I clearly remember when I first read Paul Flynn’s An Irish Adventure with Food – The Tannery Cookbook and I can recall the profound effect that the book and the recipes contained within its pages had on me. This was a book that presented Irish ingredients in a modern and exciting way that was far removed from the rather sterile utilitarian cookbooks that I had grown up reading. Paul’s passion and love of cooking was evident throughout and his calm, no-nonsense approach made me truly believe that I could replicate the recipes at home, in my own kitchen.
A number of years later, I dined in The Tannery, the restaurant that Paul owns and runs with his wife Máire in his home town of Dungarvan in Waterford, and spent a wonderful night in the comfortable and elegant surroundings of the Tannery Townhouse which is located around the corner from the restaurant. The food I ate that night was memorable and included an outstanding Crab Crème Brûlée which I don’t think I will ever forget.
Paul and Máire achieved one of their main ambitions when they opened The Tannery Cookery School in 2008. Paul’s enthusiasm and love of food is infectious and makes him ideally suited to teaching, so setting up the cookery school seemed a logical progression. The school offers an exciting range of courses with something to suit all tastes and skill levels. These include half-day and evening courses along with some of a longer duration. Over the years, the school has played host to a number of guest chefs/cookery writers including Neven Maguire, Richard Corrigan and Tamasin Day-Lewis amongst many others. It’s fair to say that I was really looking forward to finally attending a course in the cookery school and having the opportunity to meet Paul in person.
The school’s state of the art kitchen has been designed to the highest standards and is kitted out with everything participants will need. Hands on courses are kept deliberately small with no more than 12 students but the school can also cater for up to 30 people attending demonstration courses. While some courses are demonstration only, many involve hands on cooking or are a combination of both. The one day French Bistro Classics course that I had signed up to was demonstration only but this meant that I had the opportunity to sit back, take notes and learn loads from Paul.
The course kicked off in a relaxed fashion at 10am with Paul describing the dishes that he would cook during the day. We each received a booklet containing all the recipes which we also used to scribble down the many tips and tricks of the trade that we learnt along the way.
From the outset it was clear that classic French bistro style food is something that is close to Paul’s heart and he admitted that his last meal on Death Row would most likely include Confit Duck, Dauphinoise Potatoes, a Green Salad and a glass or three of red wine! We were shown how to cook both the duck and potato dishes and later got the chance to taste them and could see why they were firm favourites of Paul’s. Confit Duck is one of those dishes that has always struck me as being tricky to prepare but Paul demonstrated how easy it was and it is something that I will definitely try out at home.
Paul is an instinctive chef who approaches cooking intuitively, adding a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar as required, in order to create a dish that is balanced. He emphasised the importance of regularly tasting the food as you cook it, making any necessary adjustments along the way. In a similar vein, Paul encouraged us to experiment rather than slavishly following recipes because he believes that cooking then becomes something that is fun. As he so succinctly puts it, “if it tastes nice, it’s right“.
For Paul, leftovers represent an opportunity to make something new and delicious tasting. This he readily demonstrated to us by including some of the caramelised onions that he had left over after making the Onion, Beetroot & Goat’s Cheese Soup (his twist on a classic French Onion Soup) in the Dauphinoise Potatoes. This was a wonderful and unexpected addition which gave the potatoes a certain amount of French je ne sais quoi!
Looking back I’m amazed by the amount of dishes we covered, all of which were to form the basis of a meal that we would sit down together to enjoy in the spacious and tastefully decorated dining room adjoining the cookery school once the course was finished. After feasting on a fragrant dish of freshly cooked Mussels with Fennel, Orange and Pernod we tucked into our main course of Confit Duck and Dauphinoise Potatoes, which was served with a simple Watercress & Celeriac Salad and Lentils Vinaigrette. Needless to say all of these dishes were delicious and seemed surprisingly easy to cook.
To finish off our meal we devoured a sinfully good Apple Tarte Tatin which we all loved. Often the simplest things can be the most delicious and this was certainly the case with this classic French dessert.
I should point out that we were shown how to cook many other dishes during the day including a range of sauces, Goat’s Cheese Parcels with Caramelised Apples & Pickled Beetroot inspired by Nigel Slater who is Paul’s favourite cook and Cervelle de Canut – a flavoursome dip made with crème fraîche, garlic and an abundance of herbs including chervil, parsley and chives. This we ate with slices of sourdough baguette as a snack. One of my favourite dishes of the day was a simple Bacon, Onion, Potato & Sour Cream Tart which really proved that less IS more. Based on an Alsatian Tarte Flamiche, Paul had it assembled and baking in the oven in less-than-no-time and we descended on it like hungry vultures when it was ready.
I really enjoyed the French Bistro Classics course in The Tannery Cookery School and would highly recommend it or any of the other courses on offer. I found Paul to be a knowledgeable and engaging teacher and his reassuring manner and entertaining approach ensured that the day was tremendous fun. Most importantly I learnt loads and came away from the course with a renewed enthusiasm for cooking simple, delicious food.
Further information on the courses offered in The Tannery Cookery School, including prices is available at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tannery Cookery School
10 Quay Street
T: 058 45420
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.