Maria McNeela

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“Real food to me is truly knowing where your food comes from and preserving the integrity of that food in the simplest, tastiest way possible.”
You can't argue with this wonderfully commonsensical thesis of Maria McNeela, the chef-proprietor of Rustic Grub, in Clarinbridge, County Galway. But look at that line carefully: real food is about truly knowing the source of your food. Not just wishfully knowing, or hopefully knowing, but truly knowing.
That's a different kind of knowing, and it's a difference that Ms McNeela puts into practice in Rustic Grub.
When you speak to Ms McNeela, terms such as “integrity” and “values” and ”beliefs” and “philosophy” are peppered into her explanations, and you quickly realise that she has taken the old aphorism that “It takes a village to rear a child” and turned it into “It takes a county to supply a restaurant.” Rustic Grub is not simply a showcase for Ms McNeela's skills as a cook, but also a showcase for the products of the heartland she represents and supports.
Her day begins with a whirlwind trip around the farms, allotments, shops and holdings of her suppliers, as she starts the journey from the farms to your fork. And rustic grub is, indeed, what you get – McNeela loves the unctuous country tastes of honey-roasted duck, and game terrine, and salt and pepper sprats with lemon mayonnaise, and Galway goat's cheese pizza, and kale and scallion mash – but the self-deprecatory term “grub” doesn't hide the skill in this cooking and pizza making, the deep rooted origins of Ms McNeela's cooking style, honed by mentors such as her Mum, who brought up the family on a self-sufficient farm, and Anne McMahon, the legendary originator of Mayo's Café Rua.
It comes as no surprise that Ms McNella is a Slow Food stalwart and, indeed, chair of Slow Food Galway, for here is a cook who practices what she preaches, a chef whose allotment flourishes in the aptly named Merlin Woods.