Philippe Farineau moved to Ireland from his native France in the late 90s. From the beginning of his career as a chef in Grand Vefour-the three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris – to where he is now – executive chef at Farnham Estate in Co Cavan – Philippe has cooked his way through some of Ireland’s very best dining rooms.
But the food he remembers most fondly is that of his childhood.
“Food homecooked by your mother or grandmother – you’ll always say that their cooking is the best,” he says as we sit in Farnham Estate’s exclusive dining room, The Cedar Rooms. “It’s the flavour that we learn when we’re kids.”
Growing up just south of Paris in a city roughly the size of Cork, Philippe may not have been living on a working farm, but he was never far from homegrown produce.
“My grandparents had a big garden, so everything [we ate] would come from the garden. The garden was extremely important – it made preserves for the winter: tomatoes, beans; the bounty from the summer. Today you hear a lot of chefs talking about fermentation or preservation, but it’s always been here.”
This connection to the food on his plate has never left Philippe. His menus have always focused on what is local and seasonal. This past year at The Cedar Rooms, his tasting menus were all about colour – the vibrant oranges and greens of summer; the earthy tones of autumn. There are now plans to develop a steakhouse at Farnham which will use all prime Irish Angus beef – a further celebration of what we do well in Irish food.
“We’re getting a charcoal oven and will offer six or seven kinds of beef,” Philippe explains. “Everything will be cooked on charcoal. Fine dining is beautiful, but it’s not for everybody.”
For Christmas, we all love going back to the nostalgic recipes of our childhood. When it comes to holiday traditions, France is different from Ireland in many ways – the big meal is not on Christmas Day, but on Christmas Eve and the star of the show is never a large roasted turkey. Luckily, while we may not follow French tradition, we do produce many of the foods the French love to indulge in over the holidays.
For Philippe, fresh seafood, duck and fresh vegetables make Christmas dinner the special event it is. Here he shares some of his favourite nostalgic Christmas recipes made with some of his favourite Irish food producers.
Burren Smokehouse salmon and crab cake
For the dressing:
For the salmon and crab parcel:
1 Make the dressing: chop the sweet red pepper, shallot, cucumber and radish. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh dill. Set aside until ready to use.
2 For the parcel, mix the crab meat with the shallot, yoghurt, dill, lemon juice, salt, pepper, cucumber, scallion, ginger and chilli (if you like a bit of a kick).
3 Cut four small pieces of cling film and line the insides of four small bowls or ramekins, leaving some hanging over the edges. 4 Cut the smoked salmon into wide slices, and press into the inside of the ramekins – again, with some hanging over the edges. Leave no gaps, as the smoked salmon will create the outer layer of the parcel.
5 Spoon the crab mixture into the salmon-lined ramekin and press firmly with the back of the spoon until it is nearly full. Fold the overlapping salmon over the crabmeat and press down firmly.
6 Cover with the overlapping cling film and allow to set in a fridge for at least an hour.
7 Plate the smoked salmon parcel and drizzle generously with the dressing. Garnish with coriander, cucumber and edible flowers.
Dooncastle oysters with mingonette sauce
Oysters in the shell must be sold live. When you’re buying them, they should be clamped tightly shut. If they are even slightly open and don’t close immediately when tapped, they are dead and should be avoided.
Smell the oysters, too. If there is any kind of fishy aroma, avoid them. Fresh live oysters should smell like a sea breeze. When buying oysters, ensure that they are being stored cup side down, and that they are well chilled – ideally, on crushed ice.
When you get them home, store your oysters in a container, again with the cupped side of the shell down to retain as much liquid as possible. Cover the container loosely with a damp cloth and keep it in the refrigerator for up to a week.
For the mignonette sauce:
For the oysters:
1 First, make the mignonette: add your finely chopped shallot with the red wine vinegar, and chopped thyme. Of course, you can always just dress your oysters with dash of lemon juice.
2 Opening (or shucking) oysters can be daunting, so here is a little help: fold an old, clean kitchen towel lengthwise into thirds. You’ll be using it to shuck your oysters safely by protecting your hand from an accidental slip of the knife.
3 If you’re leaving the oysters on the half shell, fill a platter or rimmed baking sheet with crushed ice sprinkled with the salt to nestle the shells into.
4 Set your oyster rounded side down and flat side on top with the pointed end facing away from your body. Take the folded towel and slide your hand in between the folds. Hold the oyster with the towelled hand.
