“Food is Life, Life is Food” – Keith Floyd
I’ve always been a huge admirer of Keith Floyd – celebrity chef, TV presenter and restaurateur. In my early years in the hospitality industry, he was my inspiration and during the days behind the stove of my own restaurant, I was jokingly referred to as a female Keith Floyd because like Floyd, I enjoyed a slurp or two whilst cooking. Floyd’s Irish sojourn in Kinsale was the inspiration for my novel: So, You Think You’re A Celebrity…Chef?
Three years ago, I fulfilled an ambition and went to the famous Kinsale Annual Gourmet Food Festival. Located only sixteen miles south of Cork, on the south east coast of Ireland, Kinsale is a picturesque, popular and historic town. Hailed as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland it has a plethora of pubs and cafes to suit every taste and budget including ten fine dining restaurants that form the Kinsale Good Food Circle.
A recent count found fifty nine establishments that cater to a population of approximately three thousand residents, whose numbers swell in summer. The festival, held every October, originated to extend the tourist season and such is the popularity that it sells out months in advance. This riotous event provides a weekend of gastronomic bliss for foodies and revellers from around the globe. It was an amazing time and I loved every moment.
I wanted to return to the festival to discover why it had enchanted Floyd and why the residents of the town won his heart, resulting in a spontaneous property purchase. So I went back for the 38th festival and found that the locals were eager to talk to me about Floyd; everyone seemed to have a fond memory.
Martin Shanahan, chef proprietor of the famous Fishy Fishy Restaurant told me: “When he arrived I thought, oh my god – why is he here? But we appreciated him because he bought fish out of the stone ages and he loved what we had; we respected him as a normal guy, not a TV star. He came here to get away from the madness and had a great heart. We were lucky that he came to Kinsale.”
The story emerged that following the collapse of his Bristol restaurants, Floyd was broke. Despite the success of his TV programmes, his Devon pub was haemorrhaging money and, as fast as funds came in, they flowed straight back out to pay off a long list of creditors. Brymon Airways had recently launched a route to Cork and invited Floyd, together with dignitaries and journalists from both sides of the Irish Sea, to the Gourmet Food Festival in Kinsale.
He wanted to accept but couldn’t afford a hotel for four nights. After coming clean to the organisers, Cork Airport Authority stepped in and offered to cover all his expenses. In his autobiography, Floyd described the weekend as the most incredible four days he ever experienced and I have to say that I can fully understand what he meant. Where in the world would you find such uniqueness by way of events, combined with the highest quality food and a harmony between the restaurateurs, who all work seamlessly together and co-operate for the benefit of the town.
My recent return to the little Irish port, on the fifth anniversary of his death, followed Floyd’s footsteps and I wanted to know why the residents of Kinsale called Floyd, ‘their adopted son’ and why he is still celebrated for putting Kinsale on the gastronomic map. But first, let me tell you about this year’s festival…
It started with Friday’s Chef’s Chowder Cook-Off, followed by the opening night champagne reception and gala dinner.
On Saturday morning, the crazy, Mad Hatter’s Taste of Kinsale began where 500 participants don their “mad hats” and follow Alice, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Field Mouse on a raucous tour of Kinsale’s Good Food Circle and four different venues where tables groan with delicacies prepared by local chefs and glasses are kept constantly charged.
It’s an hilarious day, where you meet old friends and make many new and by early evening, for those still standing, there’s dancing to a live band.
Finally, if you still have the stamina, Sunday’s Fruits de Mer Luncheon takes place in Actons, the very hotel where Floyd stayed on his first and subsequent visits. This is a seafood extravaganza featuring lobster, crab, prawns, oysters and other delights from the local waters, with more dancing to live music.
Derek Davis, a well-known Irish TV and Radio personality, is the MC of the weekend’s event and hosts with some style. He has fond memories of Floyd and many hilarious anecdotes to tell of their escapades in Kinsale. He told me: “At ten o’clock in the morning you’d be walking down the street and would get a tap on the shoulder, ‘Let’s get rat-arsed dear boy,’ Floyd would say. He was hard to keep up with but he loved Kinsale and made a legion of friends here and what better tribute to give to the town that to move to it…”
Derek remembers how Floyd boosted the town’s reputation, both nationally and internationally, as a leading food destination. But what made Floyd decide to settle in Kinsale? Locals say that he fell in love with a property called Creek Lodge, owned by a farmer. It stood on the bank of an estuary and Floyd agreed to buy it on the spot.
