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:: Salon Du Blog: Je t'adore!

Most of life's great decisions come from having absolutely no prior knowledge as to how something is going to turn out. That was most certainly the case over the weekend. You might remember earlier this year I got roped into cooking for 800 hungry Parisians for an event on a small island in the west of the city with Le Fooding magazine sponsored by our very own Bord Bia. Well after the huge success at Chalet Des Illes, the delightful Noreen Lanigan, decided she wanted more abuse from me and decided, being a blogger I would be the right person to demonstrate at the third annual Salon Du Blog Culinaire, an event organized by a cookery school north of Paris in the little town of Soissons, in November. The event is quite unique and very timely with the amount of food blogs continually on the increase. It invites lots of France's finest food bloggers to demonstrate their favorite dishes and kitchen techniques in a fairly manic two day period watched on by fellow bloggers eager for culinary inspiration. During the summer I had the opportunity to meet a group of France's top food bloggers who were on a visit to Ireland to discover the fantastic conditions our lovely animals enjoy before they head off the little farm in the sky and onto our supermarket shelves. To put things in perspective here, unlike our own Irish food blogging community which, while thriving and very rapidly increasing in numbers, this group of French food bloggers were 10 of over a thousand. These guys were the cream of crop and are well and truly established with tens of thousands of visitors a day, numerous cookbooks and iPhone and iPad Apps. Not surprising really from a nation who takes so much pride and passion in their cooking that they would be willing to fall out with each other over a bad Boeuf Bourginon!
After our visit to the farm, I demonstrated some of our traditional Irish dishes, including Irish stew, brown bread and roast lamb, and was gently reminded again that Noreen had plans for me in November…

Clare Clinton who is interning at Bord Bia's Paris office got the ball rolling earlier this month with emails back and forth to decide the best recipes to show off our finest meat and fish products. Despite me dragging my feet, we eventually decided upon 6 dishes to cook and impress the French food bloggers, including mussels in Irish cider, crab claws with chilli, garlic and lemon, roast shoulder of lamb with rosemary and garlic, a good auld Irish stew and to mix things up a little an oriental steak salad and spicy Beef fahitas.

Myself and Maeve Desmond, who I'm sure many of your may have met at Bloom or the Irish Food blogger event in May, flew to Paris on Friday evening just in time for a late dinner in a beautiful restaurant very close to La Bon Marché. The restaurant proudly serves Irish beef alongside some French classics and the quite adventurous dishes I chose including Carpaccio of veal tongue served with a salsa and for mains Pieds et Pacque d'agneau which on the English menu I was reading from was translated as feet and packets of lamb. I'm big believer in always trying something different in another country rather than something familiar but unfortunately sometimes it doesn't always work out the way I had planned. The veal tongue had a very interesting texture and flavor and was complimented quite nicely by the salsa it was served and was definitely worth the chance of trying, however the Lamb feet and packets, left a little to be desired… The packets turned out to be a strange little dumplings of finely minced pork wrapped in what looked very much like tripe and actually tasted quite nice, but the feet had about as much meat on them as my little finger. Maeve and Noreen played it safe and benefited from doing so with Maeve going for an amazing long wooden platter of beautifully sliced ham and of the Irish beef and Noreen choosing a lentil salad to start followed by the most amazing French black pudding which was really rich and velvety, a stark contrast to what we are used to with a fry! Dessert was a financier de poivre, an individual little flat cake with pear and île flottante a big dollop of fluffy egg white and sugar which was served floating in a dish of vanilla cream and topped with a caramel sauce. After all that we rolled our way back to our hotel ahead of the six o'clock start on Saturday morning.

There is one thing I don't do and that is early mornings, sure I can be full of energy first thing but I fade fairly rapidly during the day! Noreen runs a tight ship let me tell you (This woman has a tractor license!), so at 7.06 with toothbrush still in mouth, I answered to phone to a bright and sparky Noreen who wanted to know were I was! Rushing out the door and out onto the streets of Paris, I stumbled on Noreen and Clare (and a sleepy Maeve!) negotiating the boot of the car with Irish posters, recipe booklets and of course the suitcases. We were all bundled into the car and then the real fun started- our departure from Paris was fairly comical not helped of course by the GPS which took us on the wrong road at least twice.

When we finally arrived in Soissons and at the culinary arts school the 3rd Salon Du Blog was well underway. One of the French food bloggers who had been on the visit to Ireland, was the charming Chef Damien who makes a mean Boef A La Guiness and runs the school and a highly successful website, 750g, which attracts a ridiculous amount of visitors on a daily basis!
There was definitely a huge sense of excitement as we were ushered through the halls of the school and passed the many rooms where different food bloggers would be spending their weekend. We arrived at the Bord Bia room which was positioned perfectly smack bang in the middle of all the rooms which guaranteed us constant traffic and visitors and were introduced to our helpers Suella and Virginie. It's always fairly nerve-wracking arriving at a new kitchen so there was some fierce scurrying around to get all the equipment and ingredients before we were due to kick off with our first demonstration at 11am!
We got kick started with a great turnout and the rest of the day was so busy that it became pretty much a blur except for the fantastic Bloggers Picnic that had been organized for lunch, where all the bloggers had brought along a little dish to be a part of the most massive buffet of food I have ever seen!
One thing that should be noted and that is instantly clear in terms of the difference between Irish food bloggers and French food bloggers, they have no problem telling you they would done something differently, where we might be a little bit more shy to go up and taste test if someone is giving a demo. So it was all fairly nerve wracking to make sure things were cooked just the right way! Either way I love their passion!

Saturday finished off with a giant blogger banquet complete with hoards of Irish cheese, Irish salmon, Irish beef, Irish lamb and randomly enough a little bit of good old Irish dancing! We were sitting having a great time but the minute the music started Noreen told us she had to get up to take some photos and we thought no more of it, a few minutes later we looked down at the dance floor and there she was like Jeanne Butler on acid leading the Ceili putting the rest to shame- and THAT'S how you represent the country! I don't know whether it was the dancing or not but Noreen headed back to Paris on Sunday and we were joined by another lovely lady from Bord Bia, the lovely Bernadette, lovely! :)

On the last demo of the day on Sunday I was accompanied by Chef Damien to demonstrate a very simple dish of crab claws with chilli, garlic and lemon. The whole thing was a crazy combination of both of us trying to translate each other language but somehow I think it worked, and I suppose it did help that we were being filmed for the French tv station!
All in all it was an absolutely fantastic event and I think we represented Ireland quite well if I do say so myself. My only wish was that I had got to see a lot more of the other demonstrations, there was a massive variety of food being demoed but I did manage to catch one or two! An absolutely massive thank you to Chef Damien, my two lovely kitchen assistants, the lovely ladies of Bord Bia, and of course all the French bloggers who made me feel so very welcome!

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