In praise of the Luas

 

Luas map 2015
Luas map 2012

By Aoife Lawless

The Luas Cross City is the name given to the new extensions planned for the Luas by the year 2017. The plans include extending the Luas line across the city from Stephens Green to Broomfield and are proposed to include the much anticipated ‘missing link’ between the red line and the green line.

In 2014, the Luas had been in operation for ten years. This June marks it’s eleventh year as a main feature of Dublin’s transport services. The Luas was first proposed in April 1994 and would not launch for a further ten years.

Construction began on the Luas in October 2000. Ten years on the Luas continues to expand across the city and has already added numerous new stops either side of it’s two lines, the Green Line and the Red Line. In 2008 the red line extended as far as the Point depot on Dublin’s northside.

In October 2010 The Green line extended by 11km with 9 new Stops to Brides Glen.In july 2011 The Red Line was extended by 4.5km with 5 new stops taking passengers as far as Saggart.

Future extensions plan to bridge the gap between the two current lines and join them both. The new lines are planned to extend from St Stephen’s green as far as Broomfield and boast a mere “21 minutes to travel the 5.6Km from St. Stephen’s Green to Broombridge”.

https://www.luascrosscity.ie/about/

Humans under fire

Andrew Chan, left, and Myuran Sukumaran, right awaiting trial in 2006
Andrew Chan, left, and Myuran Sukumaran, right awaiting trial in 2006

By Aoife Lawless

On the 29th April 2015 eight men were executed by firing squad in Indonesia for drug trafficking crimes. Among them were the two named ring leaders of the infamous Bali Nine, the Australian group who attempted to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Bali into Australia.

After lengthy drawn out legal proceedings spanning nine years, the two were finally executed at midnight on the 29th April. They were led into the forest and given the choice of standing kneeling or sitting for the ordeal. The two Australian men had vowed to stay strong in the face of death, wishing their families to have an image of strength in their final moments.

They sang ‘Amazing Grace’ as they marched to their final destiny and refused to wear blindfolds as they faced their executors on ‘execution island’, Nusa Kambangan, Bali.

In 2013 the moratorium on the death penalty in Indonesia was lifted and in March of that year a Malawi national was the first person to be executed there in four years.  The execution was carried out by firing squad. The crime; drug trafficking.

In November 2014 Indonesia saw the election of a new president, Joko Widodo. The young President Widodo, a former street kid from Jakarta, has taken a firm stance on the death penalty for drug trafficking since his election. In January the fresh faced young president caused much controversy when he ordered the first round of executions under his rule; six foreigners by firing squad.

The six were made up of Dutch, Brazilian, Nigerian, Malawian, Indonesian and Vietnamese men all on death row for drug trafficking. Both the Dutch and Brazilian leaders fought hard against the death penalty for their citizens. All pleas for the lives of their countrymen were in vain. The two countries were so outraged by the deaths that they pulled their ambassadors from Indonesia post execution.

President Widodo did not waste time lining up a second round of death row prisoners and in February gave notice to another group of people that their executions were imminent.

Amongst the second round were the two Australian men Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran from Sydney. These two men were named as the ring leaders of a drug trafficking syndicate known as the Bali nine. The group of nine young Australians were arrested in 2005 for attempting to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Indonesia to Australia. While the other seven members were given life imprisonment Chan and Sukumaran were given a death sentence.

http://bl.ocks.org/anonymous/raw/34bf0fa5670b94d597de

In 2015 when the two men received notice of their executions they had served almost ten years in Keroboken prison, Bali.

The Australian government made numerous appeals for clemency on behalf of these two as they have proven to be fully rehabilitated in their nine years of incarceration.

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[View the story “Humans under fire” on Storify]

Myuran Sukumaran studied fine art and went on to teach art classes at Keroboken prison to young inmates. He also held several art exhibitions with many of his art works selling worldwide. His last wish was to be allowed to continue painting until the very last moment. Many of his final works were self portraits, emulating the trauma and emotional upheaval he was experiencing in his last days.

