Head Chef, Pete Durkan, Ballynahinch Castle Hotel

What inspired you to become a chef?

I came to the profession quite late, but always had a great interest in cooking. It’s inspiring to see people’s reactions to the food you cook and their appreciation of taking humble ingredients and tweaking them into something special.

What do you find most satisfying about your work?

I love the creative process of coming up with new dishes and menus and seeing it through until the final product is plated. I like to involve all the chefs in the team in this process, so they feel a sense of ownership over the menus. We take a very simplistic, organic approach and see which way the dishes go.

And least?

It is quite alarming to see young chefs coming for a trial, or starting work here, scarred from previous employments! The industry has to change, or we will continue to struggle to keep our brigades full. We want to create a happy and nurturing environment for chefs to grow and develop. Sometimes I just tell them to relax, have a cup of tea, and we will figure it out.

Is there a chef you particularly admire, and if so why?

I love the work Tom Kerridge does, he takes pub food to a whole new level, really elevating traditional classics. Simple, clean and full
of flavour.

Is there any aspect of the contemporary food scene that you find especially irritating?

Whatever happened to plates? I don’t understand the fad of putting dishes on random props.
I saw a beautifully crafted dish served on a garden trowel, completely ruined it for me!

What would be your perfect dinner?

Like most chefs, I like simple foods. This time of year, I couldn’t think of anything better than a steaming bowl of traditional Irish stew, with a mountain of buttery colcannon mash potatoes. Soul food at its best.

Are there any food critics whose opinions you respect, and if so why?

It’s great to have your work critiqued, to see where you measure up in culinary terms. Although I am more interested in the views of the diners, who are here every night. Their feedback is great and without pretence.

What’s the most important thing to bear in mind when cooking your recipes at home?

Have fun with it. Food always tastes better coming from a place of joy, as it should!

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel