This feature first appeared in Coast magazine in 2015

Think of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic coast and most people dream first of its alluring landscapes. For 2,500km, sweeping beaches transition into wave-bashed cliffs, punctuated by classic fishing villages and marinas bobbing with sail boats.

But this area is also a paradise for fresh produce, a place where cattle graze on green pastures and cold waters foster a bounty of seafood, from delicate crabs to native oysters. An obvious choice, then, for a cook looking to get out of the kitchen and taste the good life.

For her latest TV series, Rachel’s Coastal Cooking, and the accompanying book, Coast, celebrity chef Rachel Allen traces Ireland’s western edge, all the way from her home in County Cork to northerly county Donegal, meeting farmers, fishermen and local cooks on her way. She goes snorkelling for seaweed and helps harvest oysters in Galway. ‘I’d been hoping to get out for while,’ admits Rachel. ‘Instead of the usual “chop and chat” format,
 I wanted to get out there and meet the producers.’

The incredible seaside on her doorstep was the most obvious place to start. Born in Dublin, she came to the southwest when she was 18 to enrol on a course at Ballymaloe, the iconic cookery school presided over by Darina Allen, Ireland’s Delia Smith. What was meant to be a three-month stay turned into a lifetime after she fell in love with Darina’s son and married into Irish cooking royalty.

Nowadays Rachel and her husband live on Ballycotton Bay. ‘I love the way it changes constantly – the boats, the waves, the sky, the lighthouse in the mist. It’s so distracting, I find my head turning to look out the window and I have to say, “Right Rachel, back to work!”’

‘I may be biased,’ says Rachel, ‘But Ireland’s southwest and west coast has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world – and the food to match.’ In her latest book Rachel translates experiences on her coastal culinary adventure into recipes for readers to try. A beach picnic inspires salmon pâté; windswept villages lead to a hearty Irish stew; a taste of home-smoked fish, flavoured with pickled sea vegetables becomes a more refined dinner party dish.

‘I was lucky to have so many incredible experiences,’ says Rachel, giving an example of meeting a fisherman in Connemara: ‘People told us, “Go find Jonny. He’ll be in his beach shack and will go out on his boat to get crabs.” We found him and he cooked the crabs for us then and there. When you get something so fresh, it’s like nothing else in the world.’

What most impressed Rachel in the wilds of the west coast was how people sourced their food locally, getting their seafood direct from fishermen like Jonny and their cheeses straight from the farm. ‘In Ireland and the UK we have such amazing produce – we need to make the most of it,’ she enthuses. ‘It’s important to eat locally. It tastes better, it’s better for the economy, the environment, for everyone.’

On her journey Rachel found many restaurants advertising ‘10-mile menus’, with all the ingredients produced within a 10-mile radius. ‘Whether you are local or a tourist, you don’t want to see produce that’s been flown in from the other side of the world,’ says Rachel. ‘It’s the local food that makes a place unique.’

First appeared in Coast in 2015.