As she prepares for her residency at THE HOUSE OF PERONI next week, GRAINNE O’KEEFE tells us about her CAREER AS A CHEF, what inspires her menus and how she chooses SEASONAL AND SUSTAINABLE OPTIONS in the kitchen …
I studied in DIT Cathal Brugha Street when I finished school at 17. I didn’t know any chefs or restaurants when I started out and social media wasn’t big at the time (I didn’t even have the internet on my phone) so doing a culinary course seemed like the best option for me. I started working in Il Segreto full time, as well as studying full time, and when I graduated from college I started working in the Merrion Hotel. I worked there for two years and then moved to Pichet where I stayed for four years. In between working at Pichet and Bastible, I started working on the BuJo project as a consultant and did a brief stage in Le Bernadin in New York. I stayed working in Bastible for about a year and then took on the role of Head Chef in Clanbrassil House [their sister restaurant] which opened last year.
Growing up, I was never exposed to high end food. I had never tasted things like foie gras or truffles until I started college but I knew that working with food was what I wanted to do from a young age. I used to watch a lot of cooking shows when I was younger and would rent cookbooks from the library. I was fascinated by how the chefs worked and wanted to learn to do what they did and work in the environment that they worked in. For me, there was never a doubt that I wouldn’t be a chef.
Now I’m the Head Chef in Clanbrassil House. It’s owned by Barry Fitzgerald and Claire-Marie Thomas who also own Bastible and Clanbrassil Coffee Shop. We had a few months before opening to work on our initial menus and getting used to cooking with a charcoal grill. Barry is a great chef and the menus are a collaboration of ideas between us, the sous chef Barry O’Neill and pastry chef Maya Ager.
We change the menu a couple of dishes at a time, depending on what’s in season. We also have specials every day which we change regularly and use to trial new dishes to add to the main menu. Our menu is always influenced by the seasons and we like to keep it quite simple. I work closely with the suppliers to get in what’s good at the time and we build dishes around this, for example, if some lovely fresh lobster was to land that day, our fish supplier would send me a message and we would put them on the board that night. It’s also more sustainable to buy seasonal, and cheaper.
Cooking with seasons is paramount for a good menu, as the ingredients are at their best when in season. The House of Peroni event is at a great time of year for seasonal cooking, I worked with Hugh Higgins [previously head chef at Luna] to come up with the menu for this year’s event. We are using ingredients such as fresh summer truffles, courgette flowers, peaches, heirloom tomatoes and sweetcorn, all of which are incredible and require minimal fuss to bring out their wonderful flavours. We also want to showcase Irish produce and producers at the event so we’ve sourced some great ingredients from the likes of Gubbeen Smokehouse and Toonsbridge Dairy.
At Clanbrassil House the charcoal grill is the centre piece of the kitchen and all of the main courses and some of the small plates (and even desserts) are cooked on it. I love cooking steak on the charcoal grill; we use Peter Hannan and Higgins Butcher steaks in Clanbrassil House at the minute and the Hannan’s picana is incredible cooked on the grill. There’s something very satisfying about cutting into a perfectly cooked steak and sending it out to a customer. I spend a lot of time trialing new ways of cooking on the grill, slow smoking things like sweet corn and different ways of cooking meats and fish on it. Our miso glazed monkfish tail is a great example of a dish that evolved through testing and gets amazing feedback from customers.
As well as my full-time role at Clanbrassil House, I’m also the Culinary Director for BuJo. I started working on the menu two years before we opened the first one in Sandymount. Although the menu is quite simple, every single menu item has had an incredible amount of work put into it. All of our suppliers and farmers are hand picked and we personally visit each one to ensure that we are using the best products. BuJo is a 3-star rated member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association and pre-opening I curated our sustainability policy document which secured our rating and set the standards for us in terms of procurement and suppliers. I develop ‘Limited Time’ menu items monthly for BuJo and try to incorporate as many amazing Irish suppliers as possible.
For anyone interested in a career as a chef, I would say if you’re passionate about food and know that it’s what you want to do, go for it. You have to realise that it’s more of a lifestyle than just a job. You’ll work weekends, you’ll work more hours than most of your friends and you’ll probably spend your days off eating in restaurants and drinking nice wine. It’s not an easy job but if you enjoy it, you get to work doing something you love. I’ve always said that I’d rather work 80 hours a week doing something I love than 40 hours a week doing something that I hated. Get into a good restaurant, find a good mentor, read cookbooks and watch shows like Chef’s Table. Travel, experiment and always work hard.
The House of Peroni returns to Dublin from Thursday July 5 – 15, taking up residency in a new home at 130-133 St Stephen’s Green, just off Grafton Street. To book a table in the restaurant, email thehouseofperoni@
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