For many Americans, St. Patrick’s Day conjures up images of tartaned ties, green confetti, and mass parades—not to mention corned beef and cabbage and a pint Guinness. Although such pub fare still dominates our perception of eating Irish, like all cuisines, Irish food enjoys a rich history and has evolved conspicuously even within the past few years. Chefs like Kevin Dundon and Noel McMeel have devoted their careers to revitalizing Irish fare while remaining true to its roots. Chef Dundon is the Executive Head Chef at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel and Chef McMeel is Head Chef at Lough Erne Golf Resort in Northern Ireland. In their respective cookbooks Modern Irish Food and Irish Pantry, Dundon and McMeel tweak generations-old recipes for the contemporary palate, ushering ancient Gaelic ingredients into the new century.
A back-to-basics approach among amateur and professional cooks alike has taken hold across much of the Emerald Isle. Among the recent trends—mirroring developments in the U.S., UK and Europe—is a move towards more varied fruits and vegetables, and a newfound respect for their prominent place on the plate. “I have vegetarian customers in my restaurant every single night, and I actually enjoy the challenge that cooking vegetarian food presents to a chef,” Dundon has said. Though the heroic potato, for centuries Ireland’s chief crop and economic engine, still symbolizes Ireland’s past, its look has been updated; new dishes like Dundon’s Cauliflower, Pea and Potato Curry keep the old staples while incorporating new spices and flavors from around the world.
Irish consumers have become more health conscious as well. Last month the Irish Times praised Meatless Monday for addressing the global obesity epidemic, as well as growing environmental and ethical concerns. What shape the movement will take in Irish kitchens, restaurants—and yes, even pubs—remains to be seen, but its promotion portends exciting developments for Ireland’s culinary landscape. And today we salute those changes with a hearty “Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!” (Happy St. Patrick’s Day!)