A few years ago, the chef and videographer duo Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine came up with an idea to travel the world documenting how people live with food in an online video series called The Perennial Plate. They track down the people we rarely get a chance to meet, those people you only find when you get way off the beaten path. More than 150 short films later, the James Beard award-winning show is now in its fourth season.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: You recently spent several months in Ireland. Tell me about your trip.
Daniel Klein: We spent two months in Ireland making 10 short films. In that period, we spent time in the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East, and Dublin. We came up with 10 very unique films. One that comes to mind is about a young chef named Katie Sanderson in Dublin. We don't normally do films about chefs. Our stories tend to be more about the farmer, about the unknown people. Chefs get enough attention.
But Katie was different, in the sense that she was famous in Ireland. She had done a series of pop up dinners and could have totally settled into a restaurant in Dublin that got rave reviews. Instead, she thought about what she really wanted and remembered that she loved to cook food: To nourish people and to give people that health that comes from good food. While we were there, she was cooking for the dancers of an Irish production of Swan Lake, making them vegetarian, organic food for seven weeks in the kitchen of an army barracks. Here's this famous chef who is just cooking unknown on the side. The next day, she was making miso. We filmed her making miso because she loves to do it and she does pop ups and different dinners, so she just needed to refill her larder. She's this nomadic chef who is doing what she loves and following her passion of cooking instead of following her passion to be famous or have a restaurant.
LRK: Of being a celebrity.
DK: Yes. We made a different type of film about her because she was doing so many things. We couldn't follow the traditional narrative that we usually do. We made miso with her. We filmed her with the dancers. Then we also had the opportunity to go forage and harvest seaweed with her, which was a great experience. Imagine walking along the coast in Ireland, picking all of these different delicious seaweeds, then going back and having her make a Kombu in a converted construction site kitchen. It's unreal the little situations that you find yourself in with this young woman.
Katie Sanderson (Photos: The Perennial Plate)
LRK: That was the east coast. What did you find on the west coast?
DK: The west coast of Ireland is totally different than the east. It's rugged. It's wild. They call it the Wild Atlantic Way, which captures that wild imagination. One story that we found there was about The Haven Smokehouse in Donegal. There's a lot of smoked salmon in Ireland, but what's unique about The Haven Smokehouse is that they smoke their salmon with turf. I don't know how familiar you are with turf, but it is the dirt below the dirt in the bogs of Ireland. This man Declan took us out and dug beneath the heather, beneath the soil. He cut out these big chunks of what looked like dirt. People dry it and use it as firewood.
LRK: Is this anything like peat moss?
DK: It is. It's the same thing as peat moss. It's just the term that they use for it there. You'll find it in homes across Ireland and it has a very unique smell. In the evenings, walking down the street you'll say, “What is that? Is it smoke? What is this smell?” By the time I left, I loved the smell.
LRK: I understand it has been used as fuel for centuries.
DK: It is the primary thing used for heating homes, at least in that part of Ireland.
LRK: And Declan smokes salmon with this. What gave him the idea?
DK: He was looking to capture this feeling that he had of home. He was born in Ireland, moved away, and came back with the desire to smoke salmon. He wanted to capture the feeling of being on the riverbank and cooking fish, having this smell and taste of home. He started by building a tiny smokehouse and, with experimentation, producing turf-smoked salmon which must have existed in history, but doesn't currently exist on the market in Ireland
Declan McConnellogue (Photos: The Perennial Plate)
LRK: How does he actually use the turf?
DK: He harvests the turf, dries it, and brings it back. Then he uses a bit of beech wood to keep the fire going and to add some smoked sweetness. It’s cold smoking, so it's a separate fire that goes over where he has his organic salmon hanging. Slowly, over a 24-hour period, that lends a subtle smoke. When it comes out it's like traditional cold smoked salmon that you would find at the deli, except he cuts it like sushi, which is quite unique. Instead of those long, slanted side cuts, he cuts it straight down. For him, this gives it the full taste of both the inside, which is less smoked, and the smoked ring around the edge.
LRK: I like the way this man thinks. What does it taste like?
DK: Of course, taste is all perception. When you have this piece of salmon that you’ve seen salted and filleted with care, with every necessary step taken, when you see it sliced and put on a piece of Irish brown bread with Irish butter, when you have a piece of smoked salmon that you’ve seen smoked over the course of two days and you eat that next to the guy who smoked it – obviously that tastes delicious.
To watch The Perennial Plate videos produced by Mirra Fine and Daniel Klein and to learn more about their adventures in Ireland, visit The Perennial Plate website. While you’re thinking Irish cuisine, enjoy the recipe to Darina Allen’s Ardsallagh Goat Cheese and Thyme Leaf Soufflé, it’s delicious.
Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine