The Airport Derby – Whatever happened to it?

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Leeds Rhinos versus Bradford Bulls, 20,000 plus spectators crammed into old, traditional rugbyleague grounds, with an intense, but generally friendly rivalry, all supporting the 26 (34) gladiators battling it out to become “kings of Yorkshire”.
Bradford had their years of dominance, I still loved those games, they were always close, but Leeds always seemed to come up short

Our airport derby never had the “hate” of the Hull derby or the “spite” of the Saints Wigan affair, but it was ours, it had the biggest attendances and it was great!

That’s how I remember it anyway. Rose tinted glasses perhaps?

Sadly in recent times, due to the crazy goings on with the management at the Bulls club, all the way back to the Harris affair (I remain embarrassed by the actions of Leeds over this), our derby has become more and more limp and last night it became a complete non entity.

Yesterday the Bradford players laid down arms and surrendered. That is not good enough. Whatever has gone on has gone on, you are getting paid to do a job that many of us would do for nothing if we had one tenth of your talent. Yesterday you disrespected (hate that term) the 10,000 or so people who paid their money to watch you perform and in doing so, ruined what was in it’s day one of the showcase games of the season.

As a Leeds fan of course I’m glad we won, but as a rugby league fan I’m saddened by the demise of a top club and feel most for some of the great Bradford fans who have had to witness the heart ripped out of their beloved club.

Throughout the past years of shambolic management they have in the main stayed positive, stayed faithful and most of all had belief that “it will be all-right in the end” (and if it is not yet alright, it is not yet the end). Yesterday I got the feeling that that attitude changed, there was little banter, the turnout was poor, there was an air of acceptance of defeat before a ball was played. Frankly I don’t blame them, there is surely only so much you can take.

Still, it is not yet the end. There is a new professional management team with new ideas and new enthusiasm resurrecting the Bulls yes? No, the day after such an embarrassing battering by their near neighbours, the new CEO posts pictures of himself completing the very important executive management task of hoovering the club shop.

With incompetent clowns like this at the top of a multi million pound business, maybe I was a bit harsh on the players earlier!

So RIP Airport Derby, you were fun while you lasted. Leeds will now sit alongside Huddersfield, London & les Catalans as a team having no derby day, and the Leeds Rhinos will be much poorer for it.

As for Bradford I just don’t see a way out. Relegation will kill them and their magnificent fans deserve so much better.

Fenns Quay Chef Du Jour update

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So a week has now passed and Chef du Jour 2012 is over. I had a great, if sometimes frustrating day, doing something that I had wanted to do for ages, work in a professional kitchen.

I arrived at around mid-day on my cooking day and over coffee discussed the plan for the day with Kate, the proper head chef.

Fenns Quay is a great little restaurant with room for around 60 covers (get me with the cheffy terms!). However, the kitchen is smaller than mine at home! How they do a normal service in a space that small defies belief and is testament to the skill and camaraderie in the Fenns Quay camp.

Proper chefs were around to help me, but they had a busy service themselves, so for the most part I was left to my own devices, which suits me as other people just get in the way!

My menu for the day was:

Amuse Bouche: Carpaccio of beef on a homemade horseradish blini

Fish: Smoked salmon and prawn crepe with fennel salad and oyster crème

Main: Chicken stuffed with Toulouse sausage and pistachio

Sweet: Raspberry baked Alaska.

My feelings on the food:

Amuse Bouche

The amuse bouche beef was stunningly good. It’s easy when you have great produce. I felt my blinis were a little too “heavy” but the feeling of the judges (more about them later) was that this was the best course of all (no accounting for taste eh!)

Fish

I added tarragon to my crepes which added a depth to them which was good. The seafood delivery was quite late, so they were made a little late for my liking. I would have liked to have chilled them more and allowed the filling flavours to grow a little more, but this is a professional kitchen and I have to work by its rules, and if the fish man is late, the fish man is late!

It seems I am the only person in Cork who knows what “oyster crème” is! It’s just cream, oysters, lemon juice and pepper, blitzed. Only Olivier (French cook) and me seemed to like it!

Dish went out looking good and got decent enough reviews from the judges (more about them later).

Main

The main was a major disappointment for me. I would normally use chicken thigh meat for this dish, but on this occasion it was breast meat. As there was a full restaurant service happening at the same time as my little party, the kitchen became very busy. Unfortunately at the exact time I was ready to go with my main, the kitchen had a table of 6 to get out, resulting in a delay of around 10 minutes for me. This meant the chicken breast became a little overcooked and the wine reduction reduced too much. This is Ireland and they like their meat overcooked (I saw at least 4 well done steaks being sent that evening) but this is my party and it was overcooked.

