Happenstance… Don’t you just love that word…
Back in April I was at the Leinster Regional Awards of the Restaurant Association of Ireland and I got talking to this very nice guy, a professional chef who has worked in Chapter One and the Dylan Hotel and was formerly a fashion designer. After a few minutes chat I realised that he – Robert Jacob – was the chef who had taught me knife skills at a class last year and he figured out that I was writing the blog he enjoyed and whose recipes he had delved into and experimented with at home. We followed one another on Twitter but had never met or made the connection. Robert writes his own blog which you can read here.
Fast forward to 3rd July and he and I had put together a night at Donnybrook Fair Cookery School where he teaches. I talked about Chinese food and tried to give some insight into the flavours of China, the main regional variations, how Chinese food must indulge taste, smell, sight and “mouth feel” as well as satisfying the appetite, and some of the traditions and health giving properties associated with Chinese food.
Meanwhile Robert demonstrated five recipes from my blog. Now I have to admit to having been a bit nervous. There is no way I would have the confidence to cook those recipes at a demonstration myself – some fingers might go missing while I gesticulated as I talked – but handing over the recipes to a professional was a bit like letting your baby out to play for the first time or your teenager off to her first disco.
We had great fun choosing which recipes to use from over 100 posts on the blog. Robert opted for the ones below and you can try them yourself if you haven’t already. The links to the recipes are included.
- Crispy Chilli Beef – a real favourite on the blog which can also be made with chicken – hard to put a region on this one but it probably emerged as a western variation on a Sichuan dish – a takeaway favourite with a more traditional and lighter twist.
- Xinjiang Lamb with Cumin and Red Onion – very evocative for me of my visit to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Province to meet my daughter -in -law Shan’s family last July. That’s the region in the far north west of the map above and it’s capital is the most inland capital in the world.
- Hunan Steamed Fish with chopped salted chillies – a simple and fragrant dish from one of the spicier regions of China where Chairman Mao hailed from. You will spot it in the south east/ central part of China on the map.
- Sichuan Fried Green Beans – the dish that tickled my taste buds and started me on this blog – a perennial Sichuan favourite from the spice bowl of China – you will see it there in the map located in the south west of China, steaming in it’s inland heat.
- Dan Dan Noodles also from Sichuan Province – because no Taste of China would feel right without this unique, flavoursome Chinese fast-food, the kind of thing you can rustle up late at night when you’ve arrived home with the “munchies”.
We also shared the recipes for Tom Chef’s Chilli Jam and also Homemade Chilli Oil – two condiments I now can’t do without in my store cupboard.
Needless to say Robert handled the demo with a lovely relaxed style, adding his own touches to some of the dishes, and the attendees seemed to have lots of fun and enjoy the food. Two of my good Twitter friends were there – Marie McKenna (@Maud Monaghan) and Irene (@MissH_Ireland) with her great Henckels knives. They took photos and a small selection of them feature in this post (thanks ladies).
So another Shanaingans first for a blog that will only celebrate its first birthday on Monday next 29th July. Thank you Robert and Donnybrook Fair for the fun and the opportunity and thank you all who have encouraged me and kept me going in my first year. I’m told most food blogs don’t last this long.
I’m still marvelling at how many new friends I’ve made, how much I’ve learned and how many extraordinary experiences I’ve had, all as a result of a random conversation with my son Shane last July… yes… happenstance…
As an indirect result of the blog I attended dinner at the Chinese Ambassador’s Residence in Dublin last night. My friend Brendan Halligan told the story of an essay competition in Ancient Greece, a very serious challenge where philosophers were asked to write on the theme “what do you know?”. There was much frenetic writing but Aristotle was the first to put down his pen. He won the prize. His essay was short. He wrote “I know.. that I know… nothing…”
When it comes to Chinese food I still know “nothing”, but perhaps a little less of nothing than this time last year.
Thank you all,