5 Work your oyster knife into the pointed part (the hinge). Once you feel like you’ve got the knife tip solidly in place, work the oyster knife up and down while also twisting and rotating it.
6 You may need to reposition the tip of the knife if you’re not having any luck. Eventually, you’ll get the perfect position, and – pop – you’ll feel the oyster yield. The more you practise, the easier it will be to find the sweet spot.
7 I recommend removing the juice of the oysters, as they will make more juices which won’t be as salty.
8 When you are ready to eat your oysters, use the knife to cut the oyster from the shell, add the mignonette and enjoy.
*In France, we eat our oysters with rye bread and butter, and yes – they are beautiful with home-baked brown bread, too.
Brussels sprouts with chorizo
When you buy your Brussels sprouts, make sure they are fresh. The fresh ones will have a vibrant green colour.
1 Remove the outer leaves of the Brussels sprouts. I recommend steaming them instead of boiling. If you do choose to boil the Brussels sprouts, be sure to salt the water.
2 In a large skillet or frying pan, add the olive oil and diced chorizo. Cook slowly over medium heat. The chorizo will render its fat, turning the oil red and releasing all that beautiful Spanish flavour. Add the sliced onion and let this mixture cook for about 10 minutes. Then, add the steamed Brussels sprouts and toss them into the flavoured oil, onions and chorizo.
3 For the sliced pepperoni or chorizo, lay them onto a tray and bake in a 160°C oven for about 15 minutes, until crunchy. I like to add these crispy slices to the Brussels sprouts to add texture to the dish.
4 Garnish with the chopped parsley and chives.
The mendiants are confections consisting of chocolate discs topped with four types of dried fruits and nuts, and candied citrus zest. Today, the recipe is infinitely varied, depending on the seasons or the sensibilities of chocolatiers. Blends vary from year to year and from one craftsman to another, because all combinations are possible.
So what do they have in common?
The excellence of the ingredients used in the composition of the treat and the extreme attention paid to the variety, origin and quality of the chocolate.
The mendiants take their name from the Mendicant Orders, religious orders dating back to the 12th century, so named because they were exclusive to the charity and generosity of the people to whom they owed their survival.
By begging and humbly resorting to the financial support of their donors, they were able to commit themselves fully to religious devotion and thus, fulfill their vow of poverty.
The dried fruits and nuts evoke the dress of the four main mendicant orders: the Franciscans dressed in a brown tunic (represented by the raisins), the Carmelites dressed in a brown robe (the hazelnuts), the Dominicans were adorned in white (the blanched almonds) and the Augustinians were draped in purple (the figs). These are all ingredients that are traditionally used in the composition of mendiants.
Today, for this recipe, I’ve used pistachios, almonds, walnuts, raisins and dried apricots. Honestly, the quantity you want to use depends solely on your taste – you could even use dried cranberries to make them more seasonal.
1 The best way to do this at home is to melt the chocolate in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time. After 30 seconds, mix, then heat for 30 seconds again and mix (and so on) until it is melted. It should not take more than 90 seconds in total.
2 Once melted, use a spoon to spread the chocolate into ½ cm thick discs on some parchment paper. Before it sets, add all of your favourite toppings – be creative, be yourself and get help from your kids. They love getting involved (and licking the spoon afterwards).
3 Once finished, let the mendiants cool at room temperature for 1-2 hours. Enjoy these delicious treats with your morning coffee or Christmas brandy.
As early as the Middle Ages, and according to uncertain legends, the madeleine appeared with the first pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, during which a young girl named “Madeleine” is said to have offered pilgrims an egg cake which had been moulded in a scallop shell – the emblem of the Camino de Santiago.
1 Preheat the oven to 200°C. Spray your madeleine moulds with oil or grease with butter and set aside.
2 In a large bowl (either in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer), beat the eggs and the caster sugar together for 3-4 minutes, until light and creamy. Add the lemon and orange zest and then whisk again for 30 seconds.
2 Add the milk to the mixture and whisk to combine, then add the flour and baking powder (it is important to sieve the baking powder and flour together beforehand to add to the batter).
3 Mix and add the cooled melted butter.
4 Rest this batter for 15 to 20 minutes.
6 Pipe or spoon the madeleine mix into the prepared moulds and bake for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the size of the madeleine moulds.
7 Once baked, transfer the madeleines to a wire rack to cool down. Once cool, you could dip them in chocolate or eat them plain with coffee.