As a result of the delay plating up became rushed and it didn’t look as good going out as it should have.

Comments from the judges (more about them later) were as expected and deserved, it was a little on the dry side.

Sweet

Meringue is a staple of mine, but it’s a bugger in a hot kitchen and in a rush! Eventually we got them all out and they went down a storm, but I pulled out of adding raspberry coulis to the egg mixture to make them go pink, and I will never, ever, ever pipe meringue onto a baked Alaska again. The piping squeezes out all of the air, making it rubbery rather than light and airy.

The judges (more about them later) loved them, but to be fair, everyone loves them. I wasn’t really expecting anything different.

 So my days cooking were complete. Very enjoyable it was too.

Positives

Confirmation that the stuff that I cook for fun could cut it on a restaurant menu

Not breaking into a sweat and panicking when the professionals were doing just that! (loved the throwing of the whisk in particular!)

Cooking for 14 people and my estimated (supermarket prices) cost of the whole meal being less than the amount paid by 1 person (ever the businessman!). How much GP?!

Watching real chefs do their stuff. It’s bloody amazing how they time everything and make EVERY plate look the same!

Frustrations / negatives

The delay in my main going out, no ones fault but it did spoil it, plus deciding to go with breast meat not thigh.

The biggest frustration was the realisation at the end of the meal that two of the three judges (told you I’d come to them) had not eaten all of my meal due to “food allergies”. I have no problem with everyday people thinking they have allergies to certain foods but to call yourself a foodie and sit on a judging panel of three and not eat 25% of the meal is frankly wrong and makes a mockery of the whole process. Add to this, at a later event I overheard one of the judges refer to a hard Irish cheese as “a bit like a brie” it makes me wonder………

Overview:

Chef Du Jour it is a fantastic event that needs greater support from the apathetic residents of Cork. Kate and the team at Fenns Quay are very brave to put the event on, but it needs to be publicised more than on just twitter and facebook. The local press hound me weekly for stories about the health club, I am amazed that none ran with this story.

I also have reservations about asking people to pay to have their dinner cooked by a total amateur, and not know what they’re going to be eating. I’m not sure if there’s a way to overcome this (other than openly publicising the menu, obviously!) but it may have been a factor in people not wanting to commit their hard earned cash to a “surprise” dinner.

I can’t thank Kate enough for giving me the opportunity to say I have cooked in a professional kitchen and people paid for it.

Would I do it again? No, I had fun but I’ve done it now.

Fenns Quay “Chef Du Jour” 2012

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So, it seems I have been chosen as one of the two lucky “enthusiastic amateur” cooks lucky enough to cook our own 4 course menu for paying guests at one of Cork City’s popular resaurants!

Fenns Quay (@Fenns Quay) head chef Kate Lawlor (@FQchefess) is bravely (foolishly?) allowing me to take over her kitchen for one night only on 29th February 2012, during which I cook my own four course menu which will then be scored by a panel of experts. My competitor, who takes control a week later on 7th March, is Sarah O’Riordan (@yummynom), who describes herself as “a fanatic foodie who loves eating out and cooking”. Seems a bit serious to me, looks like I’m up against it!

To enter the event I had to send in a menu for scrutiny by Kate and her team. I am sure many entrants pondered long and hard about their offering, matching starters and mains, thinking about ease of cooking and wow factor and the like. I came up with mine in about 5 minutes while waiting for Lucie to finish work one day, so either I’m in the wrong job or just damn lucky!

Anyway, Kate likes it, in written form at least, and she informed me one evening by email to much hilarity in our house. Immediately there was a problem, I go skiing the day after the later date and hope that Sarah choses this date, or else I am in for a mad time! Fortunately she does so all is well. Then another bomshell, Kate wants recipes and methods! Now anyone who knows me and has eaten my food will know that I cook by sight and feel. Cookbooks are for looking at the pictures, if it looks nice I’ll try it, without really reading the “ins and outs” of it!

The ingredients were easy, amounts and describing what I actually did less so! I even considered videoing myself cooking it and sending Kate that! I honestly think that was scarier for me than anything that will be thrown at me when I’m actually cooking on the night, but I got through it in the end, but I remain confident that Kate will look at me on the day and think “thats not how he described it”!

My menu has to remain a secret until after the event, and it is the honest truth that I have not and will not “tweek” it in any way from my original entry (that would be cheating) unless of course the professionals in the kitchen eventually realise that my menu is infact comletely mad and change it all or risk their reputation! I did a trial run of the first course and main course last weekend, and going for the whole four courses this Saturday.

