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WOK STAR Chef Randy Lewis says Irish produce is "phenomenal" as he celebrates launch of new RTÉ web series

"Fifteen years ago, if you said 'quesadillas' to a person they'd look at you like, 'What the f***?'"

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WOK STAR: Chef Randy Lewis

WOK STAR: Chef Randy Lewis

WOK STAR: Chef Randy Lewis

Fancy sampling wagyu beef in Wicklow or snails in Carlow this summer?

As the iconic Northern Ireland tourism slogan almost went, you'll never know unless you 'escargot', says travelling chef Randy Lewis.

The globe-trotting Canadian foodie first brought his flavours of the world to Lahinch when he opened Randaddy's seafront restaurant 10 years ago.

Now the honorary Clare man is set to celebrate the best of Irish cuisine with his new web series Randaddy's East Ireland Adventure.

And an oat farm, snail farm, brewery and traditional smokery are just some of the places he hits up in a VW campervan during the mouth-watering road trip across eight counties.

"We were trying to find the best of the best, and escargot came up and I was like, 'OK, well that's snails'," says Randy of his visit to Gaelic Escargot for the six-part series, which has been snapped up by RTÉ online. "I'm like that's something for somebody to see visually in Ireland, 'Oh my God, there's a snail farm here, we can eat snails?' Canada is the fourth biggest consumer of snails in the world, so I thought it was a great Canadian connection as well.

"The produce that I've seen around Ireland on my trip was phenomenal."

Originally planned for 2020, the foodie pilgrimage was due to encompass 20 counties in 20 days, before being downsized due to the pandemic.

But the adventure-loving chef is sure to have no shortage of inspiration for his new menu when restaurants across the country finally reopen for outdoor dining tomorrow, having worked in kitchens on five different continents.

"I started travelling at a young age," explains the 41 year-old. "I was constantly moving around from the age of about 17 until I turned about 31.

"I'd be jetting off to Thailand and before I'd go I'd book into a hotel that would let me come down to their kitchen and work with them five hours a day just to see what was going on.

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"That's how I've kind of lived my whole life and that's how I've learned.

"I've always just loved food," adds Randy, who became a huge online hit during lockdown with his weekly Recipe Tuesday videos.

"I remember when I was young, even as far back as eight years old, just creating stuff in the kitchen."

So how did the self-confessed "Canadian cowboy" end up 6,261km from home in the west of Ireland?

"I was in Australia and I met some Irish friends," he recalls. "The end of 2004 came along and I was talking to them and they said, 'Why don't you come out to Ireland?', and that was my next adventure after my previous one.

"So I landed up in Ireland - in Tallaght - and I was working at Citywest Hotel for six months. I said to myself, 'Well, this isn't really Ireland', so I asked the guys where can I go surfing.

"I got on the bus and landed up here in the depths of November and kind of carried on," laughs Randy, who also fell in love with an Irish woman and now has a six year-old son, Sam. "Ireland's been good to me."

Social media star Randy's previous Kenyan food travelogue racked up a staggering one million views in 2018.

And he reckons the nation's appetite for exciting global cuisine is only going to grow after being stuck at home chained to the stove for 15 months.

"Fifteen years ago, if you said 'quesadillas' to a person they'd look at you like, 'What the f***?'," says the straight-talking chef, who transformed Randaddy's from a 30-seat cafe into a 200-capacity hot spot with far-flung dishes such as Cuban garlic prawns and mussels and Kenyan samosa.

"I put it on the menu in a hotel in 2006 and the owner was like, 'I don't want that on the menu'. I said, 'OK, why don't we call it 'oven-baked tortilla', it's going to fly', and that was the best-selling thing we ever had.

"I remember coming over here and cooking steaks and everything was 'well done'," he says. "Now it's 'medium'.

"Palates have changed quite a bit and there's definitely a lot more freedom as a chef to use flavour from around the world in cooking.

"Even some older fellas we have coming into the restaurant, sometimes I'll get them to try samples of things and they'll actually start liking it.

"If I had to say what was going to be discovered [in 2021] I think world food is going to be more and more discovered, like the whole area of African food, or just using more ingredients from the around the world and doing a different take on Irish cuisine."

Trendy-setter Randy tips vitamin-packed sea snail abalone to become the new avocado among health-conscious foodies here.

But there's one naughty snack the Edmonton native can't get his hands on.

"I'm a chef," he jokes. "We don't eat very healthy. If there was one thing I did miss it would be beef jerky. You don't see it here - it's something you just snack on all the time."

"I also love Canadian poutine: it's just cheese curds on fries with gravy. It's definitely going on my menu this year!"

 

Episode two of Randaddy's East Ireland Adventure is out now on rte.ie/lifestyle and facebook.com/randaddys

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