Want to cook? Join the club in Ardagh

A new Cook and Dine club sounded like just the thing for a Leader reporter whose culinary talents don't extend far beyond beans on toast

By Liam Cosgrove

Inside the space of an hour and a half in the Ardagh Heritage Centre last week, members of the newly former Cook and Dine Club were given an absolute masterclass in culinary wizardry by local chef Martin O’Connor.

It was both eye-watering and mouth-watering all at the same time.

The brainchild of Drumlish based chef Martin O’Connor, the Leader popped in for the group’s fourth class last Wednesday evening hoping to pick up some much needed cookery skills in the process.

Whether anything comes of those best laid intentions remains to be seen, but for sheer enjoyment mixed with a tinge of amazement, this was an evening that has to be seen to be believed.

Like most food loving thirty somethings, the chance to sit and watch delectable treats from cream cheese stuffed mushrooms to braised sirloin steak being cooked in front of you seemed almost too good to be true.

When this famished Leader reporter turned up last Wednesday evening fifteen minutes early, the clanking of pots and pans could be heard before the cry of ‘Come in, come in’ was foisted in our direction.

“This is where it all happens,” said a very busy Martin as he explained his reasons for starting up the club.

“People just started asking me why don’t I start up something and show them how to save money and save time when they are cooking.”

For a chef with close to 40 years' experience behind him with the likes of local establishments such as The Aubergine and The Courtyard Cafe, Woodville House in Mullingar and several Dublin based restaurants, a love of food has dominated his life. And now he’s sharing his skills with others.

The Cook and Dine Club sees Martin prepare food in front of club members, dishing out lots of advice along the way.

However it was not all glitch-free. Martin's cause was not helped when he revealed he had forgotten his set of kitchen knives.

Was this like a carpenter leaving his tools at home, we wondered, but Martin wasn’t phased and he continued to 'prep' ahead of the arrival of around half a dozen observers.

In the end, a total of fourteen different meals, including starters, main courses and desserts were freshly prepared and served up on site to the amazement of those watching on from the floor.

“We were the same, absolutely addled the first night, well I was anyway,” said Sinead Mulvey.

“You’ll be stuffed for a week after tonight,” joked another member, notebook in hand.

The mouth watering smell wafting from the kitchen even prompted Martin to hand out a couple of bowls for delighted onlookers to lick.

Much to the Leader’s delight, we were handed a plateful of scrumptious delights including chocolate biscuit cake, Eton Mess and Bavarian Torte to bring home.

Martin insists that you don’t have to be the next Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey to improve your abilities around the kitchen.

“All this is is basic food with something that’s added to it,” he confided.

“It’s uncomplicated food kept as simple as possible.”

And while Martin accepted the concept has taken time to get off the ground, he’s already looking at turning the venture into a more permanent fixture.

“I'm looking at this as perhaps a possible business,” he added.

But for now, the Dubliner is fully focused on sharing his love of food to as large an audience as possible.

For a novice chef, whose talents don’t extend much beyond beans on toast, it certainly was an inspiring evening.

Now, where is that apron?