Am I looking forward to it? You bet I am!

Am I taking it seriously? You bet I am!

Do I want to beat Sarah? I was an international sportsman back in the day, I still don’t do losing!

Do I harbour a secret longing to be a chef? Not a chance!

Our top 10 dinners

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We have always rated restaurant meals by whether they are a “top ten dinner” or not. They’re not particularly in any order, but these are the ten best meals we have eaten over the years:

1) Newton Circus, Singapore Nov 2006 This famous food hawker centre was one of the reasons we wanted to stop in Singapore on our way to Australia. Lucie had been there in 1989, but it had changed quite a lot over the years! We ate chicken and beef satay, poh-piah, enormous prawns and rice and drank Tiger beer and sugar cane juice.

2) Nutters, Rochdale Feb 2006 www.nuttersrestaurant.co.uk  This was our choice for my 40th birthday meal. Everything about it from the service to the food and presentation was top notch. We ate there many times afterwards, but the first visit will always be the best. My cheese plate was served by the legend that is Andrew Nutter himself.

3) Cassis, Ghent Sept 2008 www.restocassis.be  We visited Gent and Bruges for our 10th wedding anniversary. This is memorable for being one of the few places Paul ordered salad – albeit a carpaccio and foie gras one!

4) Pescatore, New York June 2008 www.pescatorerestaurant.com Any meal that starts with a “pink frosty drink” is going to be good – in this case wild strawberry margaritas. Paul wanted the house special seafood pasta, but it was for two. The boss kindly said he’d do a single portion – which came with a bib! I had lobster and asparagus pasta.

5) Coconuts, Fort Lauderdale May 2011 www.coconutsfortlauderdale.com  We stayed in Fort Lauderdale before our Allure of the Seas cruise, and this place was close to our hotel. It was Saturday night and very busy, but it had a great atmosphere; fabulous food. Memorable for the blue crab scoobies and Hallibut cheeks

6) S’Entina, Cadaques Sept 2009 Simply the best Tapas we’ve ever had overlooking the bay.

7) Scoffs, Coffs Harbour Nov 2006 This was a stop off on our drive from Brisbane to Sydney, and there wasn’t much happening on a Sunday night in Coffs. We both had surf and turf, one fillet of beef with lobster, the other chicken with lobster and some of the best homemade garlic bread we’ve ever tasted!

8) L’Auberge du Grilladin, Les Orres March 2009 This was the only restaurant in Les Orres that didn’t require a walk into the main resort of an evening. We ate here a couple of  times during the week we were there, but the best meal was the cote de boeuf cooked over a wood fire we shared on Lucie’s birthday.

9) La Boheme, Waterford May 2009 http://www.labohemerestaurant.ie We stayed in Waterford for the weekend, and this restaurant was the highlight of a very mediocre town. The salted caramel sauce was stunning as was the trio of crab.

10) 150 Central Park, Allure of the Seas May 2011 http://www.royalcaribbeannationofwhynot.com/videos/creating-the-menu-gourmet-options-at-150-central-park The top notch signature restaurant on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the seas. There is a 7 course no-choice tasting menu, and we thoroughly enjoyed it all.

And finally, at number 11, the one that started this whole blog off:

11) Springfort Hall, Mallow Sept 2011 www.springfort-hall.com  Our wedding anniversary meal. Beautiful food, great service and a rather nice lemon posset complements of the chef!

Honourable mentions:

Plataforma Churrascaria, New York June 2008 www.churrascariaplataforma.com

Ice Cube, Darling Harbour, Sydney Nov 2006 www.icecubeseafood.com.au

Hardwood, Cork (now closed)

The Parthenon, Glasgow (now closed)

“The Cliff Top” restaurant in Dominican Republic

Wigan v Leeds; the aftermath. Over the top?

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Rugby league prides itself on being a family game where big, honest men pit themselves against each other on the pitch while rival vocal spectators mingle happily on the terraces without the slightest sign of trouble. You could say it’s about as far removed from Football as you can get.

However, on 10th September 2010 league leaders shield winners Wigan Warriors took on 2009 champions Leeds Rhinos in a play off game for the right to go through to the semi finals and a weekend off. The losers had to play and win the following weekend in order to progress.

It was a pulsating game with big hits and the usual skullduggery from both sides. Wigan raced into a 14 point Leeds before Leeds came storming back and with a couple of minutes to go led by 1 point. On the last play of the game Wigan spread the ball wide to winger and MOS elect Pat Richards who broke down the left. In the subsequent chase Leeds stand off Danny McGuire pulled back a wigan player and in doing so injured himself, putting him out of the game for 6 months. Then it turned sour.

