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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019

Death row meals and dream dinner dates: We talk to James Kavanagh and William Murray

‘Cooking is like a muscle you have to exercise.’

THE CURRABINNY COOKBOOK had been simmering in the background for a number of years.

While James Kavanagh documented doing his daily bits in Dublin and William Murray played up the role of his long-suffering other half, behind the scenes the two men were working tirelessly on a passion project which ultimately became The Currabinny Cookbook.

Published by Penguin Ireland, the fruit of their labour has been immortalised in a 240-page hard-backed book which hit stores the length and breadth of Ireland in recent weeks. caught up with James and William to chat death-row meals, dream dinner dates and how someone (ie. me) should go about dipping their toe in the world of cooking when the memory of Home Ec has cast a long shadow.

First off, huge congratulations on the book! You must be thrilled.

‘Well, it’s just all so real now. It’s gone from a dream to actually seeing it on the bookshelves. It’s surreal,” William replied.

“Yesterday, we saw a woman holding the book, and we were standing there going ‘Is she going to buy it? Is she going to buy it?’ James laughed.

When I told him that a well-known Irish author once disclosed that her father had a habit of rearranging displays in local bookshops to ensure hers were taking centre-stage, James roared laughing.

My parents would do that! Because my career has been slightly unusual, they’ve now become obsessed with different parts of it. They ring me talking about book charts and everything, so I can actually see them rearranging displays for me.

Given the sheer breadth of their repertoire, we kick off with talk of the lads’ favourite recipes.

‘Mine would be the White Chocolate Pecan Banana Loaf,” James said, while for William, it’s the Ruby Chard Korma.

‘I still haven’t tired of making it,” William told me by way of explanation. “Whereas I must have made the loaf 800 times by now.”

“At least,” James interjects.

As it was one of their first creations, it inadvertently became their signature offering, meaning that the masses wouldn’t rest until they had gotten their hands on a loaf or two.

We would arrive to markets having thought ‘Oh, they’ll like this or this will do well’ and we’ll get there and everyone would be like ‘Where’s the loaf? Where’s the banana loaf?’

So, what is the hardest recipe in the book to master? Asking for a friend.

James took the reins here, explaining:

To be honest, when we had our initial chat with Penguin, we had about 100 more recipes than actually ended up in the book, but we decided we wanted it to be very much a beginner level, so nothing in it is too hard.

“You know, we’re both home cooks, we live in the city, we like quick and easy recipes and that’s what you’ll find in the book,” William added.

Considering that I once made scrambled eggs which resembled a loofah, I wasn’t too convinced, but I’m keen to learn which is probably why I uttered the following line.

“Cooking is an art and baking is a science,” I venture in an effort to sound like I know anything about the culinary world.

“Absolutely!” William replied.

Thank you, William.

chocolate cake hybrid Source: Penguin Ireland

“James is better with cakes. He’s better with recipes that call for precision,’ he continues. ‘I’m more bish-bash, throw something in, give it a stir.”

“Food shouldn’t be a chore,” he adds.

As someone who is obsessed by the content (and cleanliness) of other people’s fridges, I needed to know what I’d find if I had a root in theirs.

They answer together, finishing each other’s sentences.

There will always be mayo and butter, like everyone probably. And then you’re likely to find herbs. Oh, cheese. We always have a few varieties of cheese; we’d have a soft one, then a hard one, maybe a Parmesan and we’d always have a cheddar.

Yes; yes to cheese.

If we both get home late and don’t feel like cooking, we love toasties so we always make sure we have the makings of a toastie. We’d have ingredients for pesto. Oh, and we always have a bottle of Elderflower Cordial.

And with that, I turned the conversation to execution – as you do – with a line of enquiry focussing primarily on death-row meals.

Ignoring the morbid nature of the question – for which I was grateful – the lads jumped straight in.

“OK, it’s a bit basic, but I’d definitely go for something like a roast chicken dinner,” James began.

We have a recipe for the harissa roast chicken dinner in the book which I’d have. And for dessert, I’d have a soaked orange cake.

“I know there is a world of amazing food out there, but if I was on death row, I’d be craving comfort food,” William said, which – to be fair – makes complete sense given the hypothetical situation I had placed him in.

So, I’d go for a creamy pasta, a very creamy pasta, with peas and ham. And for the dessert I’d go for the Pear and Frangapane tart we have in the book.

When I told the lads that they could also have a cocktail given the fact they were on their way out, James opted for a Whiskey Sour while William was all about the Old Fashioned.

Refusing to veer too far from talk of death or, indeed, dinner, I surged ahead with my next question.

OK, you can invite three people to a dinner party, living or dead. Who are you picking?

“I think about this all the time, ” James immediately answers before opting to let William go first.

William clearly hasn’t given it as much thought as James (or me, for that fact) so takes a little longer to choose.

I’d pick Nigel Slater because he’s my food hero, but I’d actually probably be a bit nervous to cook for him! I’m really not sure after that. I’m not great on the celebrity names.

Seeing his cue, James rushes in, reciting his guest list (and the reasons) with all the certainty of someone who does, indeed, think about it all the time.

“Nigella Lawson because I think she’s gaaaas. I love her midnight wanders,” he begins.

And then Enya. And then Goldie Hawn. I think me and Goldie would have the craic. Under the table, necking wine.

We return to William, who with a little prompting from James, chooses Joni Mitchell because ‘you were listening to her all morning; you like her’ and Stevie Nicks.

I get the lads to cast their minds back on the early days of their relationship, and ask whether they recall the first meal they cooked for each other.

“I’d say it was pasta,” William began. “Yep, it was pre-Ballymaloe so it would have been something studenty. It was pasta or maybe a stir-fry.”

‘I made William a potato gratin which was one of my mum’s recipes. She passed it down to me,” James remembers.

Noting the comfort-food nature of both dishes, James agreed:

We’re all about taste, first and foremost. And the dishes we make and the recipes we create are always a little indulgent.

So, as someone who was scarred by five years of Home Ec classes and genuinely bristles if anyone focusses too much attention on me in the kitchen, I ask for hints on how to conquer a fear of cooking.

‘You can’t aim too high,” advises James.

I remember when I started cooking, I would aim too high, fail, be angry and then not want to cook for weeks. It’s all about baby steps.

William is with him on this one, adding: “Cooking is like a muscle you have to exercise.”

If I’ve been really busy and haven’t cooked in like two weeks, I won’t attempt anything too difficult in the kitchen. You’re not in the right head space and you don’t have the fluidity.

“A lot of cooking is based on confidence, so start small and work your way up. Master small dishes like making homemade dips and humous, and work your way up the ladder,” James added.

James and William’s dinner-party guest list gives an insight into their culinary heroes, but I wanted to know who they relate to least.

While the lads are reluctant to name their least favourite chefs, acknowledging how difficult they themselves would find the role, James admitted that Gordon Ramsey came to mind.

“I can’t cope with all the roaring, It’s too much for me,” he explains before clarifying that while he would struggle working alongside the TV chef, his success obviously cannot be underestimated.

As they make clear in the book; James and William are not chefs or any kind of experts, they’re ‘just devoted foodies and home cooks’, whose aim is to simply inspire, nourish, comfort and delight.

James and William will be taking over the DailyEdge Instagram next weekend at Currabinny Tasting in Cork.

DailyEdge is on Instagram!

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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