Who said Irish food doesn’t taste great? It was definitely not someone who attended the first annual Gaelic Gala Wednesday evening, March 15, at the Hotel Commonwealth, where six of Ireland’s hottest chefs prepared their favorite foods for more than 300 guests. The dinner, hosted by the hotel and Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration and organized with the help of Boston celebrity chef Michael Schlow, featured, instead of corned beef, dishes such as wild mushroom casserole, king scallops wrapped in bacon with citrus avocado salad, and braised lamb shoulder with a rosemary sauce.
“Corned beef is not even Irish — it’s American,” says Kevin Dundon, signature chef at Dunbrody Country House Hotel and Restaurant in Wexford, Ireland. “In the 1800s, when the Irish came to America, there wasn’t the traditional bacon they had in Ireland, so they used brisket.”
A recent evolution of Irish gastronomy, which now brings us delicacies like Dundon’s rack of Dublin prawn with Mead bell pepper salsa, began in the 1960s, says Dundon, when Irish tourism picked up and chefs started traveling all over Europe for training.
“Today, we have very good products and many good chefs located all over the country, not just in the big cities,” says Neven Maguire, executive chef and proprietor of MacNean House and Bistro in Cavan, Ireland. “Irish people have developed more experienced palates, and they’re not afraid to experiment and try new things.”
In addition to better-trained chefs, says Darina Allen, a well-known chef and cooking instructor from the Emerald Isle, modern Irish fare now benefits from the many organic ingredients the country has to offer.
“We grow the best grass in the world and good grass makes good cows and good lamb,” says Allen, whose salmon dish contained salmon smoked on her farm in Ireland. “The basis for all our food is good ingredients.”
Elizabeth Shannon, director of BU’s International Visitors Program, reports that she has seen (and tasted) much improvement in Irish cuisine since she lived in that country during the late 1970s, when her late husband, William Shannon (Hon.’76), was U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
“Today,” says Shannon, “Ireland has one of the best cuisines in Europe.”
At Wednesday’s gala, visiting chefs were teamed with Boston chefs, with each invited to prepare a dish based on the same main ingredient. Schlow, executive chef and co-owner of the restaurants Radius, Via Matta, and Great Bay, prepared spicy shrimp salad with crispy tofu. He shared a buffet table with Dundon, who prepared the Dublin prawn dish.
“Boston and Ireland are places that were not known for their cuisines,” says Schlow. “We wanted to show off where cuisine is headed, because it’s a very exciting time to be a chef in Boston and in Ireland.”
The Hotel Commonwealth dinner was one of many celebrations of Irish food that are presented in several cities each March by the Boston Irish Tourism Association (BITA). SHA, the Hotel Commonwealth, and BITA sponsored the event, along with Tourism Ireland, American Airlines, Tourism Massachusetts, Boston Magazine, and Costa Fruit and Produce Company.
The evening’s festivities included silent and live auctions of such items as an all-expense-paid vacation to Ireland, gift certificates to participating hotels and restaurants, Red Sox tickets, and sports memorabilia.
More than 70 percent of the proceeds from the event will benefit SHA’s capital campaign, whose purpose is a new home for the school — a 33,000-square-foot building at 928 Commonwealth Ave. The benefit was held in memory of Noel Cullen, a former associate professor at SHA and one of Ireland’s great master chefs, who died in 2002.
“Noel was well known in Ireland,” says SHA Dean James Stamas. “In some way at the new facility we will recognize him and what he meant to the industry, to BU, and to Ireland.”
Stamas says he is encouraged by the success of the dinner, which he hopes will become an annual event. “For a first-time event,” he says, “it’s a huge success. We are really pleased.”
Kevin Dundon’s Roasted Lamb Shanks with an Irish Stout Glaze
4 lamb shanks
1/4 cup flour
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced finely
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup red wine
1 cup vegetable stock
2 sprigs of thyme
1/4 cup (2 fl oz) Guinness stout
4 Tbsp sugar
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Farenheit.
Place olive oil in a large, oven-safe pot on top of the stove on high heat. Dust the lamb shanks with the flour. Place shanks into the pot and brown on all sides; this will take 8 to 10 minutes.
Add onion, carrot, and garlic and cook for 3 minutes.
Add red wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half. Stir in vegetable stock. Cover with a lid (or tin foil) and place in the oven for 90 minutes. You’ll know the lamb is done when the meat pulls away easily from the bone.
Remove from the oven. Remove the lamb shanks from the pot and place in an ovenproof serving dish. Keep warm.
Place the pot containing the liquid and vegetables back on the stove. Remove any grease from the top and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook over low heat and reduce until it coats the back of the spoon. This is now the sauce you will serve with the lamb shanks.
Meanwhile, prepare your Irish stout glaze by putting the beer and sugar into a pot, bringing the mixture to the boil, and then allowing it to reduce by half. Remove from heat.
Brush the lamb shanks with the glaze. Place glazed shanks back into a hot oven for 10 minutes.
To serve, place shanks on individual plates, pour sauce over them, and serve with colcannon mash.