My first ever byline was for the Paris Voice on the subject of Paddy’s Day.

I interviewed Fr. Liam Swords (1937-2011) at the Centre Culturel Irlandais (CCE) about the Paddy’s Day festivities.

Swords had been one of the producers of RTÉ's "Radharc" TV show. He told me that his time in Paris was almost up and he’d have to return to Ireland. Bowing his head he confided, “And I’m afraid the food will kill me.”

28 years later, Irish gastronomy is “All changed, changed utterly” and Ireland and quality Irish products are now taking Paris, France, and the world by storm.

As part of the Ireland Week festivities in France around St. Patrick's Day, Tourism Ireland, the Embassy of Ireland to France, Bord Bia, and Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon of Dunbrody House Hotel partnered to bring the French on an Irish odyssey, a gustative symphony composed of flavors from across the island of Ireland.

A chic ‘Dinner in Green’ was organized at the Irish embassy in Paris, where I got to shake out my gúna glas (green dress). This first Dinner in Green echoes the famous Parisian Dinner in White where thousands of people, dressed all in white, meet for a mass chic picnic at an iconic location in Paris. Providing their own table, chairs food; white tablecloths and napkins are also mandatory.

However, the Dinner in Green wasn’t only about being chic in great company, each of the wonderful courses was prepared with products exclusively sourced in various regions across Ireland, by local producers using green, sustainable and artisanal methods.

While a musician played the harp beautifully at the aperitif, I overheard a prominent and surprised French journalist commenting on the Tia Maraa oysters, which were served with a slathering of Guinness flavored Hollandaise sauce, remark: “These are rare high-end oysters.” The oysters were produced in Ireland, by the Maison Gillardeau. I wondered might the Dinner in Green turn the incredulous French a ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ by the end of the evening. 

The sit-down dinner was in a ministerial room, where many a famous Irish politician has sat since the Irish state acquired the elegant Hôtel de Breteuil building, built in 1892, and home to the Irish Embassy in Paris since 1954.

As part of his St. Patrick’s Day ministerial visit to France, Paschal Donohoe, Ireland’s Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform and the President of the Eurogroup, was present. He told the representatives of Ireland’s State Agencies based in France and members of the French press around the table that he was delighted to attend the Dinner in Green, in this very same room where he had so often discussed the future of the euro and the Irish economy.

The epicurean menu was imagined and prepared by Kevin Dundon, assisted by Julien Clémot and Rory Higdon, of Dunbrody House Hotel, and in partnership with Vincent Villeroy, head chef of the Embassy of Ireland, Paris.

On the wall hangs artist Michael Farrell's (1940-2000) painting immortalizing another mythical Parisian dinner, depicting key figures of Modernism - Joyce, Proust, Picasso, Stravinsky, Nijinsky & Diaghilev. That dinner allegedly took place at the Majestic Hotel, now the Peninsula Hotel, on May 18, 1922. The painting salutes the extraordinary talent, which converged that night.

As the big man James Joyce himself looked down on us, I imagined the innovative culinary talent unfurling in a gastronomical celebration of Irish products intrigued him.

While Minister Donohoe was speaking about Joyce’s descriptions of food, drink, and taste in "Ulysses," the first dish arrived. The petite French croissant and spud from Dunbrody House Hotel, married like a hand in a glove, exploding in a gustative climax of reimagined reality in my mouth. I even thought I saw Joyce wink with his unpatched eye.

The next course was red lobster with butter bisque, and trout caviar from Goatsbridge, Kilkenny. The Red Rock Lobsters used in the dish were selected by the Sofrimar company, located in Rosslare, and this particular lobster along with Irish scallops and whelk are considered Irish flagship products, the treasures of Irish waters, purchased directly from local fishermen. 

This was followed by a pièce de résistance; an organic beef fillet glazed with molasses, accompanied by a stewed beef cheek pithivier (pie).

Organic meat production in Ireland remains modest but has grown rapidly over the past two years in the wake of a proactive policy initiated by the Irish Ministry of Agriculture. However, organic beef volumes are expected to triple by 2027, 75% of which will be exported. The tenderer than tender beef that melted in our mouths was provided by Good Herdsmen, pioneers of organic meat in Ireland, founded in 1989 to promote and market organic beef.

Dundon’s delicious dessert followed – it was his own Mammy’s lemon pie revisited with a ‘cloud’ of ‘velvet yoghurt.' ‘Velvet Cloud’ is a range of handmade natural sheep’s milk, award-winning yoghurt, and cheese, made on the family farm, just outside of Claremorris in Co Mayo, where the Flanagan family have been farming for generations. 

Next on the menu was the cheese platter. I heard someone from the other side of the table comment, “Now this will be like selling ice to an Eskimo." However, despite initial wariness, the cheese platter almost got a round of applause.

Alanna Clarke, my table neighbor, from Enterprise Ireland France, commented how the cheeses were so cleverly selected; presenting the best of Ireland while avoiding jarring with the iconic French Brie de Meaux or Camembert! Cashel Blue, Durrus, Gortnamona goat cheese, and Knockanore white cheddar went down a treat and the Cashel Blue and Durrus, like everything else from Cork these days, had many crying ‘encore’! 

That was also when the biggest risk of the meal was presented: Irish-produced wine at a table where we’d already been treated to Les Vaucopins from Domaine Long-Depaquit, a 2019 Chablis 1er Cur, and a 2015 Echo Lynch Bages! Now you might say but the Lynch wine domain in France is of Irish origin. However, the Lynch’s, and other Wild Geese’wine producers, have been here for centuries. In 1691, John Lynch, originally from Galway, took refuge in Bordeaux and winemaking following the defeat of the Irish Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne. So they’ve been at it a long time in France, and using French grapes and methods! The wine we tasted was one of the Móinéir Irish Wines produced by Wicklow Way Wines. We had their Blackberry wine, which is made from blackberries mixed with wild elderberries. It brought out the poetry in the French rather than indignation. A French man told me it transported him to when he had visited Ireland in his youth and the flavors and scents of that autumn when he had gone blackberry picking. 

The grand finale flavor was Irish Poitín and Whiskey Signature Rum and Raisin both from the Killowen distillery in Co Down, accompanied by salted caramel truffles, and tea and coffee. Killowen Distillery organize tasting tours where the production process is explained for poitín, pot still Irish whiskey and gin which I’ll catch on my next trip to Northern Ireland

And what happened to Fr. Swords? He returned to Ireland in 1995, and he passed away in 2011. Before he died, he established the Liam Swords Foundation allowing Irish students to spend time in Paris as part of their studies. One of the bursaries was awarded to an Irish student to study French cuisine in Paris! The Franco/Irish gastronomy connection is blossoming and the ‘Dinner in Green’, and other initiatives during ‘Irish Week’ in France will surely see a dramatic increase in the more than half a million French who already holiday in Ireland each year and the number of French buying Irish food and beverages. There’s so much more to discover about Ireland than Michel Sardou’s ‘Les Lacs du Connemara’ (1981) which however still closes most weddings and parties in the Hexagon, showing the fondness the French have for Ireland! 

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