We were honored to host internationally renowned seaweed expert Prannie Rhatigan of The Irish Seaweed Kitchen at Roots in 2015. Her comprehensive and informative talk was an eye-opener for many of the chefs in our audience who had never considered cooking with seaweed before except for incorporating it into a sushi role.
Prannie exuberantly shared with us the fascinating story of seaweed's role in Irish history beginning with the ancient era of the Celtic people and then the Romans and surviving all the way up to modern times. It was encouraging to hear that even though seaweed's role in Irish life waned for several decades, it is currently experiencing a popular resurgence in the gardens and bathtubs and on the tables of the Irish people.
This is thanks in no small part to Prannie's work with seaweed. She is also a medical doctor and lives in a northwestern corner of Ireland called Sligo where crashing ocean waves can be heard in nearly every corner of the region, the sea carrying seaweed to the shore during high tide where it is spread across the sand like an endless edible sea salad.
There are over six hundred varieties of seaweed in Ireland and on any given day, between her hospital and clinic work, Prannie is leading seaweed walks along the shoreline near Sligo, sharing seaweed wisdom, history, cooking and nutritional information with groups of people that include both tourists curious about the virtues of seaweed and local people who remember the tales their grandparents told them about seaweed and are interested in contributing to its revival.
Nearly every person in Ireland in the older generation has a story to share about seaweed and the integral role it played in their farming, health and cooking traditions. Many in the rural west recall the seaweed that was carried up from the sea to their farmland, spread across their fields to dry in the sparkling Irish sun. It was strewn across the land like thousands of sinewy fingers until it was dry enough to be pulverized and incorporated into soil.
The blend was used as a powerful fertilizer that was tilled into the fields, helping to ensure that the crops not only survived but thrived, sustaining the Irish people with nutritious and flavorful vegetables born in no small part of seaweed.
One of Prannie's good friends, the late Mick Walton of Voya Seaweed baths, was a pioneering seaweed gardener who inspired his region of Ireland to begin using seaweed once more in their fields. The tradition had all but died out throughout much of Ireland due to modern fertilizers touted as more effective than seaweed and soil.
But Mick wasn't buying it. A retired engineer, he began farming with seaweed and because of it, started producing massive vegetables that started earning him prizes throughout Europe. He soon became known as "the vegetable man" and gained renowned amongst farmers throughout the entire continent.
Mick's story does not begin and end at his vegetable garden, however. It also includes the story of the company he ran with his son Neil Walton. Neil was formerly a professional triathlete who used to train in Australia. Every time he took a seaweed bath following a grueling workout, he would recover in one day as opposed to the usual three.
This inspired him to talk to his father about opening a company that would provide seaweed baths and sell beauty products such as lotions and oils containing seaweed. Voya Seaweed Baths was born of this brainstorm. The company now sells its products in over forty nations throughout the world and is a thriving epicenter of the seaweed revival in Ireland.
Neil's idea wasn't a new one. Bathing in seaweed, which essentially means filling a bathtub with hot water and then adding to it gelatinous seaweed that leach toxins from the body, has been popular in Ireland since ancient Roman times. In fact, the location of Voya, in Strandhill near Sligo where Prannie lives, was once the site of a Roman bath, its structure still partly visible to visitors who know where to look.
Voya's success is not only due to Neil and Mick's sustainable company that delivers incredible health benefits to its clients. It's also a result of remembering. It's helping the Irish people remember the virtues of seaweed that have been celebrated by their ancestors for generations. Contemporary health practices and encroaching globalization along with the stigma that seaweed was only used by poor people nearly vanquished the Irish seaweed tradition.
But thanks so pioneers like Prannie, Mick and Neil, the Irish are once again opening their eyes and their hearts to seaweed. It's reconnecting them to their past and also propelling them into a future that is more sustainable, healthier, more nutritionally sound and also tastier thanks to seaweed, an abundant resource just waiting to be used along their shoreline.
We have long farmed with seaweed at The Chef's Garden and we were inspired by Prannie's commitment to and knowledge of a resource that we prize as much as she does. It adds nutritional prowess to our soil and provides out vegetables with an added dose of nutrients that help them achieve the flavorful state we are constantly striving for one the farm.
It was such a joy to welcome Prannie to Roots. Her talk really moved us but it was made even better when she served us a recipe from her seaweed cookbook during our outdoor dinner beneath the stars on the first day of Roots.
She got our long communal table of nearly two hundred chefs and other food enthusiasts started with her famed Irish seaweed smoothie which she created from the seaweed she brought with her from Ireland in her suitcase.
Prannie is a resourceful woman like that and it was a dream to harvest seaweed with her along the windy Irish shoreline a few months after the Roots conference concluded.
She inspired us so much that the CVI Executive Chef Jamie Simpson and Roots Curator Jody Eddy, who is honored to have called Prannie a dear friend ever since Jody lived in Ireland and profiled her for a cookbook she wrote there, journeyed to Sligo to join Prannie on a seaweed walk. We also enjoyed a meal with another of Prannie's friends, Eithne O'Sullivan of Eithne's By The Sea near Sligo. Eithne is a pioneering chef in Ireland who is one of the first to start using seaweed in her recipes.
It was such a thrill to walk alongside Prannie on the shoreline of Ireland learning about Irish seaweed and we will never forget her presentation at Roots where it was exciting to see the audience of chefs ask her question after question about cooking with seaweed.
Those are the moments we love most at Roots; those times when a wave of excitement spreads through our audience, they connect deeply with our presenters and carry home with them new wisdom that they apply in their own kitchens.
Tickets for Roots are now available at an early bird rate and we would love to have you join us for Roots: Innovate 2017. It promises to include people like Prannie, who will inspire you, open your eyes to a new idea and spark creativity and innovation in a way you've never experienced before.
And while you wait to attend Roots in September, we've included for you here a seaweed recipe from Prannie's amazing book, The Irish Seaweed Kitchen. Enjoy!
By Prannie Rhatigan
From The Irish Seaweed Kitchen
For something quick, easy and different, try this seafood crêpe, created in Malaysia.
Wear gloves and handle the nettle plants with care – they sting. Pick only the fresh young leaves at the top of the nettle. Never use a nettle that is in flower. Remove stalks and wash leaves.
For the crêpes
3 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 medium sized prawns, shelled and cubed, weight – about 55g (2oz)
3 teaspoons white flour, spelt works well
4 nori sheets, toasted and chopped finely or pulsed in coffee grinder
80ml (3fl oz) water
25g (1oz) butter for cooking prawns
25g (1oz) butter or 3 teaspoons oil for cooking crêpes
Seaweed used: Nori
Serves 2 – 3 (makes 3 crêpes)
Recipe doubles easily to make 6 crêpes
To prepare the crêpes
Serve hot, garnished with green salad and a chili dip.