Tuesday 23 July 2019

Dermot's cuisine triple crown

It's from farm to fork for Dundalk-born restaurateur

Margaret Roddy

A Kenmare restaurant run by Dundalk native Dermot Brennan and his wife Una won their own triple crown when they scooped the best emerging Irish Cuisine for Ireland, Kerry and Munster at the Irish restaurant awards, in Dublin recently.

This is just the latest in a long list of achievements for the couple who met while studying in Tralee 30 years ago.

A past pupil of the Marist, Dermot went to study at Tralee Institute of Technology where he met Una, who is from Kenmare.

The couple settled in her hometown and, in 2004, they opened the four star Hotel Brooklane, a boutique hotel just outside the town, which they then followed with No 35 Restaurant on the town's main street.

While Una manages the hotel, Dermot is in charge of the restaurant and breeds his own pedigree rare breed Saddleback pigs for their delicious free-range pork which is served in their restaurant.

'We use all local suppliers but found that we couldn't get any free-range pork,' explains Dermot about the decision which led to him adding pig farmer to his credentials.

'I didn't come from a farming background although I did live in the countryside which I always loved,' he says. 'However, my grandfather did keep a pig and it was a most valuable animal, as every bit of it is used as food, from ears to feet.'

Their pigs are born outside and spend their entire lives in the fresh air, with freedom to roam in large paddocks and root around in the soil.

They have shelter when they need it in the form of large straw bedded mobile huts, and they grow at a much slower, more natural rate. They also love seaweed, which they are fed once a week.

'The unique environment where our pigs live gives the meat its distinctive and very special flavour,' he explains. 'We are situated just two kilometres from the Atlantic ocean which gives our pork its unique flavour from the salt coming in off Kenmare Bay. The high salt levels and iodine-rich content of the plants and grasses that our pigs feed on make the muscle cells in the flesh retain more moisture so the meat is juicier and melt-in-the-mouth tender, a taste that has been largely forgotten in today's mass produced pork.'

'We never give them antibiotics and they are so healthy that we never have to get the vet,' he says.

This farm to fork approach is very important to Dermot, and he says that all the beef they use comes from farms in Castletownbeare and the lamb is also from Kerry.

The connection between small scale livestock farming and food production is something which has largely been lost in Ireland as farming becomes more commercial.

As part of his journey to award-winning restaurateur and food producer, Dermot trained in the art of charcuterie with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at the renowned River Cottage in England and also spent time learning from small artisan producers in Tuscany, Italy.

Dermot has won several awards for his free range pork, the most prestigious of which was the

Champion of Ireland for Best Pork Sausages at the 2016 Fins Goustiers European

Championships in France. Their pork coppa and charcuterie won silver this year at the Irish

Food Awards and overall best product at the recent Listowel food fair.

'The application of salt and smoke to food can be traced back from ancient civilisations right up to the present day,' he explains. 'This represents the beginning of cooking and remains a key part of No 35's history.'

In addition to their pigs, the family also keep their own hens which supply both the hotel and restaurant with farm fresh eggs. And as part of their commitment to sustainability, paper from the hotel is shredded and used in the nest boxes for the hens.

With his father John, brother David and sister Sharon still living in Dundalk, Dermot is frequent visitor to Dundalk. And he is always delighted to welcome people from Co Louth to their hotel and restaurant, noting that a group of cyclists from Cuchulainn Cycling Club were recent guests.

The Argus