Gerry Adams on how food, or the lack of it, is part of the psychology of negotiations
Gerry Adams may have retired as president of Sinn Fein but he still seems as busy as ever. Noel McAdam caught up with up with him while he was on a flying visit to New York and asked him how his latest incongruous-sounding project, a cookbook, came about
GERRY Adams is on the phone from the United States, looking forward to getting home after eight days on the road. He has been in Nashville and Atlanta, meeting civil rights veterans from the 1960s and "touching base" with US supporters.
On the afternoon we are talking, he is preparing to introduce Mary Lou McDonald as she gives her inaugural speech at the annual Sinn Fein fundraising event in New York.
It is around a year since Adams announced he was standing down as party president, finally handing over to McDonald in February this year, yet his schedule seems as busy as ever. But he says he is not travelling as much as he used to and intends "to do a lot less of it".
Even so, most weeks, while his wife Colette and family stay in Belfast, the Louth TD leaves home on a Monday for Dublin and often isn't back until Friday.
He has been deliberately staying out of the media spotlight in recent months to clear space for McDonald and Michelle O'Neill to put their own stamp on leadership. He has his lines ready, quipping, "Although I am not captain of the team any more, the team is going from strength to strength."
He believes M and M have brought a new energy which has revitalised the party and insists he has had no second thoughts.
"No, never any second thoughts" he insists. In deciding to hand over the reins, "I did so in my own terms", and yet says he also consulted colleagues in the republican leadership all along: "I didn't take a solo run."
Which is not to say that Adams, who celebrated his 70th birthday last month, has not been making headlines, not least with his latest project, a cookery book. And he reveals he has other projects in the pipeline – first up, probably next year, will be a new book of short stories.
"That is my first writing priority. It is quite challenging getting the time for it. I have been working on it for the last five years," he tells me.
However, he also discloses that he hopes his main writing-related work will be the completion of a trilogy. The first two books were Before the Dawn, which ended with the pivotal event of the Hunger Strike, and then Hope and History brought the narrative up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
"It is my intention, if God spares me, to write another book from the agreement up until the time of writing and that will include an insight into the negotiations," he says.
His most recent political tome, Never Give Up, collects a series of articles and selections from Adams's blog which reflect his analysis.
The Negotiators Cook Book, however, is a more "quirky", lighter project which Adams admits was his own idea. He has taken endless barbs and brickbats on social media about it.
Tweeters, including DUP MP Sammy Wilson, jibe that the most popular recipe is for 'Long Quiche', while the speciality dish is 'Blackened Hams', all of which are on the 'Menu behind the wire'.
"I don't mind it, it's good craic, and still going on. I heard one in New York just there – 'Peas in our Thyme'. I have included some of them in the book," Adams says.
But there was another, more cynical theme on social media, also, virtually accusing Adams of a betrayal of republicanism, in particular given the deaths of the Hunger Strikers.
"I don't take any of that too seriously. I knew some of those who died on hunger strike and, while I can't speak for the dead, I know they would enjoy this. I don't care about the begrudgers. I tweet frequently but I never answer the trolls and I rarely block anybody, except when they really go over the line."
Adams revealed his plans for the cook book in a west Belfast féile event during the summer but it came across as an aside.
"I didn't intend to mention it. At the back of my mind I was wondering if I should give it a plug. But at the time it wasn't finished."
He has been a bit taken aback by the media reaction, even in America.
"CNN were aware of the book's existence and [there has been interest from] a Japanese network as well as various north American programmes."
So where did the idea for the book come from? "I don't know quite what triggered it but I did ask the main contributors, [senior republicans] Ted Howell and Padraic Wilson for their recipes with the aim of publishing them, and they did so.
"As well as being an indispensible member of our negotiating team, Ted was also a culinary master and over the years of negotiations he would arrive laden with bags of pasta, spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, salads, fish dishes, soups and curries.
"Padraic was another master baker whose speciality was bread along with fine desserts and pastries. I had also read Brian Faulkner's Memoirs Of A Statesman a long time ago and one of the sentences that stuck in my head was that during the crucial talks in Downing Street in 1969 there was nothing to eat.
"We used to be starving when Martin McGuinness and I would be leaving for London early in the morning, at meetings all day. I used to chide Tony Blair about it, and Martin would be embarrassed.
"I wouldn't go on about it too much but there is a psychology to the planning and running of negotiations. It was more of an oversight, silliness."
Adams admits that equally an over-generosity on the part of the hosts of negotiations, with lavish provisions, can be just as much a strategy to soften people up.
"We were on the generous side ourselves during different talks. Many's a passing unionist or Irish government minister or officials would come into our rooms. Some members of the DUP might even admit it, privately," he says.
For his own part, Adams reveals he is interested in cookery, and does a bit of it himself.
"I would never go hungry. I would cook the Sunday dinner regularly. And I also like shopping for the meal."
So what is the west Belfast man's ideal meal?
"Increasingly I like fish, and have done for a while now. If I was on my own, that is what I would go for, along with some decent, good potatoes with butter and black pepper. And I love a lamb shank.
"But cooking for the family, it would be roast chicken, with the greens and potatoes."
Still, don't expect to catch the veteran repubilcan watching The Great British Bake-Off.
"I don't actually watch much TV," he said.
In finally giving up his title as the longest-running leader of a political party in Ireland, north or south, Adams's life has changed, and is still changing.
"It can still be quite intense, but not as pressurised, because I don't have the responsibilities of the party presidency."
And with that, he's away, walking the streets of the Big Apple, looking forward to his flight home the next day.
:: The Negotiator's Cook Book by Gerry Adams, 'with a little help from Ted Howell and Pádraig Wilson' is out now, available online at sinnfeinbookshop.com (£8.99).
"A turnip-like thingy, Celeriac is available in many supermarkets nowadays.
"Prepare in the same way as you would a turnip. Top, tail and remove the outer Fibrous skin. Ted says Julienne what's left. To you and me that means sliding it into matchstick size strips."
Salt and pepper
Place julienned celeriad into a large bowl. Season with salt, pepper and a squirt of lemon juice. Lace a dollop of mayonnaise with a go of wholegrain mustard and mix well before adding to the celeriac. Mix all the ingredients together well and put in a bowl/container.
"According to Ted this is a west of Ireland dish created by Dáithí McCarney and his Mexican wife, Rosalita."
Paprika – sweet or smoked
Tin of tomatoes or passata
Kidney or pinto beans
Soured cream or creme fraiche
Sauteé finely diced onion and garlic for a few minutes. Lower the head and add a good go of paprika. Add a heaped teaspoon of cumin and 3/4 of a teaspoon of chilli powder. Cook gently, stirring continuously for 2-3 minutes.
Add minced steak and continue to stil until coloured and separated. The ubiquitous chopped tomatoes/passata, tomato puree and seasoning. Add finely chopped carrot and after a time diced pepper. Cook until carrots/peppers are done.
Add drained and rinsed cans of kidney or pinto beans,corn niblets and taste for seasoning. Serve on a bed of rice – I use brown – with, optionally, a dollop of soured cream or creme fraiche.