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3/15/2010 3:24:00 PM
St. Patrick's Day Chef's Tour of Ireland
A Fanciful Tour de Cuisine from County Dublin through County Galway
Cliff Castle Casino-Hotelís Storytellers Chef de Cuisine Joanne Kenney
Cliff Castle Casino-Hotelís Storytellers Chef de Cuisine Joanne Kenney
If You Go . . .
Storytellers St. Patrick's Day Tour of Ireland

Wednesday, March 17, 5-9 p.m.

By Lita Sorensen
Special to Kudos

It's been a meal three years in the making.

Cliff Castle Casino-Hotel's Storytellers Chef de Cuisine Joanne Kenney says she was looking through cook books a few years ago doing some menu research when she came across a listing featuring specialty dishes native to Ireland's various 'counties'- the centuries-old culturally specific areas that divide up the Emerald Isle even today.

She thought it sounded like a great idea for a culinary tour of Ireland, fit for a St. Patrick's Day moveable feast.

Unfortunately, scheduling at the restaurant got in the way of her plans. The first year, Storytellers wasn't open on St. Patrick's Day. The following year, "we decided we weren't going to do anything," Kenney said, citing reasons why her meal had to wait.

In the mean time, celebrity chef Bobbie Flay of Food Network fame came up with a similar concept which has just recently aired on cable television. "Now everyone will think I stole the idea," Kenney joked, "but it was mine first - two years ago!"

Originally from Massachusetts, Kenney has been cooking since 1978, working in several restaurants on the East Coast before making her way out west. She has been in Cliff Castle Casino-Hotel's restaurant kitchens for 10 years, starting out in The Gallery (the Casino's 24-hour restaurant), working her way up the ladder to her present position, in charge of Storytellers upscale menu offerings.

"I've had the privilege to work with some very talented people over the course of 25 years," she said in regards to her hands-on culinary training.

Kenney enjoys putting together fusion menus particularly. "This entails combining ingredients a little out of the ordinary -- creating items people don't usually think of or see," she said, noting however that this popular cooking trend, "doesn't work if the result doesn't taste good." Her Chicken Wellington entrée is an example of this kind of cooking style and is a very popular menu item at Storytellers restaurant.

For her Tour of Ireland menu, though, she was all about keeping flavors traditional and authentic so that the dishes are accurate and specific to their respective regions.

"There are many things I didn't realize about staples in Ireland until I did research," she said. "Their use of seafood, for instance, came as a surprise, as did the use of many different root vegetables throughout the regions. Traditional Irish food is not as I would have pictured it over the course of time."

Indeed, Irish cuisine within the country of Ireland is currently going through something of a renaissance, with the emergence of a new type of farm-to-fork aesthetic based on traditional ingredients. These meals are based on fresh vegetables, fish, oysters and other shellfish, a wide range of cheeses that are being made across the country, and the acclaimed Irish beef stock, according to the food and travel website www.dochara.com.

Of course, potatoes are still in vogue, too, and will be featured in Kenney's County Donegal dish -- Champ with Chives & Parsley.

"Guests can come expecting an authentic Irish menu experience and food with no green food coloring," Chef Kenney says. "We want them to be able to enjoy a non-commercialized St. Patrick's Day meal with traditional fare."

Storytellers Gourmet Steakhouse features fine dining and award-winning cuisine with and extensive wine list in a casual yet upscale atmosphere. It is located inside of Cliff Castle Casino in Camp Verde, on I-17, exit 289. For reservations, call (928) 567-7905.

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