When I joined a group of friends to explore the west coast of Ireland in the spring of last year, we scored ten days of sunshine and perfect waves more often than not. I was told this was a fluke, but didn’t care; by the time we were on the ferry headed home I’d come to understand that this part of the world is a magical place.
So when an editor I work for contacted me about working on a cookery book that would mean spending a week in the surf village of Strandhill where our gang had been based, I put down everything and fired up the Ryanair site. Myles and Jane Lamberth, owners of the renowned Shells café, were writing their first cookbook and I lucked into the amazing job of helping out by interviewing locals in order to include their stories in and among the recipes that would appear in the book.
It was December; it was freezing cold; it rained and snowed; Mullaghmore was breaking big and behaving like a deranged titan. But it didn’t matter because we spent every day watching with awe as Myles prepared dish after dish after dish, letting Jane drown us in coffee and laughter, witnessing photographer Mike Searles tirelessly do his thing, and chasing down publicans, farmers, foragers, fishermen, artisans, seaweed harvesters, shapers, Yeats experts, cheesemongers and surfers to be sure their voices came through in the book.
Myles’ cuisine sustained and inspired us. He’s effortless and catlike in the kitchen, cross-stepping in the chaos. His cooking belies a lifelong talent for wave sliding; there’s a deftness, balance and innate creativity that’s reminiscent of Joel Tudor riffing on a two-foot peeler. Behind the stove or on the water, he can turn something very simple into something sublime. It was the best time I’ve ever had on dry land, and that’s saying something. (Full disclosure: the Guinness, oysters, Irish potato cakes, more Guinness, homemade chutney and cheese sandwiches, lemon squares, Guinness, chowder, campervan casserole and flapjacks might have had something to do with it!)