The current food revolution that has seen a huge resurgence in excellent artisan food and drink producers has its origins in Cork, with a lady who has for decades championed the cause of excellent Irish food. Myrtle Allen, who has passed away at the age of 94 is known as the matriarch of modern Irish cuisine.
Mrs Allen became the first Irish holder of a Michelin star, founded a restaurant then a cookery school and Hotel which grew to a family-run empire over the five decades with her at the helm.
It all began her marriage to a fruit and vegetable growing farmer, Ivor Allen. Myrtle admitted to having to learn to cook and in 1964 after the six children began heading off to boarding school, she opened a restaurant in the house called the Yeats room, so-called because a few Jack B Yeats paintings were on the walls. The menu changed daily and what came to the table was good simple, locally produced food, cooked to perfection. This was the start of a recognition of the excellence of Irish produce and indeed the cooks who prepared it. Myrtle Allen was a strong, hard-working woman who was tireless in her promotion of Irish food and hospitality.
In 1986 she became a founding member of Euro-Toques. www.euro-toques.ie a community of chefs and cooks which aims to preserve Ireland’s culinary heritage. It’s current Commissioner General, Graham Neville, in paying tribute to Mrs Allen said “She put us on the map”.
Among the many people who paid warm tributes to her, Sallyanne Clarke of Dublin’s L’Ecrivain Restaurant summed it up: “In the old days we imported so much. Myrtle showed us all how to utilise fresh local ingredients, available on our doorstep, and to be proud of our heritage by supporting our local artisan producers. The entire food industry owes her so much.”