The Keane Edge

Award-win­ning chef Jonathan Keane dis­cusses his foodie up­bring­ing in Con­nemara, his favourite Ir­ish restau­rants, ve­g­an­ism, and the im­por­tance of sup­port­ing our lo­cal ar­ti­san pro­duc­ers. In­ter­view: Lucy O’Toole

Hot Press - - Johnathan Keane - Lodge At Ash­ford Cas­tle, Cong, Co. Mayo th­

He’s one of the na­tion’s nest chefs, but there are no airs and graces about Jonathan Keane. Since leav­ing school at 15 to wash pots in his lo­cal pub, he has risen through the culi­nary ranks to be­come head chef at the stun­ning Lodge at Ash­ford Cas­tle. With a fo­cus on lo­cal, high-qual­ity pro­duce and giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity, Jonathan is tak­ing on the big food cor­po­ra­tions one in­cred­i­ble dish at a time.

“I grew up on a sheep farm in Con­nemara,” he says. “We al­ways grew our own veg­eta­bles, and from a very young age we’d be out pick­ing black­ber­ries and wood sor­rel around the hills, or get­ting seaweed from the beach. And my dad used to make black pud­ding. So you could say I was brought up in a foodie background.”

With lit­tle in­ter­est in school, Keane be­gan work­ing in the lo­cal pub, and soon found him­self drawn into the kitchen. Af­ter at­tend­ing the Gal­way In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel School, he worked in some of the coun­try’s top restau­rants, in­clud­ing a stint at Adare Manor. Since 2012, he has been work­ing his culi­nary magic at the Lodge at Ash­ford Cas­tle.

He is also a co-founder of Slow Food Mayo, a lo­cal group that is part of a global ini­tia­tive pro­mot­ing clean, lo­cal pro­duce.

“I don’t like cheap, mass-pro­duced food, or any­thing that is dam­ag­ing to our lo­cal pro­duc­ers and farm­ers,” he says. “Slow Food is all about proper sourc­ing and proper trace­abil­ity – not do­ing things on the cheap. It was al­ways some­thing that I was into. When my­self and Aaron McMa­hon from Café Rua re­alised that there was no Slow Food move­ment in Mayo, we de­cided to set it up. It’s gone from strength to strength.”

Keane is also a mem­ber of Euro-To­ques Ire­land, a com­mu­nity that sup­ports lo­cal pro­duc­ers and promotes Ir­ish culi­nary tra­di­tions.

“I won’t buy any meat for my kitchen un­less I’ve vis­ited the farm, to make sure that all the an­i­mals have been treated prop­erly. The big cor­po­ra­tions are try­ing to bring in hor­mone-treated beef to give it a longer shelf life, but I’m against all that. It’s im­por­tant to me to look af­ter the lo­cal pro­duc­ers, so that we’re keep­ing money in the com­mu­nity rather than send­ing it out to the big giants.”

And there are plenty of in­cred­i­ble ar­ti­san pro­duc­ers in the West of Ire­land to be ex­cited about.

“All my pork comes from An­darl Farm in

Clare­mor­ris. He makes his black pud­ding the tra­di­tional way, in­stead of with dry prod­uct, and it’s bril­liant. Bur­ren Smoked Salmon is prob­a­bly the best smoked salmon in the world – I use loads of it. Then there’s Gal­way Goat Farm, who make a lovely goat’s cheese called Cnoc Dubh. It comes in a lit­tle pyra­mid, and it’s fab­u­lous.”

“We get all our sh off Gan­net’s Fish­mon­gers in Gal­way,” he con­tin­ues. “He’ll tell me what’s sus­tain­able, and I’ll buy it. John Ward of Doon­cas­tle Oys­ters is prob­a­bly do­ing the best oys­ters in Ire­land at the mo­ment. We ac­tu­ally went to school to­gether, and now here we are do­ing busi­ness. It’s a nice con­nec­tion.”

Keane has also been sup­port­ing his lo­cal com­mu­nity through his work with the Cong Food Vil­lage, which throws a fes­ti­val at­tract­ing around

6,000 peo­ple to the Mayo vil­lage each year.

“About two years af­ter I moved to Cong, I no­ticed a shift around the vil­lage,” he re­calls. “There were nice cafés and gas­tro pubs open­ing up, and all of a sud­den we had a lot of good food of­fer­ings here.

