Foraging and Fermenting with Kev Powell
By Emily Carson Photography by Killian Broderick
Kev Powell aka Gruel Guerrilla aka News of the Curd has been involved in some way or another with most of Dublin’s more exciting and niche food events over the past few years.
From hosting supper clubs in his beautiful apartment in Temple Bar (the only drawback of which is that it sits directly over Sin Nightclub) to cheffing and consulting for cafés like 3FE, Meet Me in the Morning and Belfast’s Established, to running pop-up dinner events in beautiful and sometimes unlikely venues (essentially derelict buildings, clothes shops, nightclubs). Powell not only has an eye for good food, he has worked with local producers and become a keen forager to try and exploit the best of what Ireland has to offer and give new insight into the ingredients that we see around us. His supper clubs are also incredible value, with next week’s event offering a gut-busting twelve courses in exchange for what you feel the meal is worth. We wanted to know what kind of mindset leads him to approach food and cooking in this way so we grabbed him for a chat:
‘I would eat three croissants, one chicken fillet roll and two litres of strawberry milk…six days a week.’
How long have you been cooking and what inspired you to start?
I cooked when I was little with my Nanny. My Mam always loved baking and my Dad always loved eating. Then I moved around a lot from when I was about 15, I never really had access to a kitchen for a long time. I got really fat (I’m still fat, but not as fat) when I was working for a mobile phone company. I would eat three croissants, one chicken fillet roll and two litres of strawberry milk…six days a week.
The rest of the time it was orange duck and fried noodles. I then realised I was really sad, super sad. I quit the job and moved to Belturbet in Co.Cavan on the invitation of a childhood friend. Once there, I was taught to rear sheep and pigs. My friend’s mother was Silke Cropp, the artisan cheesemaker, who is responsible for some many wonderful things in the food industry here and is also entirely responsible for why I am who I am now. I owe her everything, I reckon.
‘I went for a few jaunts around Europe, took a lot of strange things, came home and began News of the Curd.’
I found that food I made using amazing ingredients satisfied me so much more than just stuffing myself. I stayed on the farm pretty much for three years. I came back, got my apartment and started working in Fallon & Byrne on the cheese counter till I was asked to come to Brooklodge and set up a dairy for them. We began, we had a plan, then my Dad died, then my Grandad died and I decided ‘fuck it’ I’m not working for a while. I went for a few jaunts around Europe, took a lot of strange things, came home and began News of the Curd.
I set up a Wednesday night supper that was meat and two veg. Six people, one table and a €25 donation. The day after I’d release all the recipes so that you could replicate whatever you had liked from the meal. We did that for two years straight and watched our age group and demographic change.
I set up Gruel Guerrilla to increase the footfall of independent business through one off events using the same ethos of using only Irish produced foods. In the last two years I’ve radically changed how we present the food to people, focusing on singular ingredients and our meals have increased to between 12 and 15 courses.
Fresh veg from the People’s Park Market
What do you enjoy and despise about inviting guests into your home for supper clubs?
I enjoy that having strangers over has taught me to keep a pretty clean house. I love chatting to people. There’s very little I despise, we’ve only had one bad guest ever. Sometimes it’s hard to get people to leave at the end of the meal because after knocking out twelve courses you can be a little sleepy.
‘There’s very little I despise, we’ve only had one bad guest ever.’
You have a clear focus on foraging and fermenting foods – what led you to begin foraging?
I love it! This year especially has been a huge learning experience. Foraging came from a curiosity of what I could find in Dublin and I found loads. Mark from Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms has been a huge help, he gets a lot of photos sent to him. Dublin has really proven to be impressive for what it can produce. Thanks Dublin x
What has been the best thing you’ve learnt from becoming a forager and what is a good way to get involved in foraging?
Hmmm, looking around, so important, see everything and always ask someone who knows more about it. Get the book Food for Free by Richard Mabey.
Oyster pickled in brown rice vinegar, beetroot and blackcurrant with fresh fennel and Mag Kirwan‘s trout caviar cured in sake lees.
Are there any foraging spots you would be loath to tell people about?
Bushy Park is great for Alexanders one of the most versatile plants you could use, from root, stem, leaf, flower and seed pods. The best blackberries are around Irishtown and the docks. Everything else is a secret….
‘The best blackberries are around Irishtown and the docks. Everything else is a secret….’
What is your main motivation for concentrating on fermentation?
Preservation and curiosity, focusing on only Irish ingredients and making everything from scratch normally means that I need to find alternatives to certain things. Fermenting brings new and interesting flavours to the plate.
What is available out of Irish grown ingredients that we should all be fermenting but it hasn’t occurred to us?
Elderberry capers. Basically like Wild Garlic capers but they’ve a beautiful wine like flavour. We salt them for three weeks, wash them and put them in cider vinegar.
Fermented and pickled treats
Tell us a bit about your upcoming dinner and what inspired the menu?
It’s a 12 course meal. It’s inspired by the changing of the season and how we are bringing produce from the start of the summer forward through different ways of preservation.
Can you tell us a bit about your suppliers and what dishes you’re particularly proud of in this menu?
Well, I love all our suppliers, they’re fantastic and interesting people. I speak with Mark from Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms and Silke from Corleggy most often and they almost always feature on our menus. All the menus are a concept till the first night we plate them, none are tested beforehand. So, as far as proud…probably the veal tostada dish because it’s my first successful time to cure egg yolks in miso!
‘I had been at Ballymaloe Litfest for them and when they asked me to go I said “tacos or death”.’
I know you were recently involved in the British Street Food championships and won an award – can you take us through that a little bit?
We work really closely with Charlie from Broughgammon Farm, they’re a sustainable farm from the North coast who take surplus bull calves and billy goats from the dairy industry.I had been at Ballymaloe Litfest for them and when they asked me to go I said “tacos or death”. So we did tacos, and one of the mornings I made goat kidney breakfast tacos. They were magical, so the guys made their offal taco (as it was now called) and took it to the Northern Irish heats for the competition. They won and we were all off to Birmingham. We got there, we were the loudest, we perfected our technique and sold about 500 tacos. Then the announcement came and we had won the Best Street Food snack. We were a close second too with an honourable mention in the closing speeches.
Pickled egg. Wild garlic aioli. Sauerkraut. Currant gin soaked caviar.
What other exciting projects are you involved with that you’d like to share with us?
I’m currently knocking out tasty brunches with Katie Quinn in Meet me in the Morning at the weekend. This week we’ve got some tasty treats lined up. I currently have an idea to bring back my doughnuts but need to find myself a little home for them. I do have a coffee machine sitting in my apartment but I’m currently keeping that project on the long finger.