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Andrew Chan studied Theology and had attempted to become a Pastor. He held bible studies classes with other offenders. He also taught cooking classes in the prison and was well liked and respected in his nine years at the prison. He married his long term girlfriend on the eve of his execution with all his family present. This was his last wish. He made time to visit with other inmates on death row to say final goodbyes and say “It was good knowing you mate” before being led to his death. Unusually, Chan wrote his own eulogy which was read aloud by a friend at his funeral in Sydney. “It is even in death there is still a lesson to be learnt. We learn that you don’t need to be old to die, nor do we need to have something wrong with us, but we learn that when it’s time to go home, God has the kitchen table and sink ready.”

The eight men executed on April 29th were not given the traditional ‘last meal’ requests and instead shared a last supper of KFC chicken fast food.

Human rights

The case of the two Aussie men have highlighted many issues regarding human rights for prisoners held on death row in Indonesia. The first question, of course, lies with Indonesia and how they assess prisoners on death row without evaluating rehabilitation. The UN chief Ban Ki-moon publicly implored with Indonesia for clemency prior to the executions.

As well as these issues, Australia’s unstoppable legal forces refusing to take no for an answer and dragging the case out further and further must surely have had an impact on the mentality of the convicted, as they were not being given the chance to have time for acceptance of their fate and were instead constantly being given false hope.

Andrew Chan confided in a friend that he “never believed it would actually happen”, in regards to the death sentence. Not surprisingly, as the two men had been held in Keroboken for nine years and observed the moratorium on the death penalty.

The two men were young when initially arrested, Chan was 21 years old and Sukumaran was 23 years old. When their lives were ended they were 31 years old and 33 years old.

British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, 58, remains on death row in Keroboken prison where she was a prison mate and close friend of Andrew Chans. Sandiford was arrested in May 2012 on arrival to Bali from Bangkok, Thailand. She was found with 4.8kg of cocaine in the lining of her suitcase and sentenced to death.

Sandiford maintains that she was forced to smuggle the drugs by a drugs gang who were threatening to harm her family if she did not carry out the crime.

She has spoken of her grief over losing her friend and how it is has resolved her to her own fate. She said “if they can execute someone as good as Andrew, what hope is there for me?”. In solidarity with the recently deceased Sandiford has vowed to also sing in the face of her executioners and refuse a blindfold. Her chosen anthem is ‘Magic Moments’ by Perry Como. Chan and Myuran sang the hauntingly beautiful tune of ‘Amazing Grace’, a highly apt and profound melody under the circumstances.

Sandiford has stated, since the recent executions, that she just ‘wants to get it over with’. She no longer holds out any hope for clemency, despite her claim that she was forced into smuggling drugs under the duress that her family were threatened if she did not do so. British legal teams have withdrawn from her cause, claiming they have no further avenues to pursue in her case and that fees have been exhausted. Sandiford reached out to comedian turned activist Russell Brand after he released a video condemning the execution of Sukumaran and Chan through his youtube broadcast ‘The Trews’.

The most disheartening factor in the case of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran is the lack of acknowledgement of their massive attempts at rehabilitation while incarcerated. Numerous individuals in contact with the two men spoke of their drastic change and mission to rehabilitate other young offenders, even setting up programmes within the prison which did not exist prior to their time.

Indonesia remains one of the remaining few countries to impose the death penalty. Amnesty reports that 140 countries dropped the death penalty in 2013. It also reports that  “In 2013, 22 countries around the world were known to have carried out executions and at least 57 to have imposed death sentences”.

Since 2013 Indonesia has executed 19 people. The president has no intention of stopping there. If proven rehabilitated prisoners will not receive clemency, there wouldn’t appear to be much hope for the remaining inmates of death row.

https://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?docid=1mgHgUaq8Jye-E5JWKxrZ2MeqdQr7tLE41-UxTHoA

A taste of the sea at Matt the Thresher

By Aoife Lawless

Matt the Thresher, Pembroke street
Matt the Thresher, Pembroke street

Seafood lovers of the nation, stop what you’re doing and listen up! If like me, the edible bounties of the sea linger first and foremost in your ideal culinary experience then I give you; Matt the Threshers of Pembroke street, Dublin.

