Daniel o’ Hanlon – Regional Corporate Executive Head Chef at Claddagh Irish Pubs
Daniel o’ Hanlon about being a chef, being a musician, and learning about the differences in Irish and American cuisine.
Daniel o’ Hanlon – “Food – especially professional cooking – is an art, the plate is a symphony to the eyes, the layers of flavour should be like an opera.”
Daniel, you became a chef and started your chef career in Ireland. What is the best description for the Irish cuisine?
The foundation of Modern Irish cuisine happened in the early 1960s when American tourists began to arrive at Shannon airport in County Clare, Myrtle Allen was at the time the foremost chef in Ireland with strong connections to France and the Continental Europe. She realized the potential of a tourism industry and how vital it would be to have well trained consistent chefs to provide to this new industry.
First they founded the Shannon school of hotel management and then she approached Paul Bocuse to assist the setting up of training colleges for chefs, thus a new tradition was borne in Ireland. The Irish kitchen has French roots and is mostly structured upon the French brigade system as envisioned by Auguste Escoffier, very structured, very precise and fundamentally very focused. The juniors get to know where they are in the order very quickly, there is also a very strong sense of mentorship, fraternity and network within the chef community.
What are typical ingredients in Irish cuisine?
Ireland is both – an agricultural and a seafaring nation. So we use a lot of Lamb, venison, game birds, typically, then the rarer less used cuts, oxtail, cheeks, sweetbreads, offal. Ireland probably has the best conditions for all kind of agriculture and obviously potatoes, cabbage, carrots all kinds of vegetables, seasonally strawberries, raspberries, peaches, plums sloe, seaweeds and then the finest seafood, nephrops norvegicus the Dublin bay prawn (Norwegian lobster).
I remember as a child with my father climbing to a fishing rock through multicolored tulip field to fish for mackerel in season, and skim netting the prawns carrying them home with freshly dug potatoes carrots and scallions for supper, avoiding the bull in the field, Halcyon days which can still be experienced by tourists to west Cork , and the restaurants there serving freshly grilled turbot, oysters scallops and the most delightful fresh vegetables and potatoes.
In the past, you have run your own fine dining restaurant at the Ashe Memorial Hall Museum. It was operated as a concept restaurant with authentic medieval food (certified by resident archaeologists), contemporary vegan/vegetarian menu and fine dining menu. A concept restaurant is a great idea. Did the guests easily understand that?
I kept the menus distinctly separate so the formal dining was comfortable to the guests. Beef wellington, steak diane fresh fish from Blennerville, lobsters, scallops, fresh organic vegetables from my friend farms, Christine and Smoss Best, Ian McGregor who runs a training program for organic farming we set up a garden for refugees where we grew for them vegetables that were comfortable to them and exotic to the Irish menu, yams okra corn so there were many exciting things happening there.
I also wanted to expand what is made available to vegan/vegetarian who are often forgotten so they had their own unique menu for them Mediterranean flavours, local herbs heather lavender wild mushrooms and garlic there was an underground scene of foraging at that time, it was very exciting times.
The medieval was inspired by the museum, it was trying to be as authentic to the original dishes as possible. We had to source quality pigeon for the pigeon pie and local wheat for frumenty. We also had meat pies and vegetable stews with dumplings and keep it all as real as possible. So the guests had options, options is everything if you want a concept. You have to not frighten the guest. We also used to get rare meats like crocodile, snake ostrich kangaroo. There were many farmers trying out new things.
In addition to your career as a chef, you compose and perform music in different genres and in different countries. Does the music inspire you for cooking? Or does cooking inspire you to make music?
I also write poetry and at present I am looking to incorporate all three arts in a poetic/musical culinary odyssey into the work of James Joyce specifically Ullysses. If there are any sponsors who wish to collaborate they may contact me at email@example.com.
