Maria McNeela, Foodie-Queen and Rustic Grub
The fabulous Maria McNeela is making her mark on the foodie scene in the West. Chairperson of Slowfood Galway and owner of Rustic Grub in Clarinbridge, Maria hails from Mayo where she and her five siblings grew up. Her parents were successful vegetable farmers who had stalls at four markets in the West of Ireland. She credits them with instilling in her a love of authentic, fresh and locally grown produce an ethos that has worked for her ever since.
“My mother was totally self-sufficient, “says Maria. “She made her butter, black pudding and all our clothes. My parents taught me about food integrity.”
Maria recounts one of her earliest memories as standing up on a stool with her sister stirring soup. She lied about her age in order to get into Cooking School in Killybegs, Donegal. Luckily for her, the College discovered her ruse after she had impressed them with her natural ability, so they allowed her to stay. She travelled widely and worked in Belgium, France and Holland imbibing the food culture of the continent and learning much. She became even more appreciative of the quality of food here in Ireland.
It was a long-held dream to open a restaurant and one which she realised in July this year. Rustic Grub started as a popup in Sherry’s Bar in Clarinbridge, but it has become so popular that she now opens three days a week with a view to increasing opening hours eventually.
Foodie Queen and Foraging
Maria has an allotment in Merlin Woods and grows a wide assortment of vegetables. She forages in the countryside in all seasons for the rich bounty that nature provides.
“Customers know I am a dedicated forager” she laughs.”I am constantly being given gifts of excess fruit and veg and whatever people find on their land.”
She enlisted the help of local children to pick blackberries and was soon awash with buckets of the glistening ripe fruit. She has made jams, relishes and chutneys from seasonal fruit that she sells in the restaurant. She has persuaded local fishermen to take her out fishing for mackerel that she serves up later that same evening. She bribes them with pizza, another hit on the menu. Her wood oven pizzas made to order with gorgeous toppings are immensely popular.
Slow Food Galway
Maria was a member of Eurotoques, a professional chef association. She became aware of the Slow Food movement. This foodie philosophy, originating in mainland Europe had reached our shores fairly recently. The ethos of good, clean and fair food which celebrates all that is local and seasonal, reflects her food philosophy exactly. She joined and has become a driving force. Food, well prepared from fresh natural ingredients, served in an attractive setting just can’t be beaten.
Since Maria has been chairperson, her plan is to attract younger members and families to the movement. The events are always in wonderful venues, and each has a different theme. I was at two spectacularly successful autumn and spring forages and loved the talks on indigenous edible mushrooms, culinary herbs and demonstrations of cider pressing. Each event is informative and fun with the most delicious food. If you would like to know more click here. http://www.slowfoodgalway.com
The Foodie Queen of the West is making her mark, and I wish her very success in her journey.