Shouting at buses

I have an advert running on Facebook and Instagram at the moment. I take these out once or twice a year to help promote my martial arts school. It’s an amateur affair but I like to think we punch above our weight in terms of marketing and so on – I’m lucky to have some really talented people who train with me and occasionally help out with their professional skills.

The results are that we have really good photography and graphics – it helps make us look more professional than maybe we really are. It’s still an amateur affair. 

Online ads are a mixed bag. It’s highly debatable that they draw people in, but other than the old fashioned practice of putting flyers on lampposts, it’s actually quite hard to spread the word about a club like mine. You go where the audience is, and in this case, the demographic of people who take up martial arts is predominantly online.

I spend around €100, targeted down to men and women between 18 and 40 within commutable distance of where we’re based in Harold’s Cross. For this money, I typically get a reach of around 13,500 people, and 52 of those clicked the link and of those, around 11 people out of all those people actually clicked the button and got in touch.

So yeah, that’s not a great result. 

The reason I’m writing about this is that there is another effect that happens when you run ads like this. Because we’re pushing our ‘messaging’ in front of people who haven’t gone looking for it, we get unsolicited feedback. And it’s not always pleasant.

Last week, I got three unpleasant messages. One guy accused us/me of being a conman, ripping people off. I’m not sure what his logic was – we actually offer a very competitive and substantial package of training. Whatever. That’s what the delete button is for. A second guy left two comments in quick succession, this time criticizing the training methodology Japanese martial arts use and have used for 500 years. Again, out with the ban hammer.

So, 13,500 people saw this ad, and a total of two people left negative feedback. This is the problem with ads – instead of people coming looking for us, we go out and push our message in front of people. A certain percentage aren’t interested, and hopefully our ads aren’t so intrusive that they’re annoyed by them.

Another percentage never knew we existed but are interested in martial arts, so that our ads could actually be a service to them. They’re the people we want to connect with.

Then there are the others. The troubled ones. I can’t really understand these people because I don’t feel the need to snipe and criticize others online. If I did have a problem with someone or something, I’d connect with them personally and put my issue to them. 

I wouldn’t do the digital equivalent of standing on the street, shouting at passing buses.

Anyway, if you’d like to take up a martial art, we’re taking students in from August 31st. Check it out at www.happobiken.com

Whatever happened to Blackberry?

I loved my Blackberry Pearl. It was the first consumer device that was directly targeted at consumers with a usable e-mail function, and as a self employed freelancer, it was incredibly liberating to have always on access to e-mail.

I also remember my first iPhone. Either an iPhone 3 or an iPhone 3GS – I’m no longer entirely sure. I do remember clearly however getting the device and very quickly wondering had I made a terrible mistake. The virtual on-screen keyboard seemed unusable and I recall a sinking feeling as I tried to use it and realised I’d signed up to an 18 month contract with this device. So I had no choice, I had to get used to it.

But get used to it I did, like pretty much everyone else. If you’re curious what happened exactly to RIM and it’s Blackberry platform, this recently released documentary on Youtube is excellent. Get a cup of coffee and enjoy.

Incoming . . .

It’s been a while since this blog was updated so I shall start adding content again from today, starting with some food journalism. Hope you’re hungry.

The SBP, onwards and upwards.

As I’m sure most media-watchers in Ireland are aware, the Sunday Business Post newspaper recently exited an examinership process. The court appointed examiner from Grant Thornton managed to find a new owner for the company and has secured its future in the short to medium term.

Today, the creditor’s meeting was held at which people owed money by the paper would find out how much they would actually get. As is normal with such things, the Revenue Commissioners and Dublin City Council got all their money, while lesser creditors of various classes got proportionally less.

As a freelance journalist who works with the Sunday Business Post a lot, it looks like I will get 15 per cent of what I’m actually owed. (For a variety of reasons, I actually hadn’t written that much for the paper in the period concerned, so I wasn’t owed that much. It was still a sizable sum of money but less than some are owed and more than others.)

One part of me can’t help but feel an injustice at not getting fairly paid for work that was done and delivered to a high level of professionalism . . . but another part is just extremely glad that the paper is surviving.

If my contribution to its survival is a couple of hundred euro, then I think that’s a price that’s well worth paying and I’m happy to pay it.

The Sunday Business Post is staffed by a great group of people and has broken some fantastic stories over the years. I’ve worked for it for approximately 19 years and think it’s a genuinely important fixture in the Irish media world.

We would be poorer off as a society without it.

Onwards and upwards.

2013 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

gourmandSo Let’s Go Disco has been shortlisted for the 2013 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. In early December, we were told that we had picked up a couple of awards for Ireland: Best Chef Cookbook and Best Cookbook Design.

Obviously Ireland is a small country and only a handful of food books are published here each year. Internationally though, that’s another story. Gourmand says it estimates around 26,000 food books are published internationally each year.

Today, we were informed that the book goes on to the world awards in the Best Chef category. There are lots and lots of awards given out each year, but the Best Chef category is one of the biggies. Here’s who were up against:

Australia – Origin, Ben Shawry (Murdoch Books)
Colombia- Sal y Dulce, Jorge y Mark Rausch (Gamma)
Ireland – Let’s Go Disco, Martijn Kajuter, Alex Meehan (Cliff Hotel)
Netherlands – Puurst, Jonnie and Therese Boer (Princess)
USA – A Table at le Cirque, Sirio Maccioni , Pamela Fiori (Rizzoli

Take some time to take a look at these books – they all sound excellent. Worthy competition.

We didn’t make it into the final for the Design award, which is a real shame, but the books that did make it into that category are real heavyweights – Sergio Herman’s Epic Sergiology and Sat Bain’s Too Many Chiefs, Only One Indian are just two for example.

To put the awards in perspective – firstly and importantly, they’re free to enter (so you can’t ‘buy’ a prize), and this year books from 171 countries were entered, producing 389 finalists from 86 countries, spread across numerous categories.

A couple of other Irish entrants have made the shortlist in the international competition, so best of luck to them too. They are:

Best TV tie in: The Last Diet, Dr.Eva Orsmond (Gill MacMillan)
Best Asian: Saba: The Cookbook, Taweesak Trakoolwattana, Paul Cadden (Saba Dublin)
Easy Recipe: Ireland – How to feed your family on less than 10 euros a day, Elizabeth Bollard (Orpen)
Best European: Ireland – Get Cooking (Beam Services)

The awards themselves are being held at Carrousel du Louvre, 23 February 2013, in Paris, so wish us luck.

A bluffer’s guide to game

Published in The Sunday Business Post Magazine on September 23rd, 2012. By Alex Meehan
Venison, pheasant, grouse, snipe: for food lovers, the reappearance of game is one of the highlights of autumn. It’s already popping up on restaurant menus around the country and will become a more frequent menu choice over the next couple of weeks.

You can also find wild and farmed game at an increasing of specialist food shops, including Fallon & Byrne on Wicklow Street in Dublin city centre. According to Tom Meenaghan, executive chef in charge of Fallon & Byrne’s restaurant, game is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, most notably because a growing segment of the market is getting back in touch with the idea of seasonality.

“In general, we can now pretty much get whatever we want to eat, whenever we want it and while the convenience of that is great, it takes some of the fun and anticipation out of our diets,” he says.

“But for a lot of people interested in game, the fact that it’s a seasonal product is part of its appeal. They look forward to the season starting and getting more variety in their diets.”

Fallon & Byrne starts to offer game in September and it remains a feature of their butcher’s counter through to the start of February each year. Their game is sourced from Irish estates including Slane Castle and Dromoland Castle, as well as from suppliers in the UK and France.

“We prefer to offer Irish when we can, but it’s typically harder to source. At the start of the season, you tend to pay a little more for game because it’s still scarce so there’s a premium. As more game comes in, supply catches up with demand and it becomes a little cheaper.”

