The Family Cure

15th March 2018

Interview: Sophie Missing
Photographs: Dan Dennison

Part of an ongoing collaboration with Fáilte Ireland

It’s just after midday when we arrive in Ballydehob in West Cork. A light September mist confirms that it’s approaching the tail end of the busy summer season, but the sight of the brightly coloured shop fronts with their hand painted signs make for a cheerful welcome all the same.

The drive from Cork City has left us peckish, which is just as well, as we’re here to meet acclaimed chef Rob Krawczyk and his father Frank, a pioneer of salami-making in Ireland, to find out more about their charcuterie.

We meet Rob at Levis Corner House, a pub, grocery store, occasional restaurant and gig venue that’s been in the same family for over 100 years, and where photos of the two sisters who ran it for decades sit on the shelves alongside an impressive array of knick-knacks. It’s just two doors from the equally charming and historic building where Rob is opening his first restaurant in mid April and where he will make his own charcuterie, a craft he learned from his father.

After leaving the kitchen at Tankardstown House in Slane, Co Meath, Rob has spent the summer travelling, before ending up back in West Cork for an eight-week residency at Glebe Gardens in nearby Baltimore, where he’s been able to make the most of the veg, herbs and flowers from the extensive gardens. It’s been a successful homecoming – his set-menu nights at Glebe have been fully booked – and he’s excited about what lies ahead: “There’s just the most amazing fresh produce down here. All I want is to cook for 15 to 20 people and do really nice food, do it right.”

Tearing our eyes from a poster detailing the changing price of stout over the last century, we leave Levis and head back to the car to follow Rob along the winding, bramble-lined roads to his parents’ home in Derreennatra, outside Schull. It’s a particularly beautiful, secluded area, the sea just a few fields away, and though there are other houses dotted around, driving up to the Krawczyks’ feels like stumbling upon a secret.

Irish charcuterie is familiar on menus across the country nowadays but Frank was very much ahead of the curve when he set up West Cork Salamis in the late 1990s. He and his wife Anne met in London, and moved to Ireland in 1974, though they didn’t make it down here until six years later. “When I came to West Cork I just fell in love,” Frank tells us when we arrive. “I had no idea what we would do, I just wanted to move here, get out of the rat race. It was kind of a hippy dream.” Anne interjects, “It was 100% the hippy dream!” Their goal was self-sufficiency – and survival.

Frank’s take on bresaola, thinly sliced, sits alongside elegant curls of Rob’s pearly-white lardo, and slivers of subtly-flavoured duck ham

West Cork Salamis is no longer in production – Frank’s vision was always to have a small scale operation, though current food industry regulations, inflexible when it comes to small producers, made this challenging – but, luckily for us, two days before our visit he ran a course on charcuterie-making at nearby restaurant Blairscove as part of the food festival A Taste of West Cork. Rob gave his dad a hand – they seem close, each endearingly proud of the other’s achievements. How was it working together? “I was just the help,” Rob quips. “He was my gopher,” Frank confirms. “KP-ing for the day,” laughs Rob.

“There was half a pig, and Dad broke it down,” Rob adds casually. Frank elaborates: “We made things like brawn and pork rillettes; sausages, which we’ll be tasting later; salamis; we cured some collar, streaky pancetta…” With what transpires to be characteristic modesty, he adds: “I hadn’t done an all-day demo for a long time, so I was pretty rusty, but they seemed to enjoy it.”

The fruits of their labour are spread out on the long wooden table ready for lunch. It’s impeccably presented, a feast for the eyes: Frank’s take on bresaola, thinly sliced, sits alongside elegant curls of Rob’s pearly-white lardo, and slivers of subtly-flavoured duck ham. Hunks of pate, terrine and rillettes are nestled on a heavy plate, while wedges of tangy fermented cucumber, the perfect foil to the intense, creamy lardo, are lined up neatly like soldiers.

He realised that he had the opportunity to evolve the sausages of his memory and create something with the unique flavour, the terroir, of where he was now

And this is just the first course: still to come are Frank’s sausages, smoky and almost game-y, along with confit duck gizzards, locally-made sauerkraut, and a perfectly sweet-sharp lemon tart made by Anne to round it all off. The wine flows as each course segues into the next and our lunch stretches out for three enjoyable hours. The Krawczyks are effortless hosts, innately welcoming, and it’s clear that food, but also the act of sitting down and eating together, is something that’s important to them – it comes as no surprise to learn that Frank and Anne ran a small restaurant in their home for several years, before supper clubs or pop-ups became a thing.

Frank talks about growing up in Shepherd’s Bush, and despite more than 40 years in Ireland, his accent retains a distinctive west London inflection. He was born in a refugee camp in Uganda where his parents met and married after having been forced from their native Poland. Despite this, “the first six years of my life were purely immersed in Polish culture,” he says. Before ending up in London, the family moved to a camp in Checkendon, outside Reading, where Frank’s mother kept chickens, and he remembers going out into the woods in autumn to forage for ceps and porcini. “As a little youngster I’d see them before anyone else,” says Frank. “Although I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, wild food, the interaction with nature, must have ingrained itself upon my being.” It’s something that’s stayed with him, as Anne and Rob attest, Rob making a beep-beep-ing radar noise in imitation of his father’s fungi-finding skills.

Hankering after the Polish-style sausages he’d grown up, Frank began experimenting with salami-making while he and Anne were running the restaurant. He started off by consulting his grandmother’s “semi-technical” Polish recipe book, which explored the science behind the process, but soon realised that the West Cork climate was pretty different to Poland and he became “more alchemical” in his approach, analysing humidity and cleaning mould (“I thought, maybe certain moulds will impart certain flavours, as with cheese”).

At first, his efforts were focused on trying to replicate the flavour he remembered, before he realised that he had the opportunity to evolve the sausages of his memory and create something with the unique flavour, the terroir, of where he was now. “You can’t get away from your cultural influences,” he says, “but at the end of the day, I don’t think you should be making a chorizo to rival a chorizo made in Spain.” Artisan is a term that can be overused, but listening to Frank talk about his craft, the careful accumulation and honing of his knowledge, it’s the first word that springs to mind.

After lunch, Frank shows us some sausages that are hanging in a cool dark storeroom next to jars of kimchi and green bean chutney, waiting to be dry enough to be smoked. He’ll probably give a few to Rob to use, he says. His focus now is on consultancy work and mentoring, passing some of his expertise and quietly rebellious spirit on to people starting out. The food scene now must look unrecognisable from when he first arrived. “The evolution – I don’t like the word revolution, because it suggests that something turns back – of the quality Irish food scene had its genesis in West Cork,” he says. “The generation that has followed has picked up the baton and is running with it in a different way.”

This is part of an ongoing collaboration with Fáilte Ireland.

Rob’s new 18-seater Restaurant Chestnut opens in Ballydehob, West Cork, in mid-April 2018

Follow Rob: Twitter | Instagram

Follow Frank: Twitter

Posted 15th March 2018

In Journal


Interview: Sophie Missing
Photographs: Dan Dennison

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