Not Just a Cookbook

Back in the days when the Irish palate was notoriously conservative, Derry Clarke’s father and his brother Joe dealt in everything from proper continental cheeses and Danish rusks to snails and frogs legs. In the warehouse on Wellington Quay in the centre of Dublin there was a treasure trove of edibles and drinkables: Huntley and Palmer biscuits, rusks, maple syrup, caviar, chestnut puree, Schwartz spices, smoked salmon, bottles of carrot juice for the health food shops, Sunquick orange squash for the less choosey, bags of whole spices imported from Indonesia, vast wheels of Brie….

This is presumably where Derry got a taste for fine food. Home was a big, rambling house in Clonskeagh. His mum did little cooking confining herself to “huge hearty stews with whole cloves of garlic but his dad was constantly experimenting in the kitchen, which was highly unusual for a man in those days. He kept up a continuous output of brown soda bread. The larder and the fridge were always packed with unusual stuff: Baxter’s tinned soups, jars of olives, tins of anchovies and shark’s fin soup (for the Chinese restaurant market), even rollmop herrings.

Much of his teens were spent at a small but liberal school called St. Georges in Portroe near Lough Derg where he developed a love of sailing. This gathered momentum during his summer holidays spent in Kinsale. He fantasized about going to sea but decided a maritime career was not for him after a short stint as a crew on a fishing trawler out of Crosshaven.

His first job during school holidays back in the 1960’s was cleaning the loos in Man Friday’s in Kinsale. In time he was promoted to waiter. Eventually straight out of school in early 1970, he got the opportunity to work in the kitchen at Peter Barry’s Man Friday under a great French chef Xavier Poupel. Stints in the Delgany Inn and the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire all helped to develop his repertoire and to hone his skills.

In 1977 John Howard had opened Le Coq Hardi in Pembroke Road, serving by all accounts the best food in Dublin. Derry, eager for a challenge and desperate to learn more jumped at the opportunity to work with John, a brilliant and legendary classic chef. John drove his Merc down to the market at 5 in the morning to choose the vegetables – there was no messing, when Derry slept out, John came to get him – it didn’t happen again!!

After four years of hard but exhilarating Work, Derry says he was approaching “burn out” so it was time for a change. He took on the challenge of upgrading the food at St. James’s Hospital. Eventually in 1983 he became involved in a new venture in the basement of the Lansdowne Hotel with Patsy McGuirk called Bon Appetit. Here he met and eventually wooed the lovely Sally Anne.

A stint as head chef of the Ante room restaurant in Baggot Street followed. Derry and Sallyanne were getting closer to opening their own restaurant. On 7th July 1989 L’Ecrivain opened in a small cramped basement. Derry went about setting up a network of good producers to supply his restaurant – he knew only too well that good produce was essential for good cooking and no amount of fancy cheffing can make up for poor quality produce – ‘Cooks are not alchemists’- a fundamental lesson that many chefs never seem to learn despite talking the talk. It’s been a long hard road, Derry and Sally Anne have worked incredibly hard and developed a loyal and appreciative clientele. Bursting at the seams in 1995 they took the plunge and expanded the restaurant, this too proved too small and they expanded again to reopen with a brand new much bigger restaurant in January 2000. They now have a Michelin star and have just published their first cookbook – ‘Not just a cookbook’ co-written with Tom Doorley. 

The name is apt, its not just a cookbook, but a warm and generous celebration of the people who contribute to making L’Ecrivain such a success. Photos, biographies of the key staff and the valued food producers – butchers, bakers, fish smokers, cheesemakers, game purveyors, wine makers, herb and vegetable growers, who supply the raw materials for Derry and Sallyanne’s food.

It also tells the story of a chef in the making and Sallyanne, the brilliant supporting cast. L’Ecrivain was the winner of Food and Wine Magazine’s Restaurant of the Year from 2000 – 2003. 

The restaurant is not cheap, nor can it be. This kind of dining experience costs a great deal of money, dedication, and sheer hard work to deliver, and this book will give an insight into the enormity of the task. There are more than 90 recipes from the past and present L’Ecrivain, including Cream of Spiced Parsnip and Coriander Soup, Pineapple Tarte Tatin with Coconut Ice-Cream, Pecan Brownie with Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce and Buttermilk Ice-Cream.

‘Not Just a Cookbook’ published by L’Ecrivain Restaurant. Price €29.99
Here are some recipes from L’Ecrivain

Cream of Spiced Parsnip & Coriander, Curry Oil
3 medium sized parsnips, peeled and sliced in half lengthways

1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 leek, sliced
2 sprigs of thyme
1 litre of chicken stock
salt and freshly ground white pepper

Curry Oil
100ml (3½fl oz) sunflower oil plus 1 tablespoon
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 pinch of ground coriander
1 pinch of tumeric
1 pinch of ground cumin

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3. Sprinkle the ground coriander over the parsnips, place them in a roasting tin and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil. Roast for 35 minutes until tender.

In a separate medium-sized saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil and gently cook the garlic, onion, leek and thyme for 5 minutes until tender. Cut the roasted parsnips into large chunks and add them to the onion mixture. Next add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Blend the soup with a hand blender, then sieve and season with salt and pepper.

