restaurants then. The list has exploded in the last few years, which is good and bad. Good, for the customer, not so good for us in the restaurant business. But I worked at Vidalia for about four years. And then Jeff opened another restaurant on Capitol Hill called Bistro Bis. And he asked me if I'd go be the executive chef there. And I said, "No way, you're crazy. I'm not opening a restaurant with you."
ARMSTRONGAnd so he hired another chef. And the chef quit there after about three months so then Jeff came back to me and said, "Will you come be the chef?" And I said, "Okay." And I had a list of conditions. One of them was my daughter was about to be born and I was going to need some time off. So I ended up going to work there and stayed there for about another four years on Capitol Hill. That was a…
GOLBECKSo that's a lot of pedigree you developed in that time.
ARMSTRONGYeah, and great different experiences. Very different kitchens and very different styles of cooking and I think each piece is brick in the wall that makes me kind of the chef that I am today.
GOLBECKWe're going to take a couple more calls. If you want to join the conversation you can call us at 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's go to Daniel, in Washington. Daniel, thanks for waiting. Go ahead.
DANIELThanks, Jen. Hello, Chef Armstrong. Are you interested in vertical farming, indoor farming? We're supporting the saving a park, McMillan Park, on North Capital and Michigan Avenue, which has 20 acres of underground galleries. And we've been interested in creative adaptive reuse of the galleries with vertical farming, where lamps grow agriculture five times the yield of regular farming, one-tenth the water consumption, no pesticides.
DANIELObviously, it could be organic. And we were wondering if the culinary community in D.C. would help network because we're trying to save this park from demolition by the city government to make a gigantic office mall. This sounds like an incredible opportunity and it just seems to fit with the movement for local, healthy, nutritious produce.
GOLBECKThanks, Daniel. So let's get your take on that. I think he raises a few interesting points there. One, about this specific project, but also kind of the movement that you're seeing in a lot of cities, including D.C., towards urban gardening, urban beekeeping, lots of CSA support.
ARMSTRONGYeah, I mean it is interesting and I think it's very important that we don't build office buildings on every piece of open land that we have. And I think one of the beauties that Washington, D.C. -- probably more than many other American cities -- is that we have maintained a good amount of open space. I'm interested in delicious food. And where it comes from tends typically to be from small farms. And I love the idea of pesticide free.
ARMSTRONGI love the idea of the vertical nature of being able to grow up, rather than out. As long as the food tastes great, that's always going to be number one on my list. When we started Restaurant Eve, I always knew that I wanted to get food from local farms because that is the best tasting food. And that was the priority and it still is. As a chef, the priority for us is how the food tastes. And then the secondary thing, which is always an added bonus, is the fact that typically the best tasting food comes from local source.
ARMSTRONGIt's typically organic, it's typically pesticide, hormone, antibiotic free. So those end up being bonuses and it's easy for me to support those things because the food tastes the best.
GOLBECKSo speaking of good tasting food, we have a call from Loretta, in Ashburn, Va. Loretta, you're on the air. Go ahead.
LORETTAHi, there. Thanks for taking my phone call. Both my parents came from County Clare, West Clare, a little town called Kilrush. And we started going back there pretty much every year from the late '60s until in fact currently. And I've been so impressed with the changes in cuisine, the amount of restaurants that are available to us. And I wanted to ask two questions.
LORETTADo you see, chef, a big change in folks in Ireland changing over to vegetarianism? Do you have, like, recipes in your cookbook for vegetarians? And also, do you do a lot of recipes with curry? And how does people in Ireland make the most incredible veal stews and just gorgeous meats?
GOLBECKThanks, Loretta. And I want to throw in this email that goes exactly to her points from Ingo (sp?) in Fairfax who says, "I know Irish food, like other northern European cuisines, often centers around the meat element of a meal. But how would a vegetarian, like me by the way, fair in Ireland? Is there vegetarian cuisine? And do you believe that sometimes it takes more skills for a chef to create vegetarian dishes without meat?
ARMSTRONGI don't think it takes more skills to cook vegetarian because vegetables are often more delicious than the meat is anyway.
ARMSTRONGYou know, I mean, you have more interesting texture, contrast and colors and flavors. And they're, you know, you have -- beef tastes like beef, where vegetables, you have, carrots and parsnips and rutabaga and while they're all similar, they're very, very different from each other. So it isn't difficult to cook good vegetarian food. All you have to do is find good ingredients. Go to your farmer's market, stay away from the grocery store.
