Blowin’ In: – Tasting the Sea

Blowin’ In: Tasting the Sea

By Susan Mangan

Our cousin lives and works on the beautiful island of Inishturk. Her husband is a lobsterman. Jokingly, I asked if he could bring me back a nice big fella for my supper. Failing to pick up on my humor, he responded in earnest, “No, they are all going to France, but I’ll bring you back somethin’ better.”

In my heart of hearts, I was hoping that he was kidding. At times, it is hard for me to discern the difference between a perfectly delivered joke versus a sincere statement of fact when I am in conversation with an Irishman. Usually, the joke is on me, so I held out that I was indeed getting a lobster, but ultimately landed a canvas bag filled with a glut of stone crab.

When I first started to travel to Ireland, I thought that lobster would be as ubiquitous as that in Maine, with quaint lobster shacks dotting every pier. I soon learned that the coastal towns in Ireland were very different from those in Atlantic Maine. The menus were laden with local Irish lamb, beef, and country vegetable soup. Not one lobster bib was to be found. I soothed my disappointment with creamy seafood chowder, locally harvested oysters, and smoked salmon.

Kate’s Fish
Kate’s Irish Salmon, As confirmed by Tom McIntyre of Cleveland’s own Kate’s Fish, most of the seafood that is caught off the oceanic water in Ireland is exported to fish purveyors who source the delectable goods for fine restaurants throughout Europe. Over the years, Tom and I have enjoyed sharing fish tales as well as our mutual love of Ireland.

Tom’s family hails from Fanad, County Donegal; here the coastline is rugged and the waters pristine. As a youngster, Tom would spend many happy times aboard fishing boats with family. His love of the sea and his family’s homeland is present in the passion he brings to his work. In fact, one of Tom’s family members has worked with MOWI, an Irish organic salmon farm for thirty-five years.

Tall, blonde, and robust in his Gruden’s orange fishing waders, Tom epitomizes the jovial, sincere Irish fishmonger. His products are pure quality, and the consumer will never be disappointed with Kate’s Fish. Last year, in an effort to connect with American seafood purveyors, Tom was invited by the Irish Food Bureau – Bord Bia – to tour Irish seafood producers in Dublin, Wexford, and Donegal. Tom and I recently caught up to discuss his latest Irish adventures.

In Killybegs, Co. Donegal, Tom visited another organic salmon farm. Here he had the opportunity to board the fishing boat and “meet the fish at the offshore pen site and feed them.” Like a farmer comparing the quality of their product to the contentedness of their sheep or cows, Tom saw the personality in the fish: the strength of their sleek bodies and the vigor in their swim. Tom brings his astute understanding of the balance of nature, sustainable and ethical marine farming, and love of fish back to his customers.

Tom remarked on the amazing beauty of his surroundings as well as the renowned hospitality of his Irish hosts. He reflected on how the food scene had changed so much since he was a boy. While he can still appreciate a properly fried meal of fish and chips, Tom has come to appreciate the fine dining from coast to Irish coast.

One of his most memorable meals on this recent trip took place in a Dublin lobster bar. The irony was not lost on me; shack, bar, are they not the same? Why have I not dined at this establishment? Are the lobsters all congregating in Dublin?

Apparently, there did indeed exist a serendipitous connection between Tom, his traveling companions, and the Dublin restauranteur. One of Tom’s colleagues owns Greenpoint Fish in Brooklyn, New York. The Dublin restauranteur was inspired by this very same restaurant which he would frequently visit on his trips to the States. The sea is vast, but those who share a passion for food and Ireland swim in the same pond.

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I asked Tom if he discovered any new products from the sea that he planned to incorporate into the school of fish he runs at the West-Side Market in Cleveland. He is amazed that the Irish do not eat many of the exotic wild delicacies found off the coasts of Ireland. Among the most interesting species are whelks, spot prawns, langoustine, brown crab, and spider crab.

Tom has recently started to enliven the already vast offerings at Kate’s Fish with “fancy Irish langoustines and crab claws from Wexford.” According to Tom, the trip was a resounding success. Not only did he get to visit with his young cousins, the next generation of fishermen and fishmongers, he was able to procure new ideas and products for Kate’s.

Kate’s Irish Salmon Scottish Sea Trout
For years, Ireland, according to Bord Bia standards, has listed the provenance of fine cuts of lamb, beef, and locally sourced oysters, as well as artisan crafted cheeses on Irish menus. It is with great pride that I see Kate’s Fish gracing the menus of nationally recognized Cleveland restaurants like Cordelia. With confidence, I purchase Kate’s Irish Salmon and Scottish Sea Trout every week, while occasionally indulging in the House-Smoked Salmon or Kate’s Famous Crab Cakes. The quality of Tom’s product is as clear as the blue of his eyes. After all, Tom has looked into the eyes of his fish and has seen their worth.

*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected].

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