Rory Morahan is the Druid Chef. Born in Dun Laoghaire, he lives in Bray with his wife, Carmel, and five children— Gerald, 27, Joanne, 24, George, 21, Sarah, 19, and Cathal, 11
No day is the same. I wake up around seven. We have a busy house — five kids altogether, one with cerebral palsy; Gerald has been very ill and his bedroom is like a medical bed. You're dealt the deck of cards and you deal with it. My anchor is my wife, Carmel. We got married four years ago but we've been together for 17 years. We battle through everything. I make a cup of tea for Carmel and then I wake up everyone. We live in Bray. In our house, it's busy, busy in the mornings. We make the lunches and then we have breakfast. I usually have a bowl of muesli. We are humble in our food. The best thing for me after a hard day's work is that there is something cooked for me.
By half eight, everyone is ready to go. The youngest one goes to school up the road and the special-needs bus comes to pick Gerald up at a quarter past nine.
My brain is a food brain and I have a lot of different projects going on. Sometimes I work from home. I have an office in Bray and I could be administrating, creating and cooking. I have a business team behind me and I have to link into them. I have a business manager, a technical manager and also a counselling manager, who talks to me about strengthening myself as a person. I've gone back and done a lot of homework on myself. I've worked all over the world, but I made a decision to go a different route than a normal chef. Now I am the Druid Chef. Basically, he is a mystical character of Irish food. I study, create and absorb every culture in Ireland and I relate that to my food.
I studied catering in Rockwell College in Tipperary — I won a scholarship — and then, in 1979, I started work in the Berkeley Court Hotel as a commis chef. It was very exciting to work in a five-star hotel in Ireland. Afterwards, I went to London and I worked in The Belfry Club. A German chef was in charge of me and he loved the Irish. Straight away he phoned my mother and told her that her son had arrived, that I was one of his crew and he would look after me. The first thing he did was make me save up my fare home, so if I had a death in the family I would be able to go home. He was a father figure and he taught me a lot — not just about food, but about character and being true to yourself.
I worked all over Europe but, wherever I was, I remember the frustration that I could never explain what Irish food was. Nobody can, and it's a big difficulty. I'm a gaeilgeoir, I have music in my veins and I have the gift of the cead mile failte, so being Irish is important to me, especially Irish food. But I was working eight hours a day in the kitchen, going nowhere, so I had to reflect. I took a year out and started getting in touch with myself. Then it dawned on me that I wasn't just a chef. I started out doing a programme on Cablelink TV; it was about me going out on the street, meeting people and cooking for them there. That's how I come alive, talking to people about food. I am able to talk and cook at the same time.
I do a lot of new-product-development consultancy work so that I am able to put bread on the table. I also teach cookery in Tallaght — part time — and I'm involved with Chopped, a new salad bar on Baggot Street where you get a calorie count with everything you order.
The Druid Chef is probably my biggest passion. It is about going back in time and getting inspiration from the historic past and the monuments. When you do your research, you realise that there's very little written about Irish food. You had your gentry food and your peasant Irish food. The gentry food went behind big imperial walls and belongs back in Britain. When I ask you what Irish food is, you will probably say bacon and cabbage, Irish stew and maybe drisheen. It dawned on me that the last frontier of Irish art is culinary art.
I don't run a restaurant — instead I see myself as an ambassador for everything Irish in food. I cook at all different festivals. I was at Electric Picnic recently. A lot of my days are taken up driving to these cookery demonstrations all over the country. It's about more than just ingredients — I have a story, a cultural connection and a Celtic style.
When I cook, I'm in a poetic frame of mind and all the elements of Celtic culture influence the dishes. If I cooked a Grainne Mhaol dish — after the Irish pirate — I'd recreate her story in a dish. I'd peel a potato and weave it into a boat. Then I'd fill it with scallops and I'd use red salmon as the waves. When tourists come to Ireland, they see all the great sights like Doolin and then they end up having a pint of Guinness and a Thai green curry; that doesn't match up with our culture. I'm trying to build a bridge between the two. I think that Ireland needs a greater emphasis on what we serve the visiting tourists to make their experience more cultural through food.
When I return home in the evening there is a great sense of satisfaction. I enjoy home life and togetherness and hearing about the family's day. Sometimes I go for a walk to reflect on different ideas. Also, I am trying to get fitter and lose weight and that is a new challenge. I'm tired when I go to bed at night but I'm content because I have a great belief in what I have done and where I must go. In conversation with Ciara Dwyer