A fresh-from-the-garden salad.
Photography by June Naylor

Dispelling all myths about Emerald Isle cuisine, the Dunbrody Country House Hotel cooking course gives writer JUNE NAYLOR a taste for Irish-style culinary artistry.

On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon beneath a sparkling-blue sky, my ongoing mission to learn culinary artistry in far-flung destinations lands me in the countryside midway between Dublin and Cork. Yes, I’ve told countless friends who questioned this particular choice, outstanding food does indeed await the cuisine-curious on the Irish seaside.

I’m confident because the school is the creation of Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon, whose Dunbrody Country House Hotel offers exquisite lodging and dining in southeast Ireland. And as my experience in the five-day cooking immersion program reveals, our Yankee presumption that Irish food mostly concerns cabbage and potatoes couldn’t be more misguided.

Catherine Dundon, Kevin’s wife and co-host, anticipates my fatigue from the flight to Dublin and two-hour drive south to their early-1800s mansion thereafter. I’m deeply grateful for the massage she’s arranged for me at the hotel’s serene on-site spa, and a restorative woodlands walk  — where my company includes rabbits and exquisite flowering foliage — on the Dunbrody property invigorates me for my first dinner at the hotel.

Said dinner begins with a delicate tart lavished with caramelized red onion and fluffy goat cheese beneath a flurry of garden greens; continues with salmon smoked in Arthurstown (less than a kilometer away) and local mussels simmering in a saffron-tomato broth; and concludes in a glory of rhubarb panna cotta. If our cooking-class work turns out dishes half as good as these, I figure, I’ll be ecstatic.

As class begins shortly after 9 a.m. on Monday, I greet my classmates over coffee and Dunbrody’s classic French pastries (which, I fear, could easily become the undoing of my resolve to eat sensibly during this learning holiday). My fellow students, husband and wife Kate and David, live nearby in County Wexford. Their scarcely contained enthusiasm at learning from Kevin Dundon’s renowned staff assures me that I’m in for a treat — but none of us anticipates the level of actual work we’re undertaking.

Staff chef Julien Clemot, our genial instructor and Dundon’s hand-picked classroom instructor, is all smiles and charming French accent as he gets quickly down to business. One look at the first day’s lesson plan tells us that we have much to learn — nearly 20 recipes just for today. While some classes I’ve enjoyed in various countries might involve simply watching the chef demonstrate technique and recipe execution, we’re quickly donning aprons and rolling up our sleeves to follow Clemot’s direction.