I had heard of this restaurant many times and was aware that it promotes fresh fish and seafood in a fine dining and elegant arena, yet it was only recently that I had the joy of beholding its fishy wonder and wares first hand.

Being a coastal native, I’ve grown up with an inherent respect for all the delights our ocean has to offer. As a child collecting periwinkles and crab fishing was a common pastime during summer months. The sight of crates of whelks by the pier, wafting their fresh and salty odours as they squirmed helplessly by the basin in Courtown is a vivid memory from childhood.

This being the case, when I crave seafood I will not be sated by pathetic offerings of defrosted king prawns, frostbitten sea soldiers disguised in rich sauces.

It is exactly for this reason that when I visit coastal areas renowned for their seafood, such as Donegal and Wexford that I become positively childlike in my excitement at the treasures proffered in their eateries. In my twelve years in Dublin my expectations for the capital to meet these expectations in the same manner has become pessimistic and positively jaded.

It was then to my absolute delight to stumble upon the online menu for Matt the Thresher upon googling ‘top seafood in Dublin’. While hungrily ogling the menu online, my jaw dropped and quickly reset into grinning even drooling position to read of their ‘taste of the sea’ platter, an oceanic cacophony of oysters, crab arms and toes, prawns, lobster and a seasonal variety of shellfish. My mind was blown! The downside was, oh dear, the asking price of €60. Was I deterred? Was I heck! I may be a student on a budget but I have my priorities. I have been searching for the holy grail of the marine world, so who am I to look it in the face and argue over value. The ‘Phew’ moment came when my companion and I were seated and I enquired as to whether it was a sharing platter, the relieving answer was, “Yes, of course!” Happy days, €30 saved! I’ll have a glass of Sancerre to celebrate and celebratory it should be at €11.95 a glass.

Our waitress for the evening was most intuitive. Once we learned of the sharing aspect of the platter and paused to deliberate over starters, she helpfully suggested the main course crab claws to share which, in our ravenous states we jumped upon eagerly and jokingly noted her telepathy.

The crab toes were a wonder, not purely because of their fleshy goodness, but because of the simply rich and glorious savoury butter that dressed their de-shelled bodies. My palate recognised the usual notes of lemon, dill and chilli within the clarified butter which was a vibrant amber colour. They were served up with simply delicious homemade brown malt bread which was made to marry successfully with all seafood.

When the platter itself was set in front of us, it was indeed a taste of the sea and nothing short of all my wildest seafood imaginings. The bountiful collection of crustaceans and molluscs were ingeniously spread over two tiers, one hot, one cold.

The chilled bottom tier consisted of shucked oysters and little boats of baby gem leaves holding king prawns in marie rose. In the middle lay a small bowl of cold crab meat in a light dressing.

The top tier was filled with steaming mountains of mussels and clams along with crab toes and prawns. Atop this sat huge crab arms and lobster claw and tail. The latter called for the use of the weaponry we had been armed with on ordering, a nutcrackers and a special long and thin fork-like device, used to draw the meat from beneath the stubborn shells of crustaceans. The hot molluscs were deliciously fresh and salty. We plucked them from their shells in quick succession one after another after another, breaking only to tackle the big guns; the crab and lobster.

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At this point I should also mention the assortment of condiments and sauces we received with our mammoth dish, these included two flavoured butters, one of which was citrus, marie rose sauce, shallot vinegar (perfect for oysters) and Tabasco. It was after some time that we began to slow down and eventually come to a very final halt. It was with a heavy heart that I looked at the still teeming two tiered tower of uneaten shellfish. My personal mantra of ‘never leave a prawn behind’, instead of encouraging was now taunting. I was defeated.