The Cong Food Vil­lage is all about com­mu­nity and ed­u­ca­tion. We go to the kids in the school and bring them for­ag­ing, or we bring them into my kitchen. We work with the el­derly too.”

As well as us­ing some top-notch lo­cal sup­pli­ers, Keane grows and gath­ers a lot of the food for his kitchen him­self.

“I have three poly­tun­nels at Ash­ford, so I’m grow­ing all my own veg­eta­bles for the restau­rant,” he says. “Let­tuce, toma­toes, cu­cum­bers and more - they’re all or­gan­i­cally grown, so there’s no chem­i­cals al­lowed. I also bring all my chefs for­ag­ing. The Ash­ford es­tate is abun­dant with wood sor­rel, wild gar­lic, wild hazel­nuts, mush­rooms, hawthorns, black­ber­ries and rose­hips. And we go up to Old Head once ev­ery ten days to get our seaweed and sea veg­eta­bles.

“But it’s not even all about the food,” he con­tin­ues. “One of the rea­sons we go for­ag­ing ev­ery day is be­cause I want the chefs to get out of the kitchen, to see what food is all about.”

He’s kept busy at Ash­ford Cas­tle, but Keane also

nds time to en­joy some of Ire­land’s best din­ing spots.

“My favourite place to go is Bal­ly­maloe. They have a sim­i­lar ethos to my­self. The best restau­rant, hos­pi­tal­ity-wise, would be Neven Maguire’s McNean House and Restau­rant. It’s just a fab night out, and he has such a gen­eros­ity of spirit. It’s not just for the TV – all the cus­tomers get that. And Mick­ael Vilka­nen, at The Green­house on Dawson Street, is the best chef in Ire­land at the mo­ment, in my opin­ion. I eat there when­ever I go to Dublin – so I’ve prob­a­bly been 17 times in the last few years. It’s sav­age.”

Al­though he tells me that one of his favourite foods to cook is lamb, Keane, un­like some chefs, also thinks it’s im­por­tant to prop­erly cater for ve­g­ans and those with di­etary re­stric­tions.

“These things are hap­pen­ing, so you can accept them and move with them, or be caught short,” he says. “It’s up to us to chal­lenge our­selves to cook for these peo­ple. If your cus­tomer is com­ing to spend good money in your restau­rant, you re­ally need to be giv­ing them a good of­fer­ing – just as good as any­one else’s. We have a ve­gan menu here, and it’s just as good as the main menu.”

Among these of­fer­ings is a mouth-wa­ter­ing ve­gan lasagne. He swaps the lasagne sheets for rib­bons of pick­led cele­riac, and opts for a veg­etable salpi­con – veg­eta­bles cut into lit­tle round balls in an olive oil

“It’s im­por­tant to me to look af­ter the lo­cal pro­duc­ers, so that we’re keep­ing money in the com­mu­nity rather than send­ing it out to the big giants.”

emul­sion sauce – in­stead of Bolog­nese.

He is also pas­sion­ate about train­ing and nur­tur­ing the up-and-com­ing tal­ent in the culi­nary world

– and is very much against the con­cept of the ‘celebrity chef’.

“I have a very strong dis­like of Gordon Ram­say and Marco Pierre White for what they’ve done to our in­dus­try, with their shout­ing and abuse. Peo­ple see that on the telly, and it’s mon­key-see-mon­key-do. I ex­pe­ri­enced it. I was phys­i­cally as­saulted nu­mer­ous times in the kitchen, and ver­bally abused daily. But that’s all chang­ing now. Chefs need to be more self­aware – they need to be lead­ers.”

But all in all, he’s not too wor­ried about the fu­ture of the Ir­ish food in­dus­try.

“The Ir­ish food scene is one of the strong­est in the world at the mo­ment,” he says. “Gone are the days of ba­con and cab­bage and Ir­ish stew. We’ve al­ways had bril­liant in­gre­di­ents, and the best lamb and beef in the world, but now we’ve stopped try­ing to copy Lon­don and New York and ev­ery­one else. In­stead, we’re cook­ing sim­ple food, nice and easy, and let­ting the in­gre­di­ents shine.”

“ The Ir­ish food scene is one of the strong­est in the world at the mo­ment”

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