Like most people, when I hear “Celtic cuisine” my mind goes to a few staples: shepherd’s pie, corned beef and cabbage and haggis. Celtic culture has always been a favorite of mine, which has even resulted in me owning more than one kilt. We got a call at the office from Eric Vigil, who let me know the NM Renaissance Celtic Festival was holding a fundraiser, and they wanted me to swing by. “This sounds awesome,” I remember saying, “but you do know I’m the food editor, right?” That was when he put chef Eric McBride on the phone. McBride was the chef for the evening, and McBride told me on the phone he is referred to as “The Godfather of Celtic Cuisine.” I didn’t need to hear another word to want to learn more about the owner, operator and creator of The Celtic Caterer.
The event I attended was a masquerade ball, and even in my best finery (kilt included), I stuck out in the crowd. Everyone was in elaborate outfits, from full ball gown to fine furs draped across shoulder, a man in full Knights Templar wear and even an elaborate plague doctor outfit that caught me by surprise the first time I saw it. While the chamber music played and with the tables set for dinner, you can tell that the goal for this festival in the future is clear and defined, and the support is in place.
I caught up with chef McBride and Vigil before dinner, and even amongst all the work that needed to be done, we got to chat for a little while before I let them get back to their duties. Before I knew it, dinner was being served and I took my seat. It was a full four-course traditional Celtic meal, and there was more food than I could handle. Starting with Irish Stuffed Mushrooms and a Smoked Salmon Whiskey Cheese Soup, it was followed up with an Irish Spice Beef Brisket, baked potato stuffed with fried cabbage and mushrooms in a red wine butter sauce. The meal ended with a Sticky Toffee Pudding. There isn’t enough space on the page to do justice to this feast, but if you get the chance to try it, don’t pass it up.
With dinner finished and guests satisfied and enjoying the night’s entertainment, I finally got a few minutes to sit down with chef McBride and learn a little more about him. A former resident of New Mexico, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from UNM, which plays into the historical aspect of his cooking. “I took the history and my knowledge of cooking and worked to bring it into the modern era,” he says. “I’m on a crusade to teach what is Celtic cuisine, because no one really does it. I connect the dots between these dishes and these nations.”
While working in restaurants, he mentions he used to work for a high profile Austrian chef who told him “there’s no such thing as good Scottish food.” McBride starts laughing after this, and follows with “That was a throwdown of a gauntlet, and now I have a whole career because of that one statement.” He’s not wrong on that point, as he currently has six different books available for purchase at celticcaterer.com and is constantly traveling around the country, teaching and participating in different events related to Celtic cuisine.
His passion for community and food helped make this event possible, in fact. “This is the very first fundraiser they’ve done,” referring to NMRCF. “I reached out to a bunch of different people. All the folks in the kitchen are from Highland High School, and they’ve been working since 8 this morning kicking butt. APS have loaned us the plates and cutlery for the day, and we have some members from the Order of the Arrow with the Boy Scouts who donated time to make this happen.” I should mention that during this interview, there were a ton of people running around and making things happen behind the scenes, but they were all smiling and having a blast.
It’s clear that community support is already in place, and that they’re well on their way to getting this festival fully up and running by this time next year. They’re still working to get the pieces in place, and if you want to learn more or get involved, you can find all the information you need over at nmrenceltfest.com.