I’m told that it took him eleven months to complete the deal and on his final visit the farmer’s wife sat in the back of the gloomy room while the farmer sat silently in front of a peat fire. Eventually, the wife emerged with glasses, a bottle of whisky and the largest bible Floyd had ever seen. She poured and walked away. In a silent moment, the farmer motioned for Floyd to pick up his glass and the deal was done. I visited the property and could see why Floyd was so smitten.
Floyd spent the next year completely renovating the house and soon found himself immersed in Irish life. I tried to image him living there surrounded by his ducks, chickens, pot-bellied pigs, vegetable gardens and house with hollyhocks around the door. The locals remember his shenanigans. His daily routine, within seconds of pouring the first pint of Murphy’s, might be a trip up the river on his vintage motor boat, groaning with drink, food and friends, or a train ride to Dublin to follow in the drinking and literary footsteps of the famous Irish writers, euphemistically known as the Literary Pub Tour – getting smashed in all the places they used to drink in, or perhaps a day at the races, or the local point-to-point and hurling finals, or an oyster festival.
Floyd was a huge supporter of Kinsale Rugby Club and a friend told me how he watched Floyd walk into a dinner at the club one night with a bottle of port in one hand and a glass in the other, then proceeded to entertain the large audience for twenty minutes with riotous tales, at the end of which the port bottle was empty.
Floyd described his time in Ireland in the 1990s as one of the happiest times of his life. As I prepared to leave Kinsale, I walked to Charles Fort, high on a hill overlooking Kinsale and looked down on the magnificent coast line and pretty town. As I reflected on Floyd’s experience and the legendary hospitality that was shown to the chef, it was easy to understand why he fell in love with Kinsale and why the residents took the enigmatic, colourful and, five years on, never-to-be-forgotten, Keith Floyd to their hearts.
I hope you enjoyed the start of this story.
To be continued.
Thanks to the lovely Maria at Kinsale Good Food Circle and all the wonderful people in Kinsale.
“Food is Life, Life is Food” – Keith Floyd
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Following Floyd’s Footsteps ©carolinejames
Everywhere I go in southern Ireland there is one dish that is a must for me most days and that is chowder. I’ve never had a bad one and the best was at Toddies, at The Bulman in Kinsale. Here is my recipe for this easy to prepare dish which is filling and wholesome and absolutely great with soda bread, which is also a snip to prepare and I’ve included my recipe below.
A delicious meal by itself and nice and easy to make
320g fish pie mix – salmon, smoked haddock, cod
1 tbsp oil
1 large onion finely chopped
1 tbsp plain flour
225gm potatoes – peeled and chopped into cubes
6 tbsp double cream
600ml stock (make with fish or vegetable stock cube)
100gm smoky bacon, chopped
Chopped chives to garnish
Seasoning to taste
• Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat then add the onion and bacon and sauté gently for 10 mins
• Stir in the flour and cook for 2 mins
• Slowly add the stock and bring gently to the boil. Add the potatoes then cover the pan and simmer for 10 – 12 mins until the potatoes are cooked.
• Stir in the milk and add the fish mix, simmer for 2 mins.
• Add the cream then ladle into bowls, Garnish with chopped chives.
Delicious with soda bread, creamy Irish butter and a whisky sour!
There is no yeast in the recipe and it is ready in no time
170 gm plain flour
170gm self raising wholemeal flour
250ml butter milk (you can use any milk)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
• Preheat the oven to 400f/200C/gas 6
• In a large bowl or food processor, combine flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda
• Add the buttermilk and blend to form a soft dough
• Turn onto a floured surface, knead briefly and form a round then place on a non-stick baking sheet.
• Slash the top of the loaf with a sharp knife and bake for 30 mins until the loaf sounds hollow when you turn out and tap
• Cool on a wire rack
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