Words: Shamim de Brún
Bech-Bailey’s contemporary interpretation of Samhain at Slane Castle wove a tapestry of ancient Celtic traditions, mythological tales, and gastronomic fancies. The duo set themselves up in the home of landed British gentry creating an experience that celebrated the turning point in the pagan calendar, from the season of light to the dark half of the year. It was a low-key brilliant set-up that was as much craic as it was food for thought.
Bech Bailey: From Aimsir to Slane Castle
Jordan and Majken, achieved culinary stardom with Aimsir, earning two Michelin stars within a few months of its opening in May 2019. Earlier this year, the couple left the Michelin spotlight and embarked on a new adventure, which left the food world buzzing.
Despite tempting offers from around the world, Jordan and Majken decided to stay in Ireland, their hearts anchored here. They established Bech-Bailey, a hospitality and events consultancy firm that aimed to create unique and unforgettable culinary experiences, staying true to their philosophy of using only Irish ingredients.
Samhain at Slane Castle: A Culinary Séance
At Slane Castle, Jordan Bailey took charge of the kitchen, crafting a 9-course tasting menu that celebrated the best of local Irish produce. The spotlight, however, was on the ingredients sourced from the castle’s grounds and the 90-acre organic Rock Farm on the estate, as well as the wider Boyne Valley.
Majken Bech-Bailey, with her enchanting touch, curated the entire guest experience. From the welcome drink to the dinner’s grand neo-Gothic ballroom setting, adorned with foraged seasonal elements to the wine and juice pairings.
The Samhain Saga: Unearthing the Roots
What was so fascinating about Samhain at Slane with Bech Bailey was the revival of ancient rituals that harkened back to the heart of proper ancient Celtic traditions while being surrounded with the grandeur of the colonisers that quashed them. The ironic meshing of both as influences on contemporary food culture was both beautiful and barbaric. Just like Samhain itself.
The most dramatic ritual, after the love lives of the Slane ancestors, was the sacrifice of a pig, reared on the grounds of Slane Castle. They then took the pig and used it in as many different ways as possible to feed the people. This practice draws a direct line to the ancient customs of Samhain, the Celtic festival that marked the end of the harvest season and the start of winter.
These days we can be so divorced from how food is actually produced that we can forget that like Jesus, animals die for our indulgence every day. To be able to bring this deep-rooted practice into the modern age in such a refined way while still making the point was both admirable and downright punk.
Samhain has deep-rooted significance in the Irish calendar, occurring on November 1, which, interestingly, shares its Irish name with the month of November itself. The Celts believed that during this time, the gods became hostile and dangerous, necessitating sacrifices to appease them. Samhain was a time when the barrier between the worlds was thin, making it essential to offer sacrifices and appease both gods and spirits.
Sacrifices were essential in ancient Celtic traditions, as they believed that offerings had to be destroyed for them to reach the gods. This is why animals were killed. The Celts had a deep respect for animals, recognizing that they inhabited the world in their own right, with gods often appearing in various animal forms.
Jordan and Majken Bech-Bailey’s commitment to using locally sourced Irish ingredients is a testament to their love for the land. Their nod to the age-old practice of animal sacrifice is both thought-provoking and daring especially in the confines of Slane Castle. Bech-Bailey at Slane Castle serves as a vivid reminder of the deep connection between food, culture, and heritage, and it’s a celebration of the season that’s nothing short of magical.
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