By Morgan Gunnels
CORK, Ireland – If you took a look at a typical Irishman’s diet there would most likely be a hearty amount of meat. Vegetarianism has an almost taboo-like quality in Ireland but Denis Cotter has been working to change that since the 1993 opening of his restaurant, Cafe Paradiso. This wonderful vegetarian eatery may have been a rarity at the time, but it has since become iconic to the city.
“I was really trying to invent a new cuisine in my own style,” Cotter said.
Cotter, who has also written “For the Love of Food” as well as three other cookbooks, describes the menu at Café Paradiso as ingredient-focused instead of recipe- focused. This allows for flexibility in the dishes to accommodate the vegetables that are growing especially well at the time.
Cotter is strongly influenced by local producers of vegetables and cheese. He has built a strong relationship with two in particular, Ultan Walsh and Lucy Stewart of Gort na Nain Farm. They met for the first time when Walsh visited the restaurant and offered to sell vegetables he had grown on a rented plot of land. Since then, Walsh and Stewart have moved to a new house on their own farm and Café Paradiso is their biggest customer.
“I only buy vegetables from people I like” Cotter said.
The trio of Walsh, Stewart, and Cotter work hard to bring the finest ingredients to the plate. Their dedication to quality doesn’t go unnoticed by their patrons. According to Regina Sexton, food historian and adult education course coordinator at University College Cork, the local joke is that the food at Café Paradiso is so good that you don’t even notice the meat is missing.
After an evening meal at Cafe Paradiso I can see the validity behind that statement. My three-course dinner consisted of a Macroom buffalo mozzarella appetizer, wild garlic tortellini with asparagus and peas, and a dark chocolate mousse with raspberries for desert. I would describe myself as a meat enthusiast, but for one night I had no regrets leaving it behind.