Low’n’Slow, Night’n’Day, Rain’n’Wind

It was exactly a week ago today that I was starting to experience a noticeable increase of the amount of butterflies in my tummy as I busied myself pulling together the final few bits and pieces before heading to the Celtic Ross Hotel to meet with Ireland’s finest Smoke & Fire chef: John Relihan and Decky Walsh, his head chef of Holy Smoke restaurant.

It was exactly a week ago today that I was starting to experience a noticeable increase of the amount of butterflies in my tummy as I busied myself pulling together the final few bits and pieces before heading to the Celtic Ross Hotel to meet with Ireland’s finest Smoke & Fire chef: John Relihan and Decky Walsh, his head chef of Holy Smoke restaurant.

Pitmaster Poster

And as I sit here writing this, the sky awash with blue and a punch of late summer heat, I recall that a good proportion of those butterflies were down to the horrific weather that was unfolding before my very eyes last Sunday. Despite some promising signs that the wind and rain would abate come 3pm on Sunday, in the end the weather decided to throw the whole lot at me and give me a mini-hurricane instead.  Thanks for that.

John and Decky arrived down from Cork on the Saturday afternoon: John fresh (read: knackered) from his Big Grill shenanigans the weekend before in Dublin and Decky straight back from his wedding and honeymoon (in hindsight, I have decided that Decky has married a saint – fair play!)  Yes, the wind was howling and it was kinda rainy but we all politely chose to ignore that.  Enroute from Gubbeen Farm was Fingal Ferguson who loaned us his awesome smoker (his self-confessed “mid-life crisis”), his grill and rotisserie.  There was also the small matter of 70 concrete cavity blocks for fashioning into a block pit and stand for the grill.


After set up, and some fun with a couple of awesome Ribeye steaks, I met them for dinner at Pilgrim’s restaurant in Rosscarbery square complete with the chance for a sit down with its highly talented chef, Mark Jennings.  The salted caramel pot with Meadosweet cream finished me off – thanks Mark; the lads seriously impressed with the quality of the food so far experienced in west Cork.

IMG_0114Things were looking up – the wind had died, the rain had stopped and the moon was coming out.  Maybe we would get lucky? But for now, it was the serious business of the night shift. John and Decky set about keeping the literal home-fires burning throughout the night in the pit and smoker – tricky when the night temperature is lower than it should be.


At that point, we left them to it.  See you in the morning chaps.

Yes, morning.  You know you are a hopeless optimist when you wake to the sound of a howling gale, but hope that when you pull back the curtains it’s going to be sunny.  In this way, I find I am continually disappointed.

I discovered that John doesn’t need sleep.  Just coffee.  But not too much.  John’s coffee consumption comes with a warning.  “I’m very sensitive to caffeine”, says John as Decky watches him knock back a double-espresso with a nervous laugh.

There’s a small mountain of food to prepare; the classroom to knock into shape, dress and stage as well as figuring out how to keep everyone warm(ish) and dry(ish) for the outdoor demo.  I call in a couple of favours and manage to get a small marquee delivered and set up within an hour – no mean feat on a Sunday in West Cork.

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Fingal has turned up and is checking out how his smoker is performing – he looks happy, and it’s great to see him here.  Finally, it feels like we are getting somewhere, and at 2.30pm just as I start to slice the buns for the pulled pork, the first of our attendees arrives, followed by Donal, our cameraman for the day from Pitchside Media.  Suddenly, the tension is palpable as we realise that we are ON!  After several months of planning, organising, chatting and promoting, the time has finally arrived.


IMG_6864Now, there a saying around these parts: “West Cork Time”.  It generally means that we West Cork Folk are never on time for anything, ever.  Fashionably Late has nothing on West Cork Time.  So there I am thinking to myself: yes, I know it says “Starting at 3pm”, but shur, if we’re starting by 3.30pm we’ll be lucky…. But it seems, when “3pm start” is equated with “cooking with smoke and fire with great chefs”, it actually means “3pm start”.  People had travelled from Dublin, Wicklow, Kerry and all over Cork County to be there; and there they were, all on time, flooding through the door with eager, excited faces.  It was at that point I knew the day was going to be awesome.


IMG_0149There’s this idea when you do anything in life that you must “Find Your Tribe”.  On Sunday, I had done just that.  I addressed and dismissed the god awful weather in my opening chat and set the scene for an engaging, interactive, fun, TASTY experience – a rare occasion to really pull any and all knowledge from the two amazing chefs we had.  It seemed to work.  As I handed over to John and Decky, from the word go they had all of our guests in the palms of their hands.  Pens in hands, notes being ferociously taken down, questions asked, knowledge shared.

Couldn’t be better, I thought to myself.

IMG_0188As we moved from the classroom setting to the outdoor cooking arena, there was a chance to chat and mingle over a cuppa tea and a house-baked cookies.  From the anatomist to the financial services manager hoping for redundancy to kick start his dream food business; to communications professionals; writers, workers from IT, property, engineering, accountancy, teaching – such a wide range of people and backgrounds but all there because of a passion for elemental cookery.

The food and the chat flowed.  The weather actually got worse once we moved outside (nice touch, Universe), but it really didn’t matter.  People were captivated – just soaking up all the knowledge from John, Decky and Fingal.  And then there was the food…






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Beer can chicken; slow cooked pulled pork shoulder; pulled lamb tacos; belly pork; rib eye steaks; whole mackerel; mussels and langoustines; scallops in their half shell; salads and John’s legendary dessert: grilled stone fruit marinated in whiskey with a brown butter bourbon sauce.  People had little private moments over their food.  When food is that good, you just can’t hide it!  I saw expressions on people’s faces I probably should never have witnessed: over rib eye or half of an apricot fresh off the grill dribbled in THAT sauce.  It was special, we bonded, we can’t explain it if you weren’t there with us.

The event was supposed to end at 7pm.  At 11.30pm, I simply had to leave but some guests had no intention of leaving!  I’m sure I’ll never know what time it ended – maybe it didn’t.  Maybe all that happened was that the sun suddenly rose, presenting the ultimate excuse to crack open the BBQ and start all over again…

What a day…what a weekend!  Endless thanks to John and Decky for their amazing work that day.  The generosity of their time; two genuinely nicer guys you couldn’t meet, and great craic to boot.  If you haven’t visited Holy Smoke yet, then do.  Anything you choose on the menu will be top dollar, but if you are up for having a private moment with your food in public too, then head straight for the Oyster Stout Glazed Short Rib, Slaw and Cornbread.  Order the Marrow Bone Mash and do leave room for dessert – the grilled stone fruit with the brown butter bourbon sauce and ice cream.  Worship…

Tired but Happy! What a Team! (L-R) Decky, Kate, John



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