The Real World of Rachel Gaffney

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Gaffney’s emphasis on authentic, unfussy comfort is key to her weekly dinner parties at home as well. “I love to do a pork loin with dried fruit, some chickens, my mum’s Sunday beef roast. This is not complicated cooking. It’s home cooking minus the casseroles and leftovers. Add some Irish blue cheese and my tomato-ginger chutney and roasted-pear purée, and you have a meal that makes people human, allows them to relax and be real.”

For a woman who spent the early chapters of her career in hotel sales and marketing, promoting an ideal Ireland to tourists and other admirers—The vivid green land! The wild, hardscrabble coastline! The magical and irascible Irish character!—Gaffney is not interested in fantasy worlds. Instead, Gaffney is interested in what is. “What Ireland has that few other First World cultures have managed to hold onto, is how real it is. The adversities that slowed progress also insulated us, kept us pure. We don’t need a ‘local’ or ‘sustainable’ movement; we’ve never been anything but that. We don’t need to embrace home cooking; we’ve never been able to afford to stray too far from it,” she asserts. “When I first began teaching Irish cooking, students would be so disappointed when they asked for the secret to my shortbread and I told them that there is no secret. You just use real Irish butter.”

Fabulous, she adds, “doesn’t mean expensive and complicated. People are burned out on acquiring; they want something doing, pure, and delicious. What used to be scorned as ‘poverty food from the potato eaters’ is now ‘peasant cuisine’—the chic, the pure, the unadulterated.”

Let’s face it, she exhorts, huffing breathlessly into her cell phone, “Irish food is not about recipes, it’s about ingredients. It’s simple!” Was she, I wondered, on a treadmill? Practicing her Martha-multitask as we spoke?

“Of course not, darling,” she gasps. “So sorry. I’m just climbing this fence, you see, out on this grass-fed beef ranch about an hour from my house. I need to check the cattle, you see. I’m doing my Mum’s beef roast for a bridal shower for one of the New York Jets’ fiancées tomorrow. I just want to make sure this Texas beef is good enough for my Mum’s recipe.” Gaffney pauses for the briefest of breaths. “And I got about a thousand shamrocks,” she exclaims. “They are in season now, just gorgeous with daisies and herbs.”

Molly O’Neill is the author of seven books, including Mostly True: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Baseball and One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking. Her ebook, This American Burger, was recently published by New Word City. O’Neill’s most recent contribution to Gourmet Live was a personal story, The Devil’s in the Diet.

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