Maura O’Connell Foley has a few stories to tell … and a beautiful dish to accompany every one of them.
Her new book combines these two aspects of her life beautifully, throwing in a sprinkling of Irish charm and beautiful landscapes for good measure.
Entitled My Wild Atlantic Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections, the strapline is a fair reflection of what you will find inside the front cover “A snapshot of Maura O’Connell Foley’s life and culinary career”.
Although born in London during the Second World War, Maura’s roots and life are overwhelmingly Irish.
From a family with a history of women in the food business, her grandmother was a cook in Boston in the late 1800s. She returned to Kenmare, a small town in the south of County Kerry in the 1930s and built and owned her own grocery store.
At the age of 19 Maura, accompanied by her mother Agnes – who had been a professional baker in Fraser’s Tea Shop in Haverstock Hill, London – returned to Kenmare, where they opened a cake shop.
They quickly expanded the business, opening a restaurant and allowing Maura to indulge in her true passion of cooking, with a particular love of fresh local fish, including sole, cod, Atlantic prawns and lobster.
Although largely self-taught, Maura did complete a short course at Le Cordon Bleu in London in the 1960s and has worked alongside great chefs, including Sonia Stevenson, the first woman to earn a Michelin star in the UK.
In the early 1980s she renovated an old school house in Kenmare, where she had once been a student herself, and opened The Limetree restaurant with her husband Tom.
During her tenure at The Limetree she received great acclaim both nationally and internationally and earned a Michelin Red M.
Later, in the early 1990s, she converted her uncle Packie’s grocery store to a more informal restaurant, simply called Packie’s Food and Wine.
In 1990 she purchased a large run-down Georgian house and after five years of meticulous renovations Shelburne Lodge opened to guests in 1996. Maura and Tom continue to run Shelburne Lodge today.
Over her six decades at Kenmare Maura has created scores of recipes – which she has included in her new book.
The dishes in My Wild Atlantic Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections follow Maura’s ethos of keeping food simple, cooking with care and using the best available local produce.
In total, there are more than 250 recipes in the book of meals that Maura has loved to cook throughout her life and successful career.
Maura said: “Over the years I was approached on many occasions to write a book, but I just didn’t make the time.
“I finally put pen to paper, and I can tell you it has been a tremendous effort! The recipes are a diverse collection of the food I have loved to cook at various times in my life.”
Maura’s recipes are seasonal, classic and carefully organised into eight chapters: Breakfast, Starters, Fish, Meat, Vegetables, Desserts & Baking, Sauces, Stocks & Staples, as well as a dedicated section on Dinner Parties.
Examples include Drop Scone Pancakes with Dry Cured Bacon and Apple Syrup, Confit of Duck Leg with Pear and Ginger Salad, Twice Baked Hazelnut Goat’s Cheese Soufflé, Seafood Sausage with Beurre Blanc, Smoked Cod Cakes, Beef and Guinness Casserole, Dover Sole Stuffed with Atlantic Prawns and Brandy Cream Sauce, Chocolate Pots, Irish Barmbrack & Butter Pudding, and Spicy Apple and Rum Pudding.
Working in close collaboration with Kenmare-based graphic designer Eamonn O’Sullivan of Anchor Studio, the project was very much a labour of love, with Maura and her family undertaking the task of lovingly creating a beautiful book that would be a testament to her years of hard work and dedication to her craft.
Not only a cookbook, My Wild Atlantic Kitchen features Maura’s culinary recollections and stories woven throughout, accompanied by over 100 images of her recipes captured by Lynda Kenny and Maria Bell.
In keeping with her love of art and the Irish landscape, the book includes photography by nationally renowned landscape photographer Norman McCloskey, illustrations by artist Christine Bowen and paintings from internationally acclaimed Irish artist Pauline Bewick.
The foreword is written by Irish Michelin- starred chef Derry Clarke of L’Ecrivain Restaurant in Dublin.
He says: “This book is the culmination of 60 years of passion, hard work and imagination and is a summary of Maura’s life working in busy kitchens.
“These recipes are timeless, classic and detailed. This is a book I feel every cook should have in their kitchen as there are so many brilliant and varied recipes.
“This is a book recording Maura’s legacy through the many years she has been at the forefront of Irish cooking. As a fellow chef, I am proud to know her and respect her for all her achievements.”
n My Wild Atlantic Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections is available on Amazon or directly from www.mywildatlantickitchen.com and selected independent bookstores, hotels and stores nationwide.