The Kingdom’s French Connection – Chef Cyrille Durand of The Bacchus Room Restaurant

Cyrille

Born and raised within touching distance of the world’s gastronomic mecca, Paris, it isn’t difficult to piece together the reason for Chef Cyrille Durand’s infectious passion for fine food. While his heritage is decidedly Gallic, he has found a new lease of life in a corner of the world capable of competing with Paris in the breath-taking view stakes – County Kerry.

Growing up in the home of fine Brie, Meaux, Cyrille attributes his chosen career path to the French food ethos, which he notes is a totally different approach than in other countries. “In France I feel that we live to eat, whereas in other countries people eat to live. From a really young age in France we are taught about food”, he notes.

Cyrille traces his desire to become a chef back to a young age, recalling that as the first person in the family home from school, it was his duty to prepare dinner – “I remember being excited to see what ingredients I had in the fridge and wondering what meal I could prepare from them!”

Crediting his “pure love of food” as the ultimate motivator in his decision to head to culinary school, Cyrille admits that he has always been addicted to the feeling of “seeing people’s reaction to something that you have made from scratch.” The desire to produce food which leaves his diners with smiles etched across their faces led Cyrille to the classical French culinary institute, the UTEC, from which he received three different diplomas over four years.

Although Cyrille himself felt passionate about pursuing a culinary career from a young age, on the topic of culinary school he does believe that it is an art that can be imparted through education, but only if the vital ingredient is there – “I have seen people starting off who have become really good, but I do think the passion has to be there first as it is really demanding, it’s not something anyone can do.”

Having learned his trade working in small country restaurants, family run businesses as well as big corporations such as a Disneyland Paris, Cyrille earned his stripes as a chef in restaurants across the spectrum. The most prominent French name on his CV is undoubtedly the historic Le Procope, which he describes as a Parisian institution, where he was privileged to work with some of the best Michelin starred chefs in France.

Le procope

“I like to believe I have taken something from each of them to get where I am today and I believe that each of these have been a step forward in consistency and upward standard” Cyrille says, reflecting on his rich experience on the French culinary scene. However, as beloved as his motherland is to Cyrille, it was the charms of rural Ireland that managed to pry him away from Paris, having fallen in love with our beautiful country on holidays in 1996.

Three years later, Cyrille found himself working in a busy Parisian restaurant, with all the accompanying stresses and strains, and decided to take the opportunity to travel, feeling immediately drawn to beautiful Donegal, less than a week into his adventure -“my mom was not impressed!” he laughs.

Uprooting himself from the magic of metropolitan Paris to settle in to rugged Donegal, Cyrille recalls how much of a culture shock the move was for him – “coming from Paris to a small town in Donegal – with no English – discovering a different approach to food and to the drink culture was hard, but after a few weeks I found my feet and my way to the pub – the best place to learn English!”

Looking for a change of scenery, Cyrille took yet another leap, moving from the wilds of Donegal to the opposite end of the country, County Kerry, in 2004. Manning the kitchens in luxury five star properties such as The Park Kenmare and The Aghadoe Heights Killarney, Cyrille is a veteran chef on the Kerry food scene and has found his groove at The Bacchus Room Restaurant as Executive Chