Denis Cotter and the Gort Na Nain Farm
Denis Cotter is one of the most highly regarded chefs in the British Isles, and perhaps the best vegetarian chef altogether. He is owner of Cafe Paradiso in Cork, Ireland, and has written a number of top notch books.
There is a wonderfully stubborn quality in what he does and in how he does it. His commitment to sourcing local produce is remarkable. Its effect on his restaurant is similar to what we gardeners experience on a day-to-day basis in our own kitchens and yards as we adapt our cooking to stay in balance with the specific vegetables coming out of the garden. He serves asparagus only in the springtime, during the short season on Gortnanain Farm.
Over the years, Cotter has developed a robust working relationship with Gortnanain Farm. Owned and operated by Ultan Walsh and Lucy Stewart, the nine acre farm is set on an Atlantic-facing sloped site about ten miles outside Cork city.
As Ultan’s repertoire and variety of produce grew, the focus of our cooking in Paradiso shifted from recipe-focused dishes using generic ‘organic’ and approximately seasonal ingredients to something much more real – the business of adapting our menus to stay in balance with the specific vegetables coming off the farm. In practice, this means a change from picking a recipe and then trying to source the ingredients, to figuring out what to make from the ingredients due in today. We work together on getting this balance right all the time, firstly by carefully planning how much of a crop should be grown, then monitoring it all the way through. If a glut appears, we have to find a way to use it; if a crop comes up short, we change the plan for how it will be used. And if there is something we want to use, Ultan will do his damnedest to produce the best varieties of it.
Staying in Balance . . . feeling the seasons intimately and most concretely. Knowing when we will eat asparagus and when we will not, knowing when we will delight in garlic scapes, and when we will not . . . a subtle and intimate balance . . . reading each day differently because of the abundance and limitations it brings.
One senses that the day has a heartbeat and that it is not ours alone.