Irish Producer Feature: Connemara Smokehouse

By Anne Kennedy

Congratulations to Connemara’s longest established smokehouse, The Connemara Smokehouse, which has been awarded the Seafood Circle Award for 2007 under the Retail Section as a ‘Seafood Specialist’. We talk to Graham about what drives him to work as an Irish producer.
Where do your customers come from?
All over the world although alot are from UK and France. They come via the internet – however most of our customers have visited the Smokehouse at some stage.
What do they use the fish for and do they ever cook with it?
Generally they use it for simple salads or with some brown bread. Some use it to cook quiches, pizza, or pasta dishes and some use it for ideas we give them such as Honey Roast Smoked Tuna or Honey Roast Salmon with blue cheese on a pear or avocado.
What single piece of advice would you give a food producer who is starting out?
You must have a passion for what you do.
What role do you think Irish food producers have to play in lreland’s sense of self/national identity?
We play an important part on identifying different regions and also in letting ourselves and the world know that Ireland does have a Food Culture.
How could the state agencies support food producers other than what they are already doing?
Keep doing what they are doing, but try to make some of the red tape and paperwork less as it can choke up the small producers. They also need to protect our raw materials to secure our future in producing artisan food.
How do you feel when you see people enjoying your food?
I love the reaction when people eat my food and it is one of the rewards of doing what I love, specially when someone says they don’t like Smoked Salmon and when they try ours they are wowed by it and now they buy our products and tell their friends and family about us which is fantastic.
Who are your champions?
John McKenna of the “Bridgestone Guide” has been a very positive influence for me and I may not have met him had it not been for Bord Bia. To be fair to Bord Bia and BIM, they have offered help in trying to establish new markets and drive the business forward and just because these efforts may not amount to anything it is not a reason to condemn these agencies as I think a lot of people do. I think 10 out 10 for effort, but it is very difficult to come up with a solution for a lot of problems small food producers face. o I guess we will all keep plugging away and try to keep on track.
Friends and family are vital and without them it would be nearly impossible to do what I do. Everybody who works at the Connemara Smokehouse are either friends or family, some lifelong friends and some who have become friends since working at the Connemara Smokehouse. One thing that is so important is for everybody to get along and also to have fun together. While I am the driving force behind what goes on with the Connemara Smokehouse, I need the help and support of friends and family who will pitch in to help me and also put up with me falling asleep in the middle of a dinner party thanks to those 4 a.m. starts.
What chefs use your produce?
Rick Stein tried our Smoked Tuna at the at the BBC Good Food Show and within a week began to buy it for his Restaurant and Deli in Padstow. We were in his book of Food Heroes for our products already, but were very soon after promoted to Superhero status, which was a wonderful accomplishment for us. On hearing the news of becoming a Superhero, I very quickly went to tell my wife Saoirse “Im a Superhero”. My daughter of 3 years at the time and days later….. I was mowing our lawn and heard terrible screams only to turn and see Amy had lost her footing at the top of the slide, she had fallen backwards and was just clinging on by her fingertips. So I dropped everything and raced across and in true Superman style, caught her with extended arms as she fell. She turned to me and said “you saved me dada cause you’re a Superhero”. So thank you Rick Stein for making me a Superhero.
Stefan Matz, 2007 Chef of the Year, Michelin Star Award Winner and Executive Chef at Ashford Castle uses some of our products. He also lives locally. Tim O’ Sullivan, Award Winning Executive Chef at Renvyle House Hotel and author of “At Home in Renvyle” recipe book received a commendation as the best chef in Connacht – he uses our Smoked Tuna and Smoked Salmon and has enormous praise for our products and lives locally.
Dermot Gannon of The Old Convent is another Award Winning Top Chef. Dermot is from the local area but has moved to Co. Tipperary and owns and runs the beautiful “Old Convent”. He prepares exquisite food for his guests in the enchanting surroundings. Although Dermot has moved, he still makes a point of ordering our products for his menu as he knows the quality is the best and he is still supporting his locality.
In Clifden town, Gi of Award Winning G’s Restaurant uses our Honey Roast Smoked Tuna and our Gravadlax. He loves the products and is always trying new ideas with all of his food. He has a huge passion for what he does. I often find, if I eat at a restaurant where my products are on the menu, I don’t choose my products as I feel I can have them anytime. When I eat at G’s, I find myself eating my products as they are presented in such a exciting and tempting way, such as “Warm Salad of Honey Roast Smoked Tuna with Pink Grapefruit and Asparagus”, this looks as good as it tastes and believe me it tastes good.
I suppose a lot of the success of the Connemara Smokehouse is down to the experience I have learned from my parents. That experience has been combined with my own ideas to come up with a winning combination. Of course, true to the old saying “behind every successful man is a great woman”, that woman would be my wife Saoirse, who not only has produced four lovely children in 5 years but also manages to design our brochures, website and other literature. Saoirse also works tirelessly to promote the Connemara Smokehouse to search engines, tour companies and guide and recipe books, but I guess all importantly, she puts up with the crazy hours that I work. I think the combination that Saoirse and I produce, me doing all the hands on with the fish and Saoirse doing all the promotion and stuff like that works really well.
The support and compliments from all the customers is a major driving force for me as it is such a thrill to hear their enthusiasm for something I have produced. It is definitely a group effort to achieve these results so thank you to everyone involved.
What keeps you all doing something that takes so much consistent energy?
I love what I do, I love the reaction from people and I feel very lucky to work at a job that I enjoy as so many people nowadays work at jobs they don’t enjoy. I also take huge pride in what I do and I am constantly striving for perfection. Oh yeah ….. and look at where we live!
Our photo above shows Graham with Rick Stein. The Connemara Smokehouse supplies Rick Stein’s Restaurant with their unique smoked tuna and he appears in Stein’s book of Food Heroes.
This is a recipe Graham got from his belated Grandmother who used to run a small restaurant/coffee shop with her daughter some years back’ says Saoirse, Graham’s wife, ‘so we have taken it and adapted it a bit. We just thought it was a bit different than the usual Smoked Salmon on bread etc recipes’.

Mawky’s Smoked Salmon Quiche

Quiche pastry:
8oz plain flour
4oz butter
1 egg
1 egg yolk
8oz (500gm) Connemara Smokehouse Award Winning Smoked Salmon
3 large eggs
12 fl ozs cream (325ml) (or 6 fl oz cream and 6 fl oz milk)
Juice of half a lemon
1-2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
10in (25.5cm) quiche or flan tin (preferably metal) with fluted edge and removable base.
1. Beat eggs well and slice butter into thin slices and mix into eggs.
2. Add flour gradually working it into a thick paste.
3. Roll out to size of flan dish and line dish, pressing pastry firmly into tin.
4. Cover bottom of pastry lined flan dish with thin slices of smoked salmon (using about half the fish) and leave in the fridge for about fifteen minutes.
5. Meanwhile make the filling. Chop the remainder of the salmon into small pieces. Add to beaten eggs. Add cream (or milk and cream), chopped parsley and lemon juice. Pour into pastry lined tin and bake in a hot oven (200ºC/Gas 6) for 25 – 30 minutes until the quiche is set in the centre and has turned golden brown and looks puffy.
Graham and his team hand-produce the best seafood available including Wild Smoked Salmon, Gravadlax, Roast and Honey Roast Smoked Irish Salmon, Irish Smoked Tuna and Honey Roast Smoked Tuna.
You’ll find Connemara Smokehouse at Bunowen Pier, Aillebrack, Ballyconneely, Co. Galway. Tel: +353 (0) 95 23739 Fax: +353 (0) 95 23001 Email: [email protected]