In retrospect, I think that not alone should this be advised as a sharing platter for two, but for three. The leftovers could have easily fed a third person amply. A doggie bag was never so necessary.

That night I slept with one eye open half expecting a knock on the door from Greenpeace calling me to task for depleting the oceans.

The experience overall was fantastic and I shall definitely return and probably very soon, but next time maybe to try their Dover sole or even just for a bowl of fresh mussels and that tasty brown bread. The best part of it all, guilt aside, was the bill at the end of the meal only came to €130 including various glasses of wine, the aforementioned Sancerre, Chablis and a less costly but much more palatable Viognier. Pretty good considering the excellent quality of the meal, great service and pleasant surroundings.

Matt the Thresher, I will certainly be darkening your door again, Greenpeace and creatures of the ocean, please forgive me for I have sinned and will again..

Why does the kitchen have a glass ceiling?

Female culinary students are at a premium but where are all the female chefs?
Female culinary students are at a premium but where are all the female chefs?

Aoife Lawless looks at what is holding back women chefs in high-end restaurants…

What’s happening to all our female chefs? When I enrolled in Culinary Arts six years ago my fellow female classmates were in the majority, and most of us wanted to be chefs. A recent study conducted a survey of 170 Irish head chefs: only 15% were female. So where have the women gone?

“Cooking has traditionally always been female,” says Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire, veteran lecturer at DIT Cathal Brugha Street. Mac Con Iomaire doesn’t agree that the industry as a whole is male dominated, and says the issue of gender divide in the professional kitchen boils down to “positions of seniority rather than a question of male dominance”.

There is, he admits, a historic division of labour. “Historically, the female ‘cooks’ veered into institutional cooking, such as in hospitals and schools, whereas their male counterparts sought out ‘status’ as leading chefs in renowned restaurants. Female cooks, male chefs!” Similar “glass ceilings”, he says, loom over other professions such as teaching and nursing.

Mac Con Iomaire went on to give me at least twenty names of prominent female chefs in the present day, most at Michelin level, spanning Britain and Ireland. However, such a short list succeeding only in driving me back to my original question: Where are all the female chefs?

“Female chefs are often pushed towards the pastry section,” says researcher Mary Farrell. “A female chef interning at Dublin’s prestigious Michelin starred restaurant, Chapter One, was directed towards pastry by her male mentor, advising her that‘that’s where you’ll make money’.” Farrell, a PhD student, is trying to answer, in rigorous academic terms, that same question as to the whereabouts of leading female chefs.

“They’ll make excuses about unsociable hours, the desire to rear a family and the assumption that female chefs will want to veer into pastry at some stage of their careers”,says Farrell, who doesn’t buy these answers and instead believes that “the industry itself is to blame”, that the male chefs in positions of leadership are controlling the fate of their female subordinates.

A successful business woman herself, Farrell graduated from Cathal Brugha Street in 1984, long before the Culinary Arts programme became a degree. She has owned multiple businesses in the hospitality industry; she was head chef at one of these, Café Fresh, a vegetarian restaurant in the Powerscourt centre.. At present she owns and runs a catering company accommodating for special dietary requirements  such as Coeliac disease, dairy intolerance and diabetes.

She has in the past worked with a male head chef who was “aggressive and resistant to change”, she says, creating an awkward and hostile kitchen environment for all his colleagues. As a woman, she was treated as though she “didn’t know what she was talking about”, no matter what the issue, and his opinion was “absolute”. When he left her organisation he went on to work at a Michelin level restaurant and she was forced to take over the kitchen. “In his absence a change occurred in the kitchen – the tension was lifted and the staff were happy.” She doesn’t think male chefs can look far enough past their own ego to see a restaurant as a whole entity, as a business, not just a stage on which they play the lead.

