By Roz Crowley, Irish Examiner Feel-good Supplement, 23rd November 2007
GRAHAM ROBERTS of Connemara Smokehouse is a name to watch. He is knowledgeable and passionate about the excellent, and healthy, products he sells.
In the new year we will see him on television with chef and food writer Clodagh McKenna. This week, he is appearing at the BBC Food Show in Birmingham. Restaurateur and TV chef Rick Stein has listed him as one of bis heroes, and he is also admired by celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver, James Martin and a regular customer is top French chef Pierre Perret.
In 2004, Roberts won favourite speciality producer as voted by visitors to the BBC Good Food Show and three years later won BIM’s seafood circle award for seafood specialist. Not a bad start for a 32-year-old who didn’t sit his Leaving Cert because he was dyslexic. Roberts’ study for his vocational qualifications in green keeping took him to the famous St Andrews Golf Course but his heart lay in the family smokery, which he returned to develop.
With no fear of business, he bought a site at the age of 17 and two years later borrowed his first £10,000 against his savings to build a house on it while he picked wild mussels and scrubbed them clean of barnacles against a concrete block. He knew that consumers wanted clean mussels, and whatever it took to deliver tbem, however labour-intensive, was what he did.
His future wife Saoirse would join him at 3am to deal with orders while the smokehouse had its own demands as the day job.
Now Roberts can celebrate and take some satisfaction in the endorsement of so many famous chefs of his Connemara Smokehouse. He is following in the footsteps of his father who smoked Prince Charles’ salmon on his visit to Delphi. The letter of thanks is framed and on display in the smokehouse shop, located in the wilds of Ballyconneely in Connemara.
Roberts takes even more satisfaction in producing top-quality healthy produce which is the essence of fast food in the best possible way.
Roberts’ recipes for smoked salmon, hot smoked tuna (see below) and gravadlax make great Christmas food and also deliver plenty of healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
The tuna is particularly interesting and has a slightly sweet taste resulting from the fish being brushed with honey during smoking.
Roberts has set high standards for himself and bis suppliers, and chooses only top-quality line-caught wild and organic fish.
“I’m happy working long hours at this stage,” he says. “Fish selection and production methods have been the key to our success so far and both take a lot of work, but I live in a place I love with a wonderful family (wife, four children under six, with mother and various cousins ail involved in the business), doing exactly what I want to do.
“I will never make a killing, and I would like more time for the family, but we eat together, have lots of good fish and the children enjoy what nature has to offer. I’m where I want to be”
Log onto www.smokehouse.ie to buy on-line for delivery around the world. Foodie tours visit the smokehouse, but anyone can call to the shop at Bunowen Pier, Aillebrack, Ballyconneely, Connemara, Co Galway.