When it comes to getting inspired for recipes we are truly spoiled here in Ireland. There are many different sources of inspiration which chefs can source from. The land and gardens, foraging wild or growing in kitchen gardens is one powerful source with abundant ideas and ingredients which can become recipes. Many chefs also draw inspiration from the sea for their dishes. One incredibly talented chef who’s recipes use the ocean and its bountiful coastline as inspiration is Finn van der Aar.
I first came across the marine scientist, chef and author of best selling cook book, Finn’s World a few years ago through friends who run Shells Surf Cafe in Sligo and fell in love with her work which has a focus on zero waste and gluten-free ingredients. Her delicious recipes draw inspiration from the land and sea and here we talk to her about her time during the pandemic, how it has changed how she sees cooking and our approach to waste and how re-discovering her love for surfing has been her escape.
Q1. We’ve had a crazy year and a bit….how has cooking and your approach changed for you personally?
Yes definitely. During the more heavy lockdown’s where a lot of my work was frozen I took the chance to get a bit more creative with food and start trying recipes from cuisines I hadn’t tried before (Eritrea has amazing gluten free and plant based dishes!). I also realised that junk food had snuck in way more then I’d realised (like buying crisps every time I bought diesel!) so that has definitely been paired back too!
Q.2 Has the pandemic brought you any new appreciations in every day life?
Oh my god completely. The first lockdown in 2020 was the most time I’d not worked since, well probably sometime in college. It made me really get to grips with what’s important in life and as it turned out, working 6 days a week 12 hours a day was not one of them! I’ve really tried to pare down my schedule and learn to take time off when I’m tired and need to rest. Still doing a load of projects (because its hard to say no when they’re exciting!) but definitely have a better understanding of my limits now.
Q.3 Do you think it has changed our approach to food and how we eat?
I think now that we’re all at home making the majority of our meals, we’re getting a way better understanding of what we consume and what we waste. We’ve also got more time and are being exposed to more documentaries and information about how what we eat affects our environment and I think that’s a great thing, people are becoming more aware.
Q.4. What inspires you right now in nature?
I’m definitely finding my love of surfing again! I worked so much last year there was little time to surf and then when I finally got back in the water my confidence and fitness were gone! Getting back in the water now with the girls here in Bundoran has reminded me that its just meant to be fun. It’s a perfect escape in nature, especially while life is still so restricted.
Q5. What is your earliest memory of eating something wild?
I’d say it would definitely be blackberries or apples. When I would visit my Nana in bray we would go to the beach and feed the swans and sometimes up Bray Head to pick blackberries in Autumn. With my granny in Dublin we would pick apples from the “secret” garden at the back of her house, although I suppose that’s not technically wild it did feel it!
Q6. Your approach is so unique – has your speciality as a marine biologist influenced your way of cooking?
Absolutely! Ever since I started sharing recipes online and back when I still catered events I always tried to bring that influence in. Whether it was chatting to people about how to make more sustainable choices when it came to seafood or teaching them news ways to add seaweed to their diet (beyond sushi).
Q7. Where do you draw the inspiration for your dishes from?
When I first found out I was coeliac all my dishes were just based on the things I missed eating. These days while we’re unable to travel I’ve found its dishes from the countries I miss or ones I was to travel too.
Q7. How do you personally like to connect with nature?
In a small way it can be just sitting in the garden to have my coffee or taking the dog for a walk, but my absolute favourite would be diving, its definitely the most immersed in nature I’ve ever felt.
Q8. Are there any particular cultures which have found their way into your food style through travelling?
Ha ha I think I was already thinking about this one above! I know for me travel was what made me realise that having to eat gluten free didn’t have to be restrictive. Being in Mexico, Greece and Spain made realise there are huge parts of many countries diets that are completely gluten free and no less varied and bountiful for it. It was a good shift in perspective.
Q9. What are your top 3 wild/garden ingredients and why?
Wild would be – wild garlic, wild mint and sea spaghetti (a seaweed). They’re easily recognisable, totally versatile and very abundant so there’s no fear you’re taking something precious. Oh bonus one! I haven’t found it in Ireland yet, but all over Cornwall there was rock samphire on the beach and its so delicious and hard to buy!
Q10. What’s your dream last supper?
My granny’s stew (veggie version) with a French pan (since its my last supper I’ll take the gluten!).