Margaret M. Johnson is a woman obsessed. During her first visit to our fair isle in 1984 ‘the seed was planted’ and the American author has since been back a grand total of 85 times! She has even been issued her very own Irish passport, thanks to an Irish-born grandmother.
Her visits to Ireland happened to coincide with the revolution in Irish cuisine that was taking place in the late 80s and so Margaret found herself drawn to the fairs, festivals and markets. As she immersed herself in the expanding industry, her visits became increasingly food related and she quickly made a lot of contacts and friends, some of whom she remains very close to.
Margaret speaks fondly of that moment in Irish food as farmhouse cheeses began popping up everywhere and chefs were becoming revered like rock stars across the country. Chefs like Derry Clarke and Kevin Thornton were already celebrities in her eyes and she was, she admits, like a groupie; attending food events all over the country. She once flew in to Dublin just for the weekend to catch a Bord Bia competition for chefs! (The winner, incidentally, was Stefan Matz, previously of Ashford Castle and currently heading up the team at the Delphi Resort)
In 1992 Margaret published her first book with Real Ireland, the group behind our iconic postcards. This little guide Irish Places, Irish Food marked the beginning of a career that has gone on to span three decades and produce nine more collections of recipes.
During the 90s Bon Appetit magazine were publishing special editions each May focusing on the food of one particular country. In 1996 they featured Ireland and suddenly everyone in America wanted to talk about Irish cuisine. Margaret was contacted by an agent as she was, at the time, the ‘only American who was writing about Irish food’.
He connected her with publishers in the US and Margaret went on to publish several cookbooks including The New Irish Table, Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles & Fools, The Irish Spirit, Flavors of Ireland and Christmas Flavors of Ireland. The aim in sharing the knowledge she learns in Ireland is to promote the excellent produce and chefs that we have and to encourage visitors to come and see for themselves. “I feel like I’m a warrior, like I have to be out there with my sword. People don’t understand what is available in Ireland.”
Margaret has expanded her remit and now provides tours of Ireland, the next one is taking place in May. She wants to create an inclusive tour that everyone will enjoy, not just food lovers. The intention is not to focus all the time on food but to stop at least once a day at an amazing food location, such as the Burren Smokehouse or a local cheesemaker. “I want to introduce people to things, these restaurants are not places that the average tour bus is going to be stopping at. Because these people are my friends, the tour is so much more special.”
Margaret’s latest tome is called Favorite Flavors of Ireland and is a ‘retrospective’, the culmination of her love affair with Ireland over the last thirty years. It contains favourites from her previous collections and brings the reader on a veritable tour of Irish life through our seasons, our culture and our cuisine. Margaret hopes the book will answer the questions she is always asked such as “What’s your favourite Irish recipe?” and “What’s your favourite place in Ireland?”
Margaret admits her favourite place is Kinsale but she loves the produce from the Burren Smokehouse. Some of her most treasured recipes from the new book include Guinness and Malt Wheaten Bread, Seared Scallops, Irish Whiskey Cake and her Bread Pudding with Christmas Fruits.
This book is essentially for Americans, showcasing the best of Irish food. Margaret wants to take the best of her collection and use it to promote modern Irish cuisine and highlight Ireland as a gastronomical destination.
“Today, people are buzzing about all things Irish. The days of the bad joke about Irish food are finally over, and a modern, inspired, and cosmopolitan approach is eclipsing the former inert image of Irish cooking. It’s the food I’ve glorified in nine previous cookbooks and the food that prompts me to write this one.”
For the chance to win a copy of Favorite Flavors of Ireland click here.
For more information about Margaret and her range of books visit Irishcook.com
Alison has been writing since she could hold a pen, which came in handy for her degree in English, Media and Cultural Studies. She has been working in media since graduating and is the latest features writer for TheTaste.
Writing for TheTaste allows her to combine her passion for the written word with her love of food and drink. Find her on Twitter @AliDalyo