Stateside Podcast: Beyond boiled cabbage for St. Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Midwest tend to take on mythical proportions: dyed green rivers, suspiciously human-like leprechauns trundling through the streets, and Guinness-forward feasts of potatoes, corned beef, and shamrock shakes. But what if Saint Patty’s Day celebrations reflected Ireland as it actually is?
Ann Arbor husband-and-wife duo Kate McCabe and Max Sussman spoke to Stateside about their work educating others on the country they love, including all its nuanced food, culture, and history. They co-founded Bog & Thunder, a culinary-focused Ireland travel company. And this Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, they’re hosting an Irish cuisine celebration at Frame in Hazel Park. Chef Kevin Burke is visiting from Dublin to whip up a four-course meal for southeast Michiganders – and it’s not the boiled cabbage fare you might be imagining.
“[W]e always say that a country’s food story is very closely tied to its political history,” said McCabe. “So one reason I think people don’t associate Ireland as a food destination is because of the history of colonization. You know, the famine obviously had a devastating effect on the population there… for a very long time, Ireland has been, you know, one of the poorest, if not the poorest country in Western Europe, and so it makes sense that people wouldn't think about it as a food destination.”
But an artisan food movement began to emerge there in the 70s, and it hasn’t slowed since. People from around Europe and the world began immigrating or returning home to Ireland, bringing their own cultures and ingredients with them. In cities like Dublin and Galway, the results can be seen in blended foodways and vibrant new cuisines closely tied to Ireland’s bountiful natural resources.
“There’s influences from, like, the Nordic cuisine and from Asian countries, and people are just very excited to be working with the really, really incredible ingredients they have there, but just in new ways,” said Sussman, who’s a trained chef and the culinary director at Bog & Thunder.
McCabe and Sussman have scouted out food from nearly every corner of the island nation, sampling things like fresh-caught shrimp, wild smoked salmon, and onion-and-grain-stuffed dolma. But whether they’re eating in metropolitan cities or on rugged, remote coastlines, they say there’s one theme that binds most Irish food together.
“[I]reland is still a really small country. So no matter what city or town you’re going to, the chefs that are working at restaurants naturally have close relationships with the farmers that provide the meat and the produce,” said McCabe. “Even if they don’t have a specific farm-to-table ethos, they’re putting their sourcing on their menus because, you know, maybe they’re working with the butcher down the street who also has a farm that he gets his meat from.”
McCabe and Sussman aim to connect travelers with that locally-sourced food on their tours. But when they can’t be in Ireland, they’re busy thinking of ways to share the country’s unique cuisine with curious diners back home.
This weekend’s Irish cuisine celebration in Hazel Park features marinated peppers with kohlrabi, venison, lamb, and pickled artichoke. And okay, yes, there will be cabbage – but chargrilled, and dressed up with kimchi and dukkah – to reflect all the tastes fresh, authentic Irish food has come to offer.
Hear more about Bog & Thunder, plus Kate McCabe and Max Sussman’s food-fueled journeys through Ireland, on this episode of Stateside.
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Music in this episode courtesy of Audio Network:
"Carrigdance" written by Mike Stobbie
"Freestyle" written by Richard Lacey & Nick Haigh
“Celtic Flame” written by Mike Stobbie
Other music from Blue Dot Sessions.