Maura O’Connell Foley wins Listowel Food Fair Book of the Year

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We are very honoured to award this year’s Listowel Food Fair Food Book of the Year Award to restaurateur and chef Maura O’Connell Foley, for her wonderful and authentic collection of recipes and memories titled My Wild Atlantic Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections. In addition to being an internationally renowned chef, Maura has been a stalwart of Kerry’s food and hospitality sector for many years. Her journey in food and cuisine began in 1961, when she started working in the Purple Heather Tea and Cake Shop, an establishment then run by Maura’s enterprising and talented mother Agnes. With her husband Tom, Maura would go on to establish the Lime Tree Restaurant and Packie’s Food & Wine, restaurants that have greatly contributed to both Kenmare and Kerry’s reputation as centres of food excellence.
2020 has been a difficult year for the culinary, arts and hospitality sectors, but we at Listowel Food Fair have endevoured to be as active as possible. In addition to the awarding of the Food Book of the Year, we have also continued with our educational programme, including a webinar on the importance of fish in young people’s diet, organised in conjunction with BIM and the Education Centre in Tralee with over 50 schools participating.     
The Book of The Year Award was initiated back in 2008 and some of the best known names in the Irish culinary industry have been recipients of it. The quality of the writing, the creativity and accessibility of the recipes, the overall design of the book and photography, and the general presentation, are all taken into consideration by the judges when adjudicating.
Jimmy Deenihan, Chairperson of Listowel Food Fair, writing on this year’s winner, remarked: ‘Despite strong competition this year from books published by a number of well known culinary personalities, the judges were unanimous in their choice for the Food Book of the Year Award. My Wild Atlantic Kitchen- is not only a description of delicious recipes created by Maura over the past sixty years in her restaurants in Kenmare, it also provides us with an insight into her extraordinary life story, especially her love affair with food. Maura is an institution in the Irish culinary world and has a legendary status in her hometown of Kenmare. Her restaurants The Purple Heather, The Lime Tree and Packie’s Food and Wine earned her both a national and international reputation, a legacy which continues to this day.The judges were very impressed with how the book amalgamated food writing with art, design and photography; with the artistic contributions from Christine Bowen and Pauline Bewick enhancing the book further. The interconnections between literature, art and  food is a theme that the Food Fair committee has promoted over the years and this excellent production epitomises all three.’ 

After receiving the news she won the award, Maura remarked:
I’m delighted and honoured to have won this important award by the Listowel Food Fair which over the years has recognised many wonderful chefs and food producers … I was fortunate to work with Eamonn O’Sullivan of Anchor Studio (son of the great Kerry footballer Mickey Ned O’Sullivan) to create not only a cookbook of over 250 of my favourite recipes but also to weave in my love of local art, the beautiful Kerry landscape and the many stories of my life in food. Eamonn has marvellous creativity and also drew upon other talented Kerry based individuals including graphic designer Natalie Moriarty, artist Christine Bowen, photographers Lynda Kenny of Visual Feasts and Landscape photographer Norman McCloskey. I was also delighted that my friend and wonderfully talented artist Pauline Bewick provided artworks as part of her private collection for my book. What was initially a family project gradually turned into a large hardback production of 408 pages! It is a celebration of Kerry & Beara, led by food and enhanced by all these wonderfully talented people and producers. We have found more recently, due to travel restrictions, and the festive period coming upon us that people are buying the book as a gift for family and I hope it provides some comfort as a connection to home during these difficult times. We are all very much looking forward to more human interaction and I have to say I look forward to next year’s Listowel Food Fair.

Jeremy Murphy, book editor and owner of YourStory Content, who helped adjudicate this year’s Book of the Year Award for Listowel Food Fair, wrote:

I love the way My Wild Atlantic Kitchen interweaved recipes with personal recollections and family history. It was interesting to learn that the author’s grandmother Nonie, who trained as a chef in Boston in the late 1880s, worked as a cook in a Kenmare grocery store where she cooked, among other local delicacies, hare soup and rabbit casserole! While this fare may not sound appetizing to the modern palate, the home-made ice-cream certainly does. In another passage, the author describes a trip to Fraser’s Tea and Cake Shop in Havinstock London, and how she sampled the ‘lemon flavoured ice cakes, decorated with little mimosa balls on a sprig with pretty leaves’. The cakes, according to the author, kindled her life-long love of food.

In addition to these personal recollections, I enjoyed the more general advice. She helpfully, and bravely, opines on the merits of various herbs; thyme is an ‘all-round herb that can be used with a variety of meats,’ while bay leafs are, in contrast, ‘strong herbs’ that ‘should be used carefully’. While I am not in any way qualified to judge, I thought the range of recipes on display impressive, blending rustic Irish flavours with French sophistication. I thought the author’s rich, seasonal ‘Duck Casserole with Red Wine and Prunes’ (found on pages 220 and 221) epitomised her philosophy of food: She recommends locally farmed duck, skeaghanore from Ballydehob to be precise, while the recipe itself bristles with francophile sophistication, including the recommendation to stew the bird in a full-bodied Rhone’ wine!

I also thought the book was professionally and expertly produced. The moody photography, which includes images from the author’s restaurants as well as landscapes of the surrounding Kerry countryside, imbue the book with tone and atmosphere, a tone that chimes with the rustic and rich tone of the recipes. It was a pleasure to adjudicate, and when I put my apron on over Christmas I will try my very best not to completely destroy Ms O’Connell Foley’s many fantastic recipes.

Writing on My Atlantic Kitchen, Derry Clarke, head-chef in Dublin’s michelin-starred L’Ecrivain, remarked:

This is a book I feel every cook should have in their kitchen, as they are so many brilliant and varied recipes.

While renowned Irish chef Nevin Maguire was even more fulsome and personal in his praise, remarking:

Maura Foley has always been an inspiration to me in my career. Her love of food and support of local seasonal produce was unique and ahead of its time.

Pictured: Maura O’Connell Foley receiving her award from Jimmy Deenihan.
Photo By jkphotography