Tuesday 19 November 2019

'I seemed to be on the run the whole time but now I've returned to my first love' - Top chef Kevin Dundon on how he's changed his life

Kevin Dundon.
Kevin Dundon.
Top table: Jean Christophe with other top chefs at Taste of Dublin in Iveagh Gardens last year
Chefs Kevin Dundon and Derry Clarke. Photo: Patrick Browne
Pictured at the launch of Taste of Dublin 2017 Kevin Dundon, owner of Dunbrody House, Aoife Noonan, Executive Pastry Chef at Luna and Sunil Ghai, Head chef at Pickle
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

One of Ireland’s top chefs, Kevin Dundon has blazed a trail on the Irish food scene since he first started cooking over 30 years ago.

The chef, who owns Dunbrody Country House Hotel with his wife Catherine, has had a life of planes, trains and automobiles, doing TV and restaurant work in Canada, the US, the UK, and Ireland for nearly two decades.

But now, he says, aged 52, he’s taken stock and decided to switch gears, and live and work in his beloved Dunbrody.

He told Independent.ie at Taste of Dublin this weekend: “I seemed to be on the run the whole time. I really enjoyed it while I was doing it, but last year I looked at it and said: ‘what’s really special to me is Dunbrody House’.”

“That’s really been the baby of our lives, both Catherine and myself. And our kids are getting older and I just want to spend all of my time in Dunbrody, so in the last year I’ve cut back on a whole bunch of travel.”

“I’m in the kitchen garden the whole time – in the kitchen, in the garden – and really just driving the business. I’ve never been as much in love with my business as I am today, which is remarkable because we opened it 22 years ago and we’re madly in love with the place.”

Kevin has already imbued in his son Tom a love of the kitchen garden, a love he says that's taking root again around Ireland.

“The garden is the core of Dunbrody… at this time of the year, I’ve asparagus coming out of the ground and they’re remarkable. Our strawberries are coming up.”

“I love planting seeds and then seeing them two or three days later popping up and then in two weeks time we’re transplanting them out into the garden, and then in four weeks’ time we’re taking them from the garden and into the kitchen to eat.”

“Tom my boy is 11 years of age and he works with me in the garden… his face lights up when he sees the carrots coming up because he sows them.”

The chef paid tribute to the late great Myrtle Allen from Ballymaloe Country House Hotel, who died on Tuesday, who helped him and Catherine when they were first starting out in Dunbrody, a similar property to Ballymaloe – a Georgian manor on 300 acres.

“It’s very sad that she passed. A remarkable woman, absolutely remarkable woman. I have great admiration for everything she’s done through all of her life. “

“Us as chefs have a huge sense of gratitude for what she’s done because she exposed what’s really fantastic about Ireland, our raw ingredients and these small artisan producers in every corner of Ireland that are producing great food. And Myrtle Allen exposed them to all of us, and instilled that belief into us.”

“I remember Myrtle Allen came to Dunbrody 22 years ago, about three weeks before we opened, and she walked through the whole property with Catherine and myself, and gave us nuggets of information from years of experience and how they started Ballymaloe to where it is today.”

Like Myrtle used to extol the virtues of local produce, Kevin is mindful too of the great produce that comes from every corner of Ireland.

“Different corners of Ireland will produce different flavours to their lamb or to their butter. It’s a lot to do with how the sun hits a different field.”

“On Achill island, which I think has about 10,000 acres, the lamb go up the mountains in the morning and eat the heather, and then they wander down onto the golf course and onto the beach and they’re eating the seaweed in the afternoon. So you can imagine the flavours of that, you’ve got the sweetness of the heather and then the saltiness of the seaweed coming through the meat.”

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