Tom Kerridge, head chef of the Hand and Flowers, a Michelin two-star gastro-pub in England, made some controversial statements regarding female chefs at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in October. “I like girls in the kitchen a lot: it brings down that testosterone level.” He continued to disparage female chefs, stating that women lack the “fire in the belly” to make it at Michelin level. “They are out there; it’s just whether it’s the industry for them. I’m not sure, at that level,” he added before further patronising remarks such as “girls in a kitchen make blokes feel happy at work” before covering himself with a last-minute save: “This doesn’t apply to just girls. We have loads of blokes who do a runner because the pressure and intensity of cooking at that level is so intense.”

All this talk made me think about my own kitchen experiences and reflected on how I had been treated as a young female chef.

On my first internship I was immediately referred to the pastry chef for training in a separate kitchen from the main one. The pastry chef was delighted to have company in his usually segregated kitchen and I was relieved to not be joining a much feared “boys’ club” environment. I meekly pointed out in my mid- apprenticeship review with my college supervisor and head chef that I had no interest in pastry and perhaps I could be involved in the workings of the main kitchen. I was then entrusted to the sous-chef, a pregnant Polish woman who was strict but kind and taught me more in one month than I’d learned in all of my first year in college. The chef directly under her, a male chef, barked orders at me daily and refused to give me measurements for recipes whilst scoffing at my inadequacies.

In my third year I interned at Fallon & Byrne and it was here that I fell back in love with cooking; I had already begun plotting a career as a writer, but this place drew me toward a career as a chef. The hierarchy of the restaurant was equally divided between males and females. The head chef was only 30 and had risen to his position not only through years of experience, but also through education. He had returned to Cathal Brugha Street a couple of years after completing his chef training in order to study management and it was with his combined skills he achieved head-chef status. His sous-chef was a very pregnant and very capable woman of the same age. They had worked together at a hotel and when he graduated to the position of head chef at Fallon & Byrne he took her with him, along with two other female chef-de-parties. Below the head- and sous-chef, male chef-de-parties outnumbered females three to two, but the numbers were evened out with the addition of a pastry chef and occasional chef-de-partie. Another intern from Cathal Brugha Street was female and, lastly, the recently promoted kitchen porter was a male commis-chef. The female chefs were both feared and respected, though they rarely raised their voices. They made it clear they had standards and these were adhered to even when they were not present. I continued to work for them throughout my final year in college and was never put in a position where I felt uncomfortable or undervalued because of my gender and the kitchen environment maintained constant professionalism.

My experiences in a professional kitchen highlighted many of the issues Mary Farrell raises about attitudes to female chefs. I was directed towards pastry. Male chefs did, sometimes, try to undermine and bully me and certainly did succeed in clouding my judgement for a time. Yet the main excuse, as was given to Mary, of females stepping back for family life was unfounded in my experiences, I had witnessed female chefs balancing family life and their careers whilst still providing positive role models.

But I was never content to chop and peel for endless hours, or endure burns, cuts and scalds on a regular basis in the hope of eventually obtaining a senior role in a kitchen after spending four years completing my degree. Perhaps therein lies the answer: education creates aspirations beyond manual labour for minimal reward. Many male chefs rise through the ranks from porter to head chef. The male students who dropped out of Culinary Arts continued in the profession, some of them very successfully. Many of my female peers continued their education at Masters and PhD level in areas of product development and education, the latter now delivering the lectures they once attended.

The glass ceiling of female seniority in the professional kitchen may remain unbroken, for now, simply because female chefs may have their eyes on a bigger prize.

By Aoife Lawless

Food Nostalgia

 

A positive food memory never goes out of fashion.
A positive food memory never goes out of fashion.

 

By Aoife Lawless

The rather ghoulish tradition of the the ‘last meal’ on Death Row was the inspiration for Melanie Dunea’s 2007 book The Last Supper, where she asked celebrity chefs about what they would choose as their final repast.

The first instinct of many of the chefs was to impress, spouting a collection of pricey, luxurious ingredients prepare with complex cooking methods into dishes with exotic titles. However, more interesting was the reaction of a few other chefs who answered, one imagines, more honestly, with menus inspired by memories.

