A Bunbeg man enjoyed the taste of success at the 2nd Annual National Chowder Cook-Off which took place in Kinsale on Sunday last. Hugh Sweeney from Fisherman’s Son, Irish Lobster Ltd, was the sole Donegal representative at the event and while he did not win the overall competition he has, by all accounts, a deliciously fishy tale to tell!
Indeed almost 800 people descended on the grounds of Acton’s Hotel in the Co. Cork town for the event which saw Hugh and chefs from all over Ireland serve up pots and pots of delicious creamy chowder. The competitors, made up of chefs, fishermen and commercial chowder producers travelled from all corners of Ireland to participate in the Cook-Off.
Members of the public were the judges in the highly anticipated contest, and on entry each received a voting card which allowed them to sample all chowders from the individual stalls and cast their vote to crown Ireland’s chowder champion 2012.
Hugh had been working in IT up to 2010 and when his last contract ended, he took the opportunity to follow his passion and get involved in the food business.
“Cooking is something I have always loved and I particularly enjoy experimenting with ingredients to produce dishes which best complement the flavour of fresh produce. Coming from a fishing background, my dad Joe is a fisherman in Bunbeg and I regularly fished with him during the summer months, it was a logical step to get involved in seafood.
I established my company Irish Lobster with a view to supplying shell fish to the restaurant trade. It gradually evolved to include trading at Farmers markets in Dublin and it was here that my brand ‘Fisherman’s Son’ was developed. We currently supply restaurants in Dublin with crab meat, scallops and live lobster.
“At the Farmers markets we sell lobster, fresh fish, fresh crab meat, and an array of homemade products including crab and melon salad, scallop bakes, crab tartlets, cod and Chorizo bake, monkfish and prawn Thai curry and seafood chowder to name but a few. Having expanded to include these value added products, I am standing on my own with both repeat customers and new customers via word of mouth. The ‘Fisherman’s Son’ chowder is very popular. It is a recipe which has been in my family for generations.
“It was a great honour when I was asked by Martin ‘Fishy Fishy’ Shanahan of RTÉ’s Martin’s Mad About Fish fame to take part in the National Chowder Cook Off in Kinsale representing Donegal. It was a wonderful event and an ideal opportunity to showcase my traditional Donegal Seafood chowder. Some of the most celebrated chefs in the country took part with the award winning Tannery Restaurant, Kellys of Rosslare, Brook Lodge, Zuni Restaurant, Kilkenny and MacNean House, Blacklion represented. To be competing with these established restaurants made all the hard work and effort in developing my ‘Fisherman’s Son’ brand over the last two years worthwhile.
“The day itself was a great success and there was plenty of jovial banter between the participants and the general public. There were almost 800 people in attendance and everybody joined in the spirit of the day. Of course there was also no shortage of excellent chowder on offer. My wife Tina, also from Donegal makes the best Guinness bread I have ever tasted which of course was the perfect accompaniment to my ‘Fisherman’s Son’ chowder!
“The competition was very stiff but the feedback I received from the other chefs taking part and the general public who had the casting vote was very positive. I was aware that my products struck a cord with my regular customers as my seafood dishes regularly sell out at the farmers markets but it is encouraging to know that ‘Fisherman’s Son’ is a brand which is popular nationally and I hope to cultivate this.
Ultimately, Hugh says he was very proud to represent his county at this year’s National Championship and hoped this would be the first of many for ‘Fisherman’s Son’.
I have found a career that I am passionate about and my day in Kinsale has strengthened my belief in this brand and I am more confident for the future of ‘Fisherman’s Son’.
For more information on Hugh’s products see his website at www.irishlobster.ie or you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org