ARMSTRONGYou know, I have to -- food in grocery store to me all tastes like the same thing. It's almost like, you know, when the joke about how that tastes like chicken and that tastes like chicken and that tastes like chicken. Everything tastes the same to me out of grocery store. But, you know, definitely there has been a growth in vegetarian food. Back in the '80s when I was there, we had, you know, bizarrely for that period a bunch of big Indian restaurants.
ARMSTRONGThere was one called the Eastern Tandoori, which is owned by the Indian embassy. And they had a broad gamut of vegetarian dishes which were absolutely spectacular. I remember the flavor of some of those dishes. There was a Hari Krishna restaurant in Dun Laoghaire near where I worked.
GOLBECKI didn't know there was such a thing.
ARMSTRONGAnd my friend Terry worked there. Terry, who was one of the first chefs that I worked with was vegetarian. But he would taste meat because he was a chef and because it was part of his job. But he chose to eat vegetarian when he was out of work. And, you know, the Hari Krishna thing, because he wasn't Hari Krishna himself. You are not allowed to taste food in their kitchen. So you had to actually put it onto a spoon, go outside the kitchen, taste it. Go back in.
ARMSTRONGAdjust the seasoning and then go back out. So, the stories were unusual. But there's actually been an interesting progressive movement in Ireland and it always shocks me when they're ahead of the curve with things because we tend to think of Ireland as being, oh, that old, quaint, old country. But they were the first country in Europe to go non-smoking in public places. They're very, very aggressive with recycling and environmentally friendly issues. So being vegetarian, I think, is quite common in Ireland.
GOLBECKAnd I'll say that I've been to Restaurant Eve and you have a great vegetarian-tasting menu. So I always appreciate that.
GOLBECKWe're going to take a quick break. I'm Jen Golbeck from the University of Maryland sitting in for Kojo. I'm talking with Cathal Armstrong about Irish cooking. If you'd like to join us, you can call 1-800-433-8850.
GOLBECKWelcome back. I'm Jen Golbeck from the University of Maryland sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Cathal Armstrong about Irish cooking. If you'd like to join the conversation, you can call 1-800-433-8850. Cathal, I think many Americans think of Irish food as heavy on meat, which we've talked a lot about but also especially on potatoes. But potatoes aren't native to Ireland. They were actually imported in the 1600s from Peru. Would it make more sense that dairy is really Ireland's native food staple?
ARMSTRONGYeah, I think dairy, beef, lamb, definitely are more likely the food staples than the potato. Although, I mean -- when we had a celebration meal, We have three or four different type of potatoes. So let's be clear on the fact that we love our potatoes.
ARMSTRONGYou know? But there are many other foods that are indigenous to Ireland. And you look back through the mythology, the ancient mythology, the stories of Finn MacCoul and Cu Chulainn, where they talk about hunting for wild boar and venison and, you know, the -- I did a dinner for the Archeological Association of America a few years ago and we did a dinner from the second or third century.
ARMSTRONGAnd the foods that we were looking at were the wild flowers and the wild leaves and the game meats and the birds that they were eating at the time. They had honey, they had wine already at that time. There were nuts in their diet that were brought over from Europe. So, you know, there's just this blank period from the 1600s to, you know, the '50s or '60s -- the 1950s or '60s where the cuisine kind of fell off because of its history. But it is a, you know, a rich, broad palate to work with.
GOLBECKWe have a lot of emails. Here's a good one for you, though, an email from Barry (sp?) that says, "I just wanted to chime in on the chef's comment about his fondness for rack of lamb. I've tried the recipe in his new cookbook and it's superb. Does the chef have any book signings coming up?"
ARMSTRONGYeah, we have a few book signings on the schedule. We have one at Barnes & Noble in Alexandria this week, on Saturday at 2:00 PM. And then there's one coming up on Politics & Prose on the 16th of March. And there's -- on our website, MyIrishTable.com, you can see the calendar where I'll be, at the book fair in Charlottesville on the 21st of March. I'm speaking on a panel there, so we'll do some signings there.
ARMSTRONGYes, busy schedule is good.
GOLBECKLet's take a call from Sam in Alexandria. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead.
SAMHi. I wanted to compliment the chef on the variety of restaurants that he owns and all the meals that they have there. I had the privilege to dine at Eve Restaurant and that opened me up to the other possibilities too. My question is, is the chef's mother's recipe for the pastry, I forgot the name of the dish, is it in the book?
