Our Spotlight section features Irish food businesses and individuals who focus on locally produced products and traditional Irish food.

Sean O
Meet Sean O'Manachain, a true Irish food enthusiast. He is a self professed "food, food tourism and lifestyle blogger/vlogger (content creator), based in Ireland with a particular interest in Food Tourism, real food, and artisan producers." Sean is the author of A Taste Of Cork, a great food tour resource for any traveller to Ireland. If you want to eat like a local, check our Sean's website atasteof-ireland.com. And for great eatery ideas, see Sean's amazing fantasy food crawl below!

You have a unique specialty; how did you arrive at your current destination as a food blogger and short filmmaker/youtuber in Ireland?  

As a student, I studied chemistry for one year at Ecole Nationale Superiere de Chimie de Montpellier in the south of France. This experience changed my life and opened my experience up for the first time to wonderful French cheeses, red wine, saucisson, and proper coffee. Before France, my palate was limited to say the least. France changed me forever. As a student in Belfast, wine and cheese nights usually only consisted of cheddar cheese, blue nun, or similar white wines.

[So] when I arrived in Cork in 2001, my awareness was now focused on good food. I had my ears up for artisan produce, and I was amazed to find that Cork was full of farmhouse artisan cheeses, artisan smoked fish, and farmers’ markets. The variety and access to great foods like this was a real eye opener for me; the same variety didn't and still doesn’t exist in the North of Ireland. Cork was truly unique in 2001; the food revolution in Ireland was flourishing in Cork for a long time before we have arrived where we are today.
A Taste of Cork Book
It was a fellow Fermanagh man James McBrien who introduced me to Cork food by bringing myself and A Taste of Cork co-author Andrew Gleasures to Mannings Emporium in Ballylickey for the first time, where I was blown away by the Irish cheese and Irish charcuterie plates that were being served with wine at their shop. Mannings has been selling Irish cheeses and produce for as long as they have been available and long before any other specialty shops – especially in the west of Ireland; though I'm not 100% sure, I don't think it is far wrong.

I really wondered at this time why so few people knew about our great Irish food culture. My work colleagues were not aware that any, never mind up to thirty artisan cheeses, were being made in Cork alone. Therefore, I felt someone had to write about this (as I felt no one was doing so). My food tourist book, A Taste of Cork, is essentially a diary of Andrew Gleasures and my travels around Cork for the first ten years we lived there.

When I brought the book out, it was featured in all the Cork papers with a big spread in the Evening Echo. It was the journalist who interviewed me for the article who set me on my way to being a blogger. She asked me had I a blog, and at the time, I didn`t have one. I had never really considered it. But with her suggestion, I created http://atasteof-ireland.com because I initially intended to do an all Ireland version of my book. While I have a lot of material for an all Ireland book, it's hard work producing a book and even harder to get a book publisher to publish it. Given the success of A Taste of Cork, which really sold well, I still am surprised that no publisher, even with the popularity of food tourism, has ever chased me up for an all Ireland version, which is a good part of the way there.
Ballycotton seafood
My brother Aidan (who is a famous Film stills photographer www.aidanmonaghanphotography.com) and myself were always competing against each other with our photography and when he went professional as a film stills photographer, I was working as a research chemist and just did the photography as my main hobby. So while Aidan was photographing film stars, I was photographing my food heroes.

When the Canon MK 2 came out, I moved from books to film. Film allows me to tell food stories easily, and as I do hate typing, film is more immediate. Plus, with social media and the internet, you can publish with a click of a button and that's it. It has really been an evolution of my skills to, what is now termed, a content creator. I am able to produce images of magazine editorial quality as well as short films by myself. I am a one man production crew, producer, and director.

But for the last while I have been writing my own cookbook, which mixes all my interests in science, food, and local/wild produce. And despite all I`ve said about the work involved in producing a book, I would still love a publisher to publish it. I love cook books and I do have a massive cookbook collection (click on the lobster roll photo for a Sean’s own version of the Cork Lobster Roll!).

Do you have any favourite memories about food as you were growing up? Was there anything always being prepared around the house?

My mother is actually a great cook. I have very fond memories of her pizza, which was her version of Deep pan Chicago style pizza; I absolutely loved it (I have no idea if mum was intentionally making Chicago style pizza, but that's the pizza I had growing up in Fermanagh). Her apple tart is legendary, her buns amazing, and one of my favourites was my mum's Yorkshire puddings with roast beef or chicken on a Sunday. My mum was, and is, a great cook and that's how I will always remember her; but try and get her to show you a recipe? Not a chance. I and other family members still have no idea how she makes those very special apple tarts.
Looking out over Cork Harbour
Who were your biggest influences?
Biggest influences are Kevin Ahern and his 12 mile ethos. Kevin opened my eyes to seeking out good food producers in the area I was living in – whether that is Cork, Sligo, or Fermanagh and buying food directly from them. It had never occurred to me before – would you believe it? A mindset of the supermarket generation.

Jamie Oliver has to be up there too as he showed me that it was ok, and actually cool, for young men to cook. Before he arrived on TV it was all Delia Smith and Gary Rhodes (who seemed a strict and stern Chef). Jamie didn`t wear chef whites and was relaxed and casual about cooking.