Food – especially professional cooking – is an art, the plate is a symphony to the eyes, the layers of flavour should be like an opera. So one compliments the other, it flows through you so one inspires the other. I also composed music designed to enhance stimulate the dining experience. Ambience is very important, the guest must have an experience not to be forgotten.
Since 2013 you have been working as Regional Corporate Executive Head Chef for Claddagh Irish Pubs in the US. What is your Irish culinary set up in the US?
We have 9 restaurants across the Midwest of America. In Claddagh I am a regional chef. We have 2 others in addition to other chefs of our company whom we invite to contribute at menu meetings and business planning along with our CFO and area directors.
We cover, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota which is an area many times the size of Ireland. We cook everything from scratch in our kitchens and it is vital to us to maintain consistency throughout. So if you went to our restaurant in maple grove Minnesota and at the other furthest distance to say Pittsburgh we want to make sure that you get the same quality and taste in every Claddagh.
The new interpretation of recipes of traditional countries became very popular. What is a traditional Irish dish that you reinterpret?
On our main menu. We do play a little with various tacos, which of course are not at all Irish (laughs). However, we do this because in Ireland coming from our French foundation we like to be a little quirky and different. For an example of an Irish traditional dish we played with we had a lovely Dublin coddle on a previous menu that we tweaked into a very top end dish. We also had a boxty with hand pulled pork (we call it [the pork]rillettes in Europe) where we developed a seasoning unique to bring out the flavor. We also complimented that with a bacon belly version.
Contrary to opinion we do not see a lot of corned beef on the island of Ireland but in America it is assumed that this is quintessentially Irish, so we must have it in an Irish restaurant in America. So we developed our own particular brining process and we had at one stage a corned beef New York Strip steak on the menu which was fun.
the US there are very traditional and very trendy gastronomic concepts. What are the latest trends in the Ohio food scene?
Food halls are one of the hottest culinary trends in America right now, and Columbus is no exception. Short North open since 1876, this historic public market offers more than 30 merchants selling organic produce, locally roasted coffee, baked goods, cheeses, flowers and an international selection of freshly prepared foods. It reminds me of the English Market in Cork city where I grew up!
Food trucks are huge right now all over the city and many have really excellent food from all over the world.
Tapas is ever popular, they call it small plates here in America.
And there is an ever-increasing number of Craft Breweries opening restaurants here.
How would you describe your culinary style today?
I was always internationally driven using local products I want to excite the guest and give a unique experience.
Can you share one or two of your favorite recipes/dishes with us?
My favourite dishes would be again back to my roots – coquille St. Jacque and langoustine saute with a white balsamic garlic and lemon gastrique. Those are my two favourite seafood.
For the fish I cook in a very hot pan a few moments to caramelize in two separate pans…don’t let the heat fall. You must sear the langoustine/scallop.
The gastrique is simple and I use a queen bee honey to finish it if you can get. My friend Nina breeds queen bees here in Columbus, the secret is one third balsamic, one third honey, one third lemon freshly squeezed and reduced to one third.
Sadly I can only get the honey here in Columbus. I am trying to work something out about getting the prawns to America. Although, they would not travel alas. So maybe I need to pop up back in Ireland or France to show you this dish!
Today, fewer young people want to become cooks. What would you do/what needs to be done to make this great work attractive again?
Pay is one thing. There is a vast gap between what kitchen staff get paid and other professions. That for long hours of hard labor. Let us face it the kitchen is never easy. It’s the struggle that hooks us and the creativity that captivates us like artists.
We need more kind mentors in the industry. The days of Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White need to be gone. I am not saying that they were not good chefs in their day but bullying cannot be condoned or allowed. People need to be encouraged and rewarded for their dedication. Then they will stay, then the industry will flourish again. No more the Charlie Trotters and other abusers.
Any place in the world you would like to work as chef one day?
I would love to pop up in Hawaii, Jamaica, Bahamas, and strangely it may seem Tibet one day …watch this space.
Thank you very much, Daniel!