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Interview with Donegal Chef Brian McDermott

Donegal chef Brian McDermott from Donegal has recently published his fantastic cookbook “Donegal Table,” we caught up for a chat all about Brian and why this book, and his home county, are so important to him.

1. Tell me about yourself and your background in food?

I have been a chef for 25 years and went to college Killybegs Catering College. I’m passionate about good, honest food cooked simply and sourced locally. I’m from a family of 12, my Mum was a cook on her Dad’s potato farm so she taught me a lot about cooking and eating what could be grown on the farm.

2. Who inspired you to get into food?

“Harrys” Restaurant in Bridgend , Co. Donegal. I was an early school leaver and got a job as a kitchen porter in “Harrys” and within a year they talked me into going to catering college. I’m forever grateful to Mr Harry Leo Doherty.

3. How did the diagnosis of your heart condition affect you, and your career choices?

When I was diagnosed I thought it was the end of my life but in fact it was only the beginning. It was the end of my much loved days in the industry kitchens as that was the doctor’s orders. But as I began to recover and engage in rehab I started to advise others and teach myself how to simply cook and eat cleanly to improve my health. I volunteered in my community in Moville and I sourced funding to start a community garden locally. I ended up becoming chairperson of the resource centre and we built a community garden with 24 raised beds. I gave numerous demonstrations in cooking the produce and it was then I realised I had a skill for teaching and communicating. We rolled out this unique model of gardens across six areas of Donegal with the support of the HSE. I began questioning why this cardiac disease came my way and at times I got angry and very emotional in a uncontrolled way. That was a tough period. I think it was the frustration and the insecurity of it all including the worry of providing for my family. I didn’t do any paid work for over a year. Then I researched, and possibly accepted, that life was going to be different and I began to learn how to accept my current situation and disease. The word I now refer to is resilience as I am now very much a believer of living in the present and I have practiced mindfulness for eight years.

4. Tell me about your cooking school?

My classes are very personal and I deliver them in a relaxed and informative way. I love the class where we go to the nearby pier in Greencastle, pick up freshly landed catch and bring it back and teach people how to fillet and cook local seafood. I love showcasing Donegal food to our visitors.

5. Tell me about your new book, what was the inspiration?

My inspiration is the land and sea that I grew up around and I wanted to return to it for inspiration. We have superb ingredients in Donegal and I wanted to showcase them. “Donegal Table” is a book filled with easy, everyday recipes. It is a journey through my career and all I’ve learned over the years. I want to inspire readers to cook more at home. The book is is about my “triple A” approach: A – accessibility of ingredients that are easy to get anywhere in the country, A – affordability of ingredients and A – achievability of recipes with simple cooking steps.

6. How do you feel Donegal is perceived for its cuisine?

Modest, trustworthy and honest. This is how we are as individuals, but as a voice I want to promote this county, its food producers, ingredients and unique hospitality. We have gained a great reputation recently and we have some of the best ingredients in Ireland due to our heavy rainfall and fertile soil. It’s our time now.

7. What are some of the champion products and produce Donegal has to offer?

Rapeseed Oil, native potatoes, seafood, grass-fed beef, Hill lamb and dairy.

8. Who do you think will enjoy this book?

Keen home cooks who want to improve the way they cook and eat. Anyone who is away from Donegal and missing home will love the book as it will remind them of a Donegal Mammie’s cooking around the Donegal Table.

9. What does Donegal mean to you?

Everything. I love Donegal and make no apologies for promoting it as much as I can on TV, radio, print media and now in my book. I even built my house using Donegal stone. It has been my parents’ home, my homeland I want it to be my daughter’s home.

10. Describe your ultimate “Donegal” meal.

Sitting in Malin Head on the coast with a barbecue, cooking and eating prawns that have just landed by the local fishermen.

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