Local chef Mark Farrell celebrates the launch of his new book ‘Cocoa Shells and Broken Biscuits’

Farrell’s first book pays tribute to the vast culinary history of The Liberties

Cocoa Shells and Broken Biscuits by Mark Farrell

Local author and chef Dr Mark Farrell, programme co-ordinator for culinary Arts BA at TU Dublin, talks about the launch of his new book Cocoa Shells and Broken Biscuits – an ode to the customs and traditions of the Liberty community’s historically enjoyed delicacies.  

The Carmelite Community Centre, Aungier Street, welcomed local author and chef Dr Mark Farrell in celebration of the launch of his new book Cocoa Shells and Broken Biscuits on Thursday 24 November.  

The idea for the book, conceived during the pandemic, looks at the culinary history of The Liberties and features the anecdotes of many locally loved dishes and faces.  

Farrell, who grew up on James Street, describes his love for food and The Liberties as the backbone of this work.   

“From a young age, I had a love for produce and shopping in The Liberties. My grandmother would take me to Jack Roche grocer on Thomas Street for the messages and everyone would wait in line to taste the produce and buy the goods. You didn’t go in with a list, you were tasting and buying based on that.” he said. 

Cocoa Shells and Broken Biscuits – By Mark Farrell

While the former Conrad restaurant chef has travelled all over the world, Farrell said there is no place quite like The Liberties, where freedom of expression was shown through shopping wherever you wanted.  

“The quality of food back then was massively important. There was speciality in everything – a pork butchers for pork, and a beef butcher for beef, egg shops and fruit shops, and eight different types of tomatoes,” said Farrell.  

But the most important aspect of the food for Farrell was what it meant to him and his family. “To sit down and celebrate food together is a wonderful thing. Commensality is lost in today’s society and while it’s similar it’s not the same.” 

The name of the book Cocoa Shells and Broken Biscuits is a derivative of the titled poem by Farrell, the idea that “you can make do with what you have” and that small mishaps can be easily fixed. The ending line of the poem “making do is all the rage” is an ode to the community of The Liberties during the 1950s when poverty was familiar amongst many Dublin families.  

“Irish families are great menders and fixers and we always made do with what we had handy. One thing that was important to me growing up was food and food quality – as long as there was food on the table you didn’t have to worry, a good meal was happiness,” said Farrell.  

“You didn’t go in with a [shopping] list, you were tasting and buying based on that.”

Mark Farrell

He explained how his grandmother spent her days in the kitchen, cooking for the family, but he learned to cook from his mother when he was young, leading him on to become a 10-year-old chef over the open fires during scout training on Merchants Quay all them years ago to later head chef of the Aishling hotel in Dublin. 

Farrell said his mother was a big driver for him reaching his educational goals. “She always encouraged us to participate in further education,” he said. After taking her advice, he studied culinary arts and has since travelled globally for his profession.  

“When I lived in Toronto I visited Chinatown. I’ve been in markets in Paris and Spain but there’s nothing like the shopping experience of The Liberties. There’s also nothing to read about it, so I decided to write about that.” 

The self-published book, which will be on sale in the Clock Pub, Thomas Street and Stephens on Meath Street from Thursday 24 November, is an academic read with over 140 references throughout and was an inspiration from Farrell’s nearest and dearest.  

“I was inspired by all the strong women who helped me growing up as a kid. My grandmothers, aunties, my mother. I want to acknowledge their courage. They kept the family together with food.” 

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