Initially Wigan players ran across to verbally abuse a prone McGuire, in doing so breaking an unwritten rule amongst players of both codes of rugby to assist clearly injured players, prompting England Captain and injured Leeds prop, Jaime Peacock to issue the following statement:

“For me, the most important thing from all of that was Mark Riddell and Thomas Leuluai standing over Danny while he was lying on the ground calling him a cheat,” the 32-year-old told the Yorkshire Post.

“It has gone unmentioned so far but it was one of the softest things I’ve ever seen on a rugby field. It doesn’t get any more cowardly and there’s no place for that in our sport.

“Their actions prevented Danny getting treatment for a while and, if we’re talking about unsportsmanlike behaviour, that’s probably the worst of any.

“I’m sure our lads will remember it going into Saturday’s game.

“When someone’s lying there with an injury like that, it’s harsh and uncalled for.”

Don’t mince your words there Jamie!

Back to the game and complete mayhem was happening on the field with players of both sides inexcusably abusing a referee clearly out of his depth. A penalty was awarded to Wigan, nowhere near the correct spot, which the aforementioned Pat Richards took a shot at goal that missed, giving Leeds the win.

The next sour incident was Leeds coach claiming in his aftermatch on fired interview that the injury had been caused by an “off the ball incident of foul play”. It might have been the emotion of the situation but it really was a silly thing to say.

The aftermath of the game saw a massive overreaction from fans, with current players who are good enough to put themselves in the public eye on the likes of Twitter being subjected to abuse and bile of completely unacceptable proportions.

Perhaps the most sour of all were the comments made by ex GB international, Wigan player and Skysports pundit Phil Clarke who posted on his official Skysports blog:

“McGuire’s injury could well act as a lesson to any other player watching that it doesn’t pay to cheat. Perhaps the rugby Gods have punished him for his unsportsmanlike play”

Surely this type of comment, where a so called impartial professional seems to delight in the injury of a player has no place in sport, let along a game which prides itself on it’s family friendliness.

I guess my point here is I like many enjoy the game of rugby league for what it is, a sometimes brutal but skilful game played by hard men. I don’t mind a bit of biff, the adrenalin is flowing after all. I am however quite sad at the soccer like reaction of some of the players, fans and a tv journalist. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

I hope it was a one off, but girly soccer tendancies do seem to be creeping into the game and the crowds more and more. Perhaps it is a problem with society in general, who knows.

My biggest hope however is that this weekends rematch goes off with no trouble and the best team winning ( the best team is ALWAYS the one who scores the most points by the way, nothing else matters).

Sadly I cannot go, how I wish I could be there………

Irelands ostrich attitude to the recession.

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Rant rating 6/10

Ireland is in the grip of recession, everyone knows this, but nobody here seems willing to put it right.

Business owners continue to blame the banks and there is some truth in this. However the real reason is because the people who run these businesses still think they can get away with the rip off prices and pathetic customer service they operated when times were good.

A prime example of this was yesterday when, having paid my €14(!!) for coffee and cake in Marks and Spencer I sat overlooking the shopping centre and in particular, Burtons/Dorothy Perkins. It was 11.35am and it was still not open! When the staff arrived at 11.55 to open the store I had witnessed at least 10 people try the door and walk away.

Now I may be wrong but, assuming the store is confident of it’s offering, they would expect to convert most of these people to sales and again I’m speculating, but I would guess they would be unhappy at losing that kind of business.

Consider also that Estate agents (auctioneers as they refer to themselves over here), and travel agents don’t open at all on weekends! Then they wonder why they are doing no business!

The crux of the problem is that business in Ireland had it easy for 10 years and is now run by people who are incapable of adapting to troubled times, and are far too quick to let the blame fall at someone (anyone) else’s feet and is still around 30% too expensive.

It fails to understand that a product is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it and it has to be showcased in order for people to buy it.

As a country it needs to get real with it’s pricing, start blaming the right people for their problems ( themselves) and lose the blatant lazy attitude towards customers.

A couple of success stories.

Planet Health Club in late 2007 charged €682 for a years membership. It had 800 or so members. Last summer it reduced it’s membership to €499 and included 12 personal training session free as part of the package. Today it has nearly 2500 members and is still growing, with a far increased membership renewal rate when compared to the old pricing strategy.

Hardwood restaurant in Cork City introduced a “recession buster” menu in January 2009 – three courses plus a beer or wine for €20 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. They packed the place out, to the extent that the offer has been removed (recession over?) and replaced with a similar one offering better value for both it’s customers and itself.

Two examples of how some businesses get off their fat butts and do something while others look around for someone else to blame.