Jp McMahon remembering the foods time forgot
Jp McMahon’s first trip to Australia – quite literally the other side of the world from his home in Galway, Ireland – has been an eye-opening experience in many ways.
Perhaps most of all because of the synergies and similarities he’s found between the Emerald Isle and the Great Southern Land.
McMahon leads Galway’s Michelin-starred Aniar, and should feel at home among the festival of Tasting Australia given he leads two of his own Food On The Edge, and the Galway Food Festival.
Not only does he bring an antipodean mind and experience to Adelaide for the nation’s premium eating and drinking festival, but a philosophy grounded in sourcing sustainably.
He seeks to use foods that are ethically sourced, sometimes forgotten and yet suited to the geographic diet.
Oh, and that won’t cost the earth.
Seafood is his speciality – his oyster served up as part of the Rivers and Seas sitting in the Glasshouse Kitchen on Sunday night went down a treat – but it’s the ‘added extras’ to the main component that will catch the eye, and palate.
Wild foods – sea herbs especially – featured on his plates, which for locals may have come as a surprise.
After all, for many Australians, the national seafood dish is one of fish and potatoes, possibly calamari and, on occasion, shellfish.
It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for it to come wrapped in paper from a shop on the main street.
Indeed, some would say seaweed belongs, if not in the ocean or washed ashore, on the garden as a fertilizer.
But for McMahon, it’s a readily available, nutritious and, ultimately, viable source of good food.
“I don’t know how it happened that you get one country like Ireland that, while it ate seaweed for thousands of years, forgot about it, used it as a fertilizer and used it as everything except food," he says.
"Then you get the Japanese that made it part of its national identity! It’s interesting to see how different cultures use it - I think it’s a really wonderful resource.
“Not only does it grow wild, but you can farm it really easily in terms of aquaculture, it’s really high in all sorts of vitamins and minerals, it tastes really good.”
Disappointed by the oft-paraded stereotype of Irish cooking – the potato – McMahon says Irish cooking is transitioning from stereotypes to a from-the-source feel; something lighter.
It’s that flavour which he brought to the plates of the Glasshouse Kitchens as part of four aquatic-inspired courses on Sunday, and that will feature when he joins forces with Adelaide gastronomic maverick Duncan Welgemoed and acclaimed three Michelin-starred Italian Norbert Niederkofler on the Tasting Australia Airlines trips to Kangaroo Island over the weekend.
“It’s nice to look at different Irish products,” he says in reference away from the ubiquitous starchy tuber.
“And for me oysters, seaweed, and other shellfish are very representative of what I suppose Irish cooking is now.
“[That is] less hands-on, more pure as opposed to being very stodgy, or very heavy – there’s a lightness to it.”
McMahon’s dish on Sunday arranged one of three types of oyster from Coffin Bay or the Pacific with a mixture of local sea herbs, sea weed and sea grapes in a simple, pure dish.
Representing the true flavour of his products is core to his craft, so any additions beyond the aquatic fruit and plantlife are minimal.
That, he says, reflects the local product in the best way.
“I was surprised at the continuity between Europe and Australia,” he says.
“There were some sea grapes that I hadn’t used before, but it was very easy for me because the raw product is really good.
“For me, the raw product is what it’s all about. It’s about trying to cook it… or season it in a very subtle way.
“Our food isn’t very spice-driven. It’s very much about what the ingredient tastes like.
“I’m looking forward to going there [to Kangaroo Island], not only to see the tourist side of it, but I said to Duncan [Welgemoed], ‘Is there anything we can use on the island in terms of herbs, in terms of seaweed?’ because, for me, I’m just about going to a place, finding what they have, and cooking that to be representative of the place.
“It’s kind of nice to let the products speak for themselves.”
Jp McMahon runs Aniar, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Galway, Ireland.
Tasting Australia runs from 13-22 April 2018 in Town Square, Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga and surrounding South Australian regions.