In recent times Hugh Fernley Whittingstall of River cottage has opened me up to all that is good about food, he is an absolute legend. River cottage was important for me. And also Keith Floyd – God rest him. I loved Keith Floyd and always wanted his job.
Harissa pheasant
But in all this, Cork itself is a huge influence. Cork, unlike most of Ireland, has had and still has, a very strong local food culture. And food culture is about local producers, local farmers markets and the produce being bought and cooked by the local people. It is not all about restaurants and chefs in my opinion. That's why Midleton Farmers' Market can have a proper lobster roll for 8 euro. It's caught by the local fisherman, who can cook; he can then sell his wares at a local farmers' market to local punters. This has an amazing benefit for producer, consumer and the town of Midleton itself. Mike Barrett's roll has already had people coming from Dublin especially for it and they will stay and spend a few bob while they are at it. That's food culture in action right there.

That's what my blog is about. I'm not a chef; I'm someone who has access to great local produce and can cook a bit. I just want to let people know what is available and what they can do with it in their own homes. Food culture has to start in your own home. It's great to have good local restaurants using local produce; however, local people buying and cooking what's available locally creates a real food culture. That is why France, Spain, and Italy have great food cultures. They all, for the most part, eat and know how to cook what they produce locally in their regions.

What's your guilty pleasure?

I always have and still do, like a lot of Irish people, love Tayto crisp and real butter sandwiches with a cup of tea.
Do you have a favourite restaurant? And/or if someone has only 24 hours to spend in Cork, what do you suggest they do?

I will suggest my ideal, and of course fictional, food crawl of Cork, which I couldn`t possibly afford, nor physically eat (but if the establishments sponsored me I would make a video of this, nudge nudge, wink wink).
Cork Harbour

A Fantasy Food Crawl of Cork

Day One

Breakfast and Brunch
Breakfast would start in Cork city in the English Market at the coffee stand opposite "On the Pigs Back" with a double espresso and one of their Italian chocolate and hazelnut  pastries. Also for breakfast, would be six oysters, fresh and straight from Kay O'Connell's fish counter in the English Market.

Brunch would be Eggs Benedict at The Liberty Grill, definitely in my opinion the best eggs benedict, and therefore, best brunch destination in Cork city.

Snack and Lunch
A snack before lunch would be probably be my top thing to eat in Cork city, either a seasonal falafel wrap or the Canadian falafel wrap at The Rocket Man's East stall on Oliver Plunkett Street. The seasonal wrap is whatever is seasonal at the time – so in spring it has wild garlic in it (I'm looking forward to the autumn version). The Canadian wrap contains sweet potatoes fries and is super.

I would have lunch in two places: for a first plate I would go to Iyers Café over the river for some Pakora and or Bondas. Then off to Barrack Street and Miyazakis for a second plate of tempura Shimeji mushrooms and dipping sauce followed by a main of Duck Ramen.

Brews and Dinner
After lunch, if I was to watch a bit of a football match, I would have a craft beer with a slice or two of three cheese and pepperoni pizza from Pompeii Pizza in the Franciscan Well Brewery.

For evening dinner, I`d start the move from the Franciscan Well to Greenes Restaurant, stopping at the Bier Haus on the way for a craft beer from their huge selection. Finally, in Greenes, I would end the evening with their Tasting Menu.

Day Two

Having been well feasted, the next day (if it was a Saturday), I'd take the train to Midleton Farmers' Market and for breakfast have a free range hot dog from Woodside Farms Stall, a hot chocolate from Oconnaills, and a pain o chocolat from Arbutus bread. And finally, a lobster roll from Mike Barrett, The Lobster Man.
Sage Restaurant
Once I`d worked up an appetite touring and tasting Whiskey in the Jameson Distillery in Midleton, I would have a 12 Mile Lunch in Sage Restaurant, whose walls sport my Food producer portraits and an image of my hand clutching a borage flower actually.  I'm still proud that I literally have had a hand in the décor of Sage restaurant.

After Sage, it's off towards Ballymaloe, but before going there for their evening buffet (it's a fictional food crawl after all), I would stop for eggs benedict at the cafe in The Stephen Pearse Pottery, which have the best eggs benedict in Cork & Ireland. Sourdough bread with a mixture of Avril Allshire-Howes and Jack McCarthys bacon, free range eggs and hollandaise sauce using Ballymaloe butter.

To end the 24hr Cork fictional food crawl, it is off to the legendary Ballymaloe House for an equally legendary buffet, dinner, and dessert trolley. The buffet has everything from local oysters and mussels, to lobster volauvents, to the most delicious home made pates and terrines, to Ballymaloe grown vegetables and salads and meats, including at times, duck or goose. Then it's evening dinner, followed by the famous sweets trolley, where the waitress offers you a selection of treats.
What's the reason Cork has become such a hotbed of exciting culinary offerings?

Cork has always been the hot bed I would say, the rest of the country is just waking up to the local food culture, it's normal in Cork. But I`d say that Ballymaloe, Myrtle and Darina Allen have also had no small part to play in it as well.

What now for you?

I am now a content creator with a particular interest and large portfolio in food tourism. This in essence means I can produce my own food tourism video, photography, blog, Facebook, twitter and instagram content or produce it for a magazine, newspaper, PR company, Hotel, restaurant or group of food producers.

My ideal job would be to tour Ireland making youtube videos and writing food tourism books on my beautiful country, which I could do myself. I'm a great lower cost alternative for an online magazine, publisher, or PR company to get its hands on high quality digital and print content. Then who knows – maybe Spain, Italy, France and them the world, following in the footsteps and retracing the paths of Keith Floyd and Rick Stein; I can but dream.

Visit Sean at atasteof-ireland.com.