Last summer when lockdown restrictions lifted I drove to west Cork. On a search to see a flower farm I had heard so much about and wanted to write about I drove the five hours of motorways, then snaking roads and eventually crossing narrow mountain passes with deer and wildlife into the beauty that is the wilds of West Cork. At the time I spent several days exploring the locality of Glengarriff, a place which seems to have been touched with some kind of mediterranean magic, and was lucky to meet some incredibly inspiring people who have not just made a lasting impression but also have become friends.
The first was the flower farmer Mags Riordan. A passionate woman who grows exemplary organic and sustainable, pollinator friendly flowers on her valley farm which lies at the base of the beautiful Nowen Hill. Steeped in seasonality, her flowers span 2 acres
and are a dreamy explorion of colour and texture. It is no wonder Mags calls her place Bumblebee flowerfarm- it is a haven of wildlife, birds, bees, butterflies and if you’ve ever wondered what a wildlife garden looks like- this is it. But on top of theabundance of wildlife, the sheer beauty of the place and how Mags blew my mind.
The second person I met in west Cork was a young chef called Eddie Atwell and I had heard about his approach to food and how his unique passion tapped into seasonality and wild flavours. I met Eddie who is head chef at Eccles Hotel in Glengariff to see the garden he created behind the hotel I was immediately struck with how his ethos runs so close to that of Mags who I had visited also. Interestingly Eddie’s tasting menus celebrate not just seasonality, but the unpredictability of nature. Flowers, plants and anything foraged or sourced from the wild is dependent on climate and weather and garden produce can be just as unpredictable and dissappointing when the wild Atlantic weather won’t play ball.
After arriving back home I couldn’t stop thinking about how many overlaps there are with what I do as a garden designer and what Eddie and Mags do within their own artforms and throughout the year we stayed in touch and exchanged ideas. Eddie provided recipes for features which I created here in my corner of Leitrim, Mags provided flower inspiration for a series on growing on my wild eden online magazine and we texted and spoke often about creating something exciting as a trio together with a common approach.
That’s when the thought hit us. What if we were to come together to create an event which tried to combine all our talents and ideas and create something which pools together designing, eating and growing into a celebration.
So after months of throwing around ideas, closely watching what would be out and in season and working with various talented people behind the scenes this October I took the trip to west Cork again. This time my mind was buzzing with ideas for our upcoming collaborative event called ‘A Taste of Wild at Eccles Hotel’ which was to see Eddie, Mags and I come together to create a tasting menu designed around what the wild and the garden has to offer right at that very moment.
The idea was that nature can inspire us to create a menu moment by moment rather than forcing nature to do what we want it to do for our own plans. It was also a chance to celebrate the rich bounty which west cork nature has to offer and to explore the flavour of flowers, plants and foraged food in all its forms- gels, mousses, oils, essences, sauces, jams…..Eddie’s kitchen is a treasure trove of wild food in so many forms and our menu celebrated this on the night.
Before the event we spent a whole day down in west Cork foraging, fishing, collecting flowers at Mags farm and allowing nature and what’s in season to inspire a menu for the night and on the evening the kitchen looked like a Día de Muertos celebration. Dahlias, calendula, nasturtium and much more made their way into the dishes and our catch of mackerel, lobster and crab were flamed, gilled, boiled, roasted and found their way into mouth watering dishes which the guests could enjoy.
For me the fascinating thing was that the seafood had literally been in the water the day of or before the event and the flowers were picked only an hour before serving. It literally doesn’t get fresher or more in season that that and the feedback from the event where we spoke about the approach was exactly what we hoped for.
The guests found joy of wild ingredients which nature inspires in the moment and loved the idea that we don’t need to control everything all the time. That sometimes it’s ok to go with a little ebb and flow like the tide, a natural course dictated not by us but by nature which is ultimately perfectly imperfect.