Hello Canada: Colman Andrews

Tastes of the Emerald Isle: Food expert Colman Andrews takes a tour of Irish cuisine

by Tania Leah Haas

Published March 2010, Hello! Canada

“Try something new every day.” That was the fatherly wisdom respected travel and food writer Colman Andrews, 65, gave to his eldest daughter, Maddy, on her 16th birthday in Paris a few years back. Colman, the co-founder of Saveur magazine and former restaurant columnist for Gourmet, was trying to encourage his child to venture out of her familiar food rut. “Both of my daughters were very picky eaters,” Colman tells Hello! Canada from his Connecticut home. “Maddy said that fruit was her enemy.” But Maddy took her dad’s advice and continues to explore new foods. (He boasts that she even tried her first fried oyster the other day.)

Meanwhile, her father’s palate and pen are exploring new territory as well. Colman’s latest book, The Country Cooking of Ireland, started as a magazine article on that country’s often-maligned cuisine. That exploration ended in a 384-page tome celebrating the island’s history, people and gastronomy. So flawed is the concept of Irish gourmet cooking, says Colman, that people joke that an Irish seven-course meal consists of a potato and a six-pack of Guinness. Then there’s the green beer that many revellers consumed with gusto during recent St. Patrick’s Day revels. (“Avoid it at all costs,” advises Colman.)

Now, he says, it’s time to take Irish cuisine seriously. Colman, who often cooks on the Today show, says Ireland has some of the most exciting food history in the world. “The thing that interests me is the context: who it was that invented the dish and why it was invented,” Colman says. “I believe it helps people cook if you understand the spirit in which the dish was created.”

Colman’s own appreciation of fine dining started as a child growing up in Hollywood. His screenwriter father and ingenue mother would eat most of their meals at the hottest eateries in L.A. “My mother was a little more than an extra, not quite an actress, and, frankly, not a particularly good cook. My father made decent money, so we went to restaurants a lot,” he recalls.

Colman followed in his father’s footsteps and took to writing: first for small papers in California, then for national magazines across the country. His cookbooks include Catalan Cuisine, Everything on the Table and Flavors of the Riviera, and he is the recipient of six prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards. He and his wife, Erin, a magazine advertising rep, share a zeal for fine dining. “Sometimes I accuse her of caring more of what we eat than I do,” says Colman, with a hearty laugh.

When Colman’s daughters, Maddy, now 20, and Izzy, 16, are not eating with their mother (Colman’s previous wife), he and Erin take them out for dinner, trying to give them the fine dining experiences that his own parents bestowed on him. Colman also delights in showing them the benefits of high-quality ingredients, like those he encountered in Ireland.

“Ireland has some of the best raw materials in the world,” he says. Whether his daughters are ready to sit down to a plate of oysters prepared in the preferred Irish way – raw – is not yet clear. But, says Colman, “they’re coming around.”

Book Review

If Colman Andrews’ persuasive writing doesn’t convince you to turn your hand to Irish cuisine, the riveting photos in The Country Cooking of Ireland (Chronicle) will. More than 225 recipes and 100 photographs take you on a journey across the country’s lush green hills and into the kitchens of farmers and chefs alike. Simple, clearly explained recipes are presented alongside Irish proverbs, literature references and historical context. Readers will come away with new dishes to sample as well as a better understanding of the farm-to-table dining that has been the Irish norm for centuries.

To Colman’s recipes, download the PDF here