ARMSTRONGYes, it is. The -- Mam's apple pie is in the book. And it's the -- it takes a little bit of practice with the pastry. It's a very simple recipe but the quantity of water is slightly affected by the humidity and the temperature. So just add -- remember when you add water, you can put more in but you can't take it out. So, and I've tried to put photographs in it that show the steps of what the pastry should look like as you go along.
ARMSTRONGAnd don't get disheartened. It just takes a little bit of practice. There's a funny story about the apple pie, which is Neil Sheridan (sp?), who is a friend of our -- my parents who was the last surviving personal friend of James Joyce, used to come over for dinner quite often to the house after his wife Monica Sheridan (sp?) passed away. Monica was like the Julia Child of Ireland.
ARMSTRONGShe was this gregarious, boisterous TV personality, cook, absolutely fabulous lady. So, Neil would come over for dinner, Sunday dinner often. And one day, they were having apple pie for dinner. And Neil was raving about how delicious it was and how good the apple pie tasted. And my dad said, it must be my apples I grow in my tree in the garden that made the apple pie so great.
ARMSTRONGAnd without missing a beat, Neil turns to mom and says, you tell him that a pastry like that doesn't grow on trees.
GOLBECKSo we made our way into the dessert section of the book. And by the way, the picture of that apple pie is amazing. But the thing that looks best to me that I haven't had the chance to make yet is your Auntie Anne's Pavlova, which sounds eastern European, but our listeners can't see this picture but it looks kind of like a single layer strawberry shortcake on steroids with this pile of strawberries and whipped cream on what looks kind of like a thin biscuit but it's actually a meringue.
ARMSTRONGYeah. It's definitely my favorite, favorite dessert of all time. And after we took the photographs of that, which is a nine-inch cake, I ate the whole thing. So pavlova -- the history of pavlova is interesting. It was a -- it's a dessert that was named after the ballerina Ivana (sp?) Pavlova. And the Australians and the New Zealanders argue over who invented it. And it was probably created by accident.
ARMSTRONGYou know, where you make a mixture of egg whites and sugar, which we call meringue and then you put it in a very low temperature to dry out in the oven. And I'm guessing that somebody must have turned the temperature up in the oven and the chef freaked out and at the end of the day, through necessity, this dessert was born. So it's similar to meringue in that you beat the egg whites with the sugar.
ARMSTRONGAnd then you put it in a hot oven and turn the temperature down immediately in the oven. So you get this nice golden crust on the outside and you get this pillowy, marshmallowy texture in the center. It is really, really delicious.
GOLBECKIt's on my list of things to cook this weekend. And I would probably eat the whole thing too if it tastes as good as it looks.
ARMSTRONGYeah. We should see strawberries soon.
GOLBECKSpeaking of baking, we have an email from McGully (sp?) who says, "Irish soda bread is popular in the U.S., but other Irish baked goods are less known. Could you comment on Irish baking, especially using yeast?"
ARMSTRONGYeah. The soda bread recipes are, you know, based on the fact that yeast was expensive in the era and they would not have had access to yeast as a leavening agent. But there are great traditional Irish breads. And there's a shop in Glasthule in Dublin called Peggy's. And my parents still drive there from Greystones. They live -- they moved to Greystones a few years ago. So they drive to Glasthule, which is about 10 miles away to get their bread every week.
GOLBECKAnd they make these spectacular breads. The most common breads that you see, artisanal-type bread that you see and there's a grocery store version of it, it's called the batch loaf, which is actually where the bread is baked in batches together.
GOLBECKAnd you have a recipe for that in the book.
ARMSTRONGI do, I do. And, you know, the -- when you follow the recipe, be sure to burn the crust on the top of it because you get this great contrast and the bitterness of a burnt crush and the creamy sweetness of the bread on the inside. Really fantastic.
GOLBECKWe have a lot of people wondering about your taste in food. First, let's take this email -- this is actually a comment from our website from Sarah (sp?) who said she really appreciates all of your restaurants and the character that they brought to Alexandria. And the question that she posts at the end is when you go out, where do you go?
ARMSTRONGI like Asian food mostly.
GOLBECKI wasn't expecting that answer.
ARMSTRONGYeah. We -- a part of our -- my weight loss regime, I got into martial arts, taekwondo and I kind of am obsessive compulsive with things so I tend to go all the way, all in, you know.