One chef expressed a desire for his mother’s gravy to be the last thing he would taste. Another ‘envisions a picturesque white house on a farm, big sky, blueberries and a slow-cooked, cumin-rubbed, citrus-y pig, and his father making ice cream’ .

The chef’s desire to taste his mother’s gravy before he departed the earth was a clear need for comfort, a comfort he imagined would be received through tasting something that had such positive connotations for him, a reminder of his mother and his childhood. A positive memory through the sense of taste, through food.

The memory of a father making ice cream is again a memory of comfort associated with food and the senses. Even the thought of tasting the ice cream made the man be once again the boy on a farm watching his father making it. The clear images he conjures up displays the strong link between food and memory.

Various autobiographical books have been written with the theme of food as a focal point throughout the lives of the authors. In The Gastronomical Me MFK Fisher puts her whole life experience in culinary perspective. Each milestone and important episode in her life is depicted through a gastronomical experience.

So Fisher can recall when she first began to appreciate food, when her elderly grandmother took in a housekeeper who was a talented cook, creating new and exciting dishes for the family. The story of her life is told through culinary associations: for instance, a chapter is dedicated to her first school dance, yet the focus of the story centres on her first experience of tasting a raw oyster, which gives the chapter its name.

Anthony Bourdain, chef and author of Kitchen Confidential, also uses food to tell his story. He recalls how he understood food was something wonderful from an early childhood trip to France. He recounts tasting Vichyssoise for the first time and describes it as the first food he’d really noticed as a ten-year-old kid. The fact that the soup was cold was completely new to him and he looked upon it as a discovery of amazing culinary proportions.

While on the same trip, Bourdain, like Fisher, vividly remembers his first oyster and being utterly transfixed by this ‘glistening almost sexual looking object’. He was on a fishing boat with his family and they were each asked if they would like a fresh oyster from the water; he describes his fearless desire to be the first to try it as ‘proudest moment of his young life’.

He also recollects, his parents pulling up outside La Pyramid, in Vienne, run by the famous and feared Fernand Point, on the same trip. They abandoned him and his brother leaving them a stash of Tintin books as a babysitter while they rushed in to dine. Immediately the young Bourdain’s brain set to work wondering what could possibly be contained within these walls. It  is to such childhood memories that he attributes his desire to cook and become involved with food, eventually becoming the successful chef he was for 25 years in Brasserie Les Halles, New York.

The importance of memory for human beings is an invaluable tool which intertwines all the experiences of a lifetime and puts all new and future memories in context and perspective. The intrinsic connection of memory to our senses makes it all the more powerful as our senses are what in essence make us experience feelings and reactions towards people and things and situations in our lives. What each of the above examples has depicted is that our early memories of eating can influence us throughout our lives.

Sometimes, in fact, we can be returned vividly to a moment in our forgotten past through our sense of taste. The taste of warm tea mingling with madeline crumbs in his mouth, returns Proust to a bygone moment of his life, where his aunt Léonie shared the ‘shell shaped biscuits’ with her nephew on Sunday mornings during his youth in Combray. Proust had completely lapsed the memory before revisiting the sensory moment. “The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea”.

A childhood memory of a new and unusual taste such as Fisher’s incident of tasting the oyster for the first time at a school dance and being unsure how to eat it, or Bourdain’s delight at eating soup only to discover it to be cold yet delicious, is so powerful it can last a lifetime and the mouth’s memory of the taste will last a lifetime. Even when a memory is forgotten, if it were powerful enough at one time, taste can trigger it again in the future. It is an overwhelming concept, an ingenious trick by mother nature, to allow pleasant moments never be forgotten.

Memory as it is associated with food through the senses is personal to all humans with their senses intact. Everyone has a clear memory of trying a new taste or tasting something disgusting and spitting it out. We go about our lives trying and tasting new things and creating new memories daily. The human experience is lived and remembered through the senses, the most powerful tool we have at our disposal.