Curry Oil
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a small saucepan and gently cook the shallot and spices until tender. Add 100ml (3½fl oz) sunflower oil and warm through. Transfer to another container to cool and infuse overnight. Pass through a sieve, retaining the oil.

To Serve
Divide the cream of spiced parsnip and coriander between four warm bowls and drizzle the curry oil over the soup.

Pecan Brownie with Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce and Buttermilk Ice Cream

Pecan Brownie
100g (3½oz) 71% dark chocolate
150g (5oz) butter, melted
250g (9oz) caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 drops of vanilla extract
175g (6oz) plain flour, sifted
100g (3½oz) pecan nuts, chopped

Buttermilk Ice Cream
500ml (18fl oz) cream
180ml (6fl oz) buttermilk
8 egg yolks
130g (4½oz) caster sugar

Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce
150g (5oz) brown sugar
100ml (3½fl oz) cold water
50g (2oz) butter, diced
350ml (12fl oz) cream
75g (3oz) 71% dark chocolate

Pecan Brownie
Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Combine the melted chocolate and butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Add the flour and pecans. Fold all the ingredients together in the mixing bowl until they are well combined. Line a 22cm (9inch) square tin with buttered greaseproof paper. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before removing the brownies from the tin. Cut the brownies into four squares.

Buttermilk Ice Cream
Heat the cream and buttermilk in a heavy-based saucepan until the mixture almost reaches boiling point. In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is pale and thick. Pour a little of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks and stir. Return this mixture to the remainder of the hot cream and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. At this point, remove the saucepan from the heat, chill the mixture and strain it. Churn the mixture in an ice-cream maker until it has frozen. Alternatively, transfer it to a shallow container, place in the freezer and stir every hour until it has set.

Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce
Bring the sugar and water to the boil and continue to cook until the sugar caramelises. Add the diced butter and cream, bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the chocolates and stir until the sauce is smooth.

Pineapple Tarte Tatin with Coconut Ice Cream

4 slices of fresh pinapple, 1cm thick, core removed, outer skin removed
110g (4oz) granulated sugar
110g (4oz) butter
300g (10½oz) puff pastry

Coconut Ice Cream
275ml (9½fl oz) milk
6 egg yolks
75g (3oz) caster sugar
150ml (5fl oz) cream, lightly whipped
½ tin of coconut milk

Icing sugar, sifted

Put the milk in a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together. Remove the milk from the heat and pour on to the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return to the heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Do not boil. Remove the custard from the heat and cool. Strain. Fold in the cream and coconut milk. Pour into an ice-cream maker and churn. Alternatively, transfer the mixture to a shallow container, place in the freezer and stir it every hour until it has set.

Pineapple Tarte Tatin

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Melt the sugar in a large, ovenproof frying pan until caramelised. Add the butter and combine, then add the pineapple to the caramel. Roll out the puff pastry to ½cm thickness and shape to fit the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and place the pastry on top. Bake for 25 minutes. When the tart is cooked, remove it from the oven, place a plate on top of the pan, cover it with a cloth and turn the tart upside down. Remove the pan and cool the tart.
To Serve
Dust the Tarte Tatin with icing sugar and place a slice on each chilled plate. Place a scoop of coconut ice cream beside it. Dust with some icing sugar.
Foolproof Food

Carrot and Parsnip Mash

Carrots and parsnips are both in season – this delicious combination is real comfort food.
Serves 4-6

½ lb (225g) carrots
12oz (340g) parsnips
2 ozs (55g) butter
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Chopped parsley

Wash and peel the carrots and parsnips. Slice the carrot into ¼ inch (5mm) slices. Cook in a little boiled salted water with a pinch of sugar until soft.
Cook the parsnips separately in boiling salted water.
Strain both, mash or puree together and add butter, salt and freshly ground pepper.

Hot Tips

Sheridans Cheese and Wine Shop in Galway
On a recent visit I bought some exquisite cheese in superb condition – a treasure trove for those who seek out top quality food, organic vegetables and fine wines. Tel 091-564829
In Dublin don’t forget to drop into their sister shop in South Anne St. 01-6793143.

Coast Restaurant in Tramore, Co Waterford
Delicious food – Dinner Tuesday – Sunday, Lunch- Sunday. Tel. 051-393646 

Innocent – the fresh fruit juice and smoothie company have just launched a range of one litre take home smoothies – mangoes & passion fruit, strawberries & banana, cranberries & raspberries, pineapple, banana & coconut –pure crushed fruit and fresh juice – get your recommended daily allowance of fruit, good for breakfasts and kids love them.  

Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived 
It is launched on the 3rd Thursday in November at 0h00 in France and in over 150 countries from Japan to the US. The grapes were harvested in unfailing sunshine throughout the harvest. The Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc, the Beaujolais Nouveau variety, grapes have given fruity wines with aromas and flavours of small red fruit that are very characteristic of Beaujolais. Supple, pleasant,well-balanced wines. So check out your local wine shop.

SIP teas – There is a huge resurgence in leaf tea – partly driven by the fact that tea is an extremely healthy beverage – research findings are proving more exciting by the day. SIP tea specialises in handpicked ‘fine pluck’ tea – this is the fresh, young growth, it contains the highest concentration of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants. Highly sought after, and healthy. Some delicious flavoured teas available. Mail order to Sip, Bellamont, Cootehill, Co Cavan. Email:

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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