ARMSTRONGAnd so, we embraced the Korean food and yukaejang is probably my most favorite dish. It's really spicy beef stews, absolutely delicious. I love Thai food, the spicier the better. I remember when, you know, a few years ago when Eamonn was about six or seven years old, we went to eat at (unintelligible) and we were sitting down and eating this thing and Eamonn looks up for a second and goes, oh, so spicy and then straight back into it.
GOLBECKWe have Peter from Washington. Peter, you've been holding a long time. Thanks.
PETERWell, thank you. And I just wanted to say, I find this interview and show fascinating. I've been fortunate enough that I married an Irish woman 10 years ago over in Kilkenny and who also happens to be a wonderful chef. I am from Washington, D.C. but we had the fortune of living on the sea front in north Dublin and (word?) for a couple of years. But over the last 10 years, we spent a lot of time going back and forth.
PETERAnd I've had wonderful, wonderful meals in Ireland throughout. But I wanted to ask the chef, you know, my awareness of kind of the local food movement having started in East Cork, in Waterford, just to find out sort of what, you know, what if any influence that that one has had on your cooking and sort of your philosophy on, you know, on food? And also, would you -- or have you thought of potentially opening a restaurant back in Ireland?
ARMSTRONGWhen I was -- when I went to elementary school, I went to St. John's Boys National School. And that was an English speaking school. And then my parents wanted me to go to an Irish speaking school for high school. So there's a boarding school in the side of the Ireland called Coláiste na Rinne where they send kids for a transition year to move from the English speaking to the Irish speaking school.
ARMSTRONGAnd so, I'm 11 years old at this stage in boarding school which, again, was the worst of times and the best times. I mean...
ARMSTRONGIt was absolutely horrific. But I went in a boy and came out a man at the end of it. While I was there, my parents took me out over a weekend and one of the most memorable weekends of that period to a place in East Cork called Ballymaloe House. And Ballymaloe is the home of Myrtle Allen and Darina Allen who were probably at the forefront of developing a modern Irish country style of cooking.
ARMSTRONGThey have this fantastic 400-acre farm where all the food comes from the farm. And the minute…
PETERI've been there.
ARMSTRONGYeah, it's absolutely wonderful. It should be on everybody's top five list of places to visit in the world. It is a magical, magical spot. I was there again a couple years ago and had an equally extraordinary experience. They had a great cooking school there where you can take classes. It is -- it should be on everybody's top list. They really have to be credited with the farm to table movement in Ireland and pushing that whole idea. Again, everybody should go there.
GOLBECKI'll put that on my list of things to see next time I'm in Ireland. If you're going to eat like an Irishman, you need to start with the world famous Irish breakfast. And none of that is complete without pork. As we kind of wrap up the show, we didn't want to let this pass. You have a whole section on the Irish breakfast in the book. Can you walk us through iterations of pork in the Irish breakfast plate and other things people shouldn't miss if they're doing Irish breakfast.
ARMSTRONGYeah, no doubt. Irish breakfast is -- we always had a big breakfast. And I think -- you hear nutritionists over and over and over saying breakfast, you got to eat breakfast, first eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day. It is. And you should breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like pauper and you'll live a healthy life, a long, long time. Guaranteed. But the breakfast in Ireland, particularly Sunday breakfast which is a big occasion is the breakfast sausage.
ARMSTRONGThe Irish breakfast sausage which is a nice, emulsified pork sausage and then you have the white pudding and the black pudding that we talked about. And then there are two different types of bacon, one is called the back rasher and the other is called the streaky rasher. So the streaky rasher would be similar to what Americans call bacon. And then the back rasher is the pork loin that's cured in a similar way.
ARMSTRONGAnd some people have kind of made a comparison to Canadian bacon, but it's really not that at all. It's just a brined, cured pork loin with a little bit of a belly attached to it and just a meatier bacon per se.
GOLBECKSo we're going to have to wrap it up there. I would love to keep talking about this, but we're hitting the end of the hour. I'll encourage all of our listeners to check out your book. You can also find a recipe for potatoes gratin and leg of lamb with pesto from Cathal's book at kojoshow.org. And you can see a video of him in the kitchen at kojoshow.org. It was a pleasure having you and having this conversation. Thanks for being here.
ARMSTRONGMy pleasure. Thank you.
GOLBECKI'm Jen Golbeck, sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening.
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