A dear friend Paul Trainer left our Irish shores for his native Scotland and his latest Guide to the great and good of Glasgow is an absolute must for locals and if you are visiting. He kindly featured me on the website glasgowist.com
By Paul Trainer
Billy Connolly once said “if you ever want your flagging spirits lifted, go to Ireland” and thousands of Scots take that advice every year, hopping on one of the steady stream of cheap flights linking the two countries or taking the ferry. There is a particular connection between Donegal on Ireland’s wild west coast and Glasgow with cultural and work related links dating back generations.
Caitriona McBride chronicles the finer things on the Emerald Isle at the McBride Guide. We caught up with her to talk about Irish restaurants, family ties and cheese.
What was the idea behind the McBride Guide?
It’s a celebration of the best of Irish food and beautiful things. I think we are living in one of the most exciting eras for Irish cuisine so we should be shouting loud and proud about it. Writing and journalism is my background and while I have always been interested in food, I became obsessed when I worked on TV series like The Restaurant and MasterChef Ireland. I started to meet chefs, both Irish and international, who were enamoured with Irish food and what was going on, not just in Dublin, but countrywide.
I started out as a journalist freelancing for The Irish Times, then I started to work in TV. Like everyone else, I started at the bottom making tea and licking stamps and worked up to Series Producer and Director of The Restaurant which features some of Ireland’s leading food critics and personalities. I loved TV and the amazing people I met but food and writing kept calling me back so I decided to get some experience in my huge passion, cheese. I took a role as a cheesemonger and started a blog.
This year I broke my wrist and then had to have surgery on it as I’d severed a tendon, so was out of work for nearly 12 weeks. During that time I realised that writing was calling me back like a foghorn so I am now back freelancing full time and set up themcbrideguide.com on my birthday. I’ve never been happier.
What do you think the food scene in Glasgow can learn from what’s going on with Irish restaurants and produce at the moment?
I think Irish chefs, producers and those involved in the industry are really confident at the moment and that’s a great thing. There is a pride in what is local, it’s innovative and exciting. If you look at some of the finest restaurants in the country they now name check local seafood, beef, vegetable, dairy suppliers and ingredients as a standard, not the exception.
I’m not sure if this would have been the case 30 or 40 years ago. As a country who don’t have the same kind of cuisine history as Italy, France, Spain or Asia we used to, perhaps, look more outward than we should have, but that was all part of going out and learning these techniques and absorbing other cultures and bringing it back.
Now, we are in a fantastic position where we can chose to use these influences on our own ingredients. If people come to visit Ireland they want to try the best of what we have to offer. We have the best dairy and beef in the world, incredible seafood, game, vegetables and local assets which are jewels on our doorstep.
I think Scottish cuisine is similar in utilising what is local. Some of the Scottish chefs I admire most, Tom Kitchin, Martin Wishart and Andrew Fairlie are doing exactly that.
If Glasgow chefs take one thing from Irish cooking right now, I hope it would be to use the best of local bounty and let it shine.
There are obviously a lot of long standing links between Donegal and Glasgow. Where would you recommend in your home county?
There has been a long history of a ‘ceangail’ (connection in Irish) between Donegal and Glasgow. I’m from Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore) in the north west, an Irish speaking Gaeltacht area of Donegal and for a long time there was huge emigration to Scotland and Britain as there were few employment opportunities here.
My grandfather, Owenie McBride, worked in Scotland for years, often for 9-10 months a year sending money home to his family. This was the case for many families in the area. Many families settled in Scotland and would visit in the summer or some came back later in life so there were huge ties with Glasgow.
Glasgow Celtic of course is in the heart of many a football fan in the area who travel over for the games. There are some great things happening in Donegal with food, particularly in the last few years. I wrote a piece about some of my favourite spots like Harry’s Bar and Restaurant in Inishowen and Lough Eske Castle Hotel. You’re all welcome to come visit.
What’s your perception of Glasgow?
My own dad has lived and worked there, and a lot of my relations still live there. It feels like it’s a very vibrant, exciting time for the city and from speaking to my cousins there are great new restaurants and bars opening. I love Scottish people, the accent for one, and the same mischievous celtic wit and lust for life that I love about Irish people. I’m looking forward to visiting very soon.
You are a big fan of cheese! What would you recommend to someone who is not particularly adventurous with their cheese choices?
I adore cheese. I often find people who like wine like it for the same reasons, because every cheese has a story. From the terroir of the land, what kind of milk is used, the time of year, if the herd graze by the sea or get to access flowers or herbs or sweet grass, how and where it is aged – it all influences the taste of the cheese and that is what makes it so unique and special.
Cheese is absolutely personal so don’t be afraid of it. There can be a lot of pomp around it but I would just say to trust your instincts and go with what you like, but keep exploring. Go to a good cheesemonger or cheese counter and don’t be afraid to ask for a few sample tastes to find out what you like. It’s a journey that is fantastic and a lot of fun. Once you discover the joy of truly amazing cheese, you ‘ll never look back.
Caitriona tweets at @themcbrideguide and @caitrionamcb