For people interested in preparing game at home but unsure of where to start, Meenaghan offers the following advice.

“First, find a knowledgeable butcher or supplier. The average butcher’s counter in a supermarket won’t want to know if you ask questions so you need someone who will give advice on how to prepare and cook the various kinds of game they offer.”

“Secondly, don’t be afraid to try something new. A lot of people are used to eating the same kinds of meats all the time – lamb, pork, chicken and beef – and have an idea that game is very strongly flavoured but this isn’t necessarily the case,” he says.

While people may have an idea that game needs to be aged to the point of near rancidity, or until ‘high’ as it’s known, the reality is that game typically isn’t aged anywhere near as long as it used to be.

“Venison for example is now usually sold aged only six to ten days – it doesn’t hang around. Traditionally that would have been anything up to three weeks. Same with pheasant, which was traditionally always served ‘high’ but people don’t want that anymore. Tastes change and people like lighter textures and flavours today,” says Meenaghan

Finding a source for truly wild game is often quite difficult, but aficionados insist that going wild is the best way to enjoy a truly Irish eating experience.

“Conventional non-game meats are all produced in a controlled environment, on a farm where their diet and health is strictly controlled. Wild game is just that, wild. It’s not held in captivity and can roam and fly wherever it wants,” says Michael Healy of Wild Irish Game, a supplier of wild game to the Irish retail and restaurant trade.

“Their diet is whatever they can forage for themselves. Deer in the mountains for example eat a diet which is as close to organic as you can get. Obviously, it’s not certified that way because they can roam onto farm lands and eat crops which aren’t organic, but they’re as close as makes no difference.”

“They eat an extremely natural diet. The same with wild birds — pigeons feed on berries for part of the year then move onto clover and right now they’re feeding mostly off standing crops and grains,” he says.

Healy doesn’t hunt himself, saying he has no interest in shooting animals for sport and that his business is strictly food orientated. He has spent 20 years building up a network of suppliers who meet Irish and European legal and food standards.

“Most of our game comes from Wicklow – almost every game species appears in abundance in Wicklow with the exception of woodcock and snipe which are more widespread on the west coast of Ireland. We buy from commercial producers such as pheasant and wild duck produced on large estates, from individual hunters and from state parks such as from the Wicklow Mountains National Park and from Coillte when it culls to control deer numbers.”

According to Healy, the modern market for game was helped a lot by the boom years of the Celtic tiger, when game was widely served in Irish restaurants. While demand has slowed compared to then, it’s still growing.

“We still see a lot of game sold in restaurants, particularly the better ones, and we’re seeing retail demand driven by retail outlets in Dublin like Donnybrook Fair, Cavistons in Glasthule, Molloys in Donnybrook, Lawlors in Rathmines, Buckley’s in Moore St and so on. Superquinn also stocks our game in the run up to Christmas.”

When it comes to cooking, Fallon & Byrne’s Tom Meenaghan suggests that venison is the easiest game meat for the complete beginner.

“The thing to remember with venison, and with most game in fact, is that it’s very low in fat. That makes it super healthy but it has a drawback for the chef – you can’t overcook it or it will dry right out. It has to be served medium rare, or cooked in a liquid to keep it moist.”

“Loin of venison is easy to cook but it can be very expensive – comparable to fillet of beef. Instead, start with a slow cooked haunch of venison or a venison stew. Make a stew in the same way you might make a beef stew – with onions, carrots, red wine and mushrooms but use venison instead of beef and perhaps add in some juniper berries, which go particularly well with venison. You could even marinate the venison in red wine for a couple of days first to make it really tender,” he says.

When it comes to game birds, a key technique to remember is that layering strips of bacon on top of the birds can provide some extra fat to keep the breasts moist. Like all poultry, it’s usually better to detach the legs and cook them separately as they tend to require a little more time.

“Game birds tend to have very thin skins and not much fat content, so it can be hard to get the breast meat just right.”

The two classic ways or preparing game birds includes confiting them and roasting them. Because of the low fat content, slow cooking pheasant in goose fat produces a meltingly tender texture to the flesh. This can then be crisped up before serving in a pan for a really tasty dish.

“You can also roast game birds very successful. We do it in the restaurant by popping the whole birds into a pan breast-side down with a bit of oil and a knob of butter and searing them off for a few minutes on each breast. This takes four or five minutes, then you turn them right-side up again and put the pan into the oven.”

“After 15 or 20 minutes, depending on the size of the birds you take them out, detach the legs and put them back in while the meat rests. Small pigeons take only five or maybe eight minutes from start to finish with this method, because you can serve them rare. Pheasant needs to be cooked a bit more but needs to be moist. “

The classic accompaniments for game include all the things associated with the autumn and winter larder – root vegetables roasted or mashed, potatoes and celeriac and fruit based sauces such as plum or cranberry all work very well.

PANEL: What’s in season?

From August to early February – snipe
From early September to early February – venison
From early September to early February – partridge
From September to late January – wild duck
From September to late February – wild hare
From early September to late January – grouse

From late September to early February – woodcock
From early October to early February – pheasant

PANEL: Matching game to wine
By David Gallagher, Fallon & Byrne sommelier

Grouse or woodcock have a very strong, gamey-flavour that can cope with a full-flavoured red wine. Just avoid big tannic wines. A Northern Rhône wine such as Yves Cuilleron’s St Joseph (€32.95) would be a great match.

Wild Mallard duck has far more flavour than your average duck and so it needs a more flavoursome wine to match. An Australian Shiraz such as the delicious Turkey Flat Shiraz, Grenache, Mouvedre from the Barossa Valley (€29.95) should fit the bill.

Roast pheasant works very well with light, fruity varieties like pinot noir, especially those from North America or New Zealand. A delicious match would be the juicy Firesteed Pinot Noir from Oregon, USA (€20.95).

Venison is rich with a gamey flavour but is very lean. If you are roasting it try a red Burgundy such as the Givry Champ Nalot (€22.95) or if you are using it in a casserole, a beefier wine such as French Malbec like Cedre Heritage (€13.95) would work a treat. If you want to spoil yourself try the Chateau Du Cedre (€21.95).

Rabbit is normally paired with a lighter red such as a Côtes du Rhône, Chinon or Beaujolais, but something liked jugged rabbit can take a stronger flavour well. Try Alpha Zeta “A” Amarone (€31.95).

Guinea fowl is dark and more flavoursome than chicken, with a slight gamey taste. A rich, creamy white burgundy such as Olivier Leflaive’s St Romain (€28.95) is probably the best match.

Quail is a delicate bird with a fuller flavour that your average chicken, again this would be best with a full bodied white, this time why not try a good basic Bourgogne Blanc from Vincent Girardin (€18.95).

New look website

I’ve given the blog a bit of a spring cleaning, and finally gotten around to moving it to my own domain.

I registered http://www.alexmeehan.com around six years ago and never actually got around to doing anything with it. It’s had a ‘site coming soon’ notice on it since then. Quite sad really. So I’ve ‘reskinned’ it and set it up as a full website, with the blog part at the centre and with some other pages that will allow people who need (and who I want) to find me to get in touch. The image on the front page was taken on a balmy hot Tokyo night this summer by my friend Paul Morrin.

So have a look around, kick the tyres and see what you think. It’s a work in progress, but for now it seems servicable.

Alex

New food blog, and other stuff

Obviously I’ve been neglecting my blog lately. Part of the reason is that I’ve been extremely busy with work – which is great, to be honest – and the other reason is that I’ve been meaning to get around to starting a new blog.

I shall still update this one, but I will be splitting off my food-related content to a new home: Well Fried Onions

It’s a bit sparse over there at the moment, but I’m sitting on a tonne of content for both that blog, and this one. Over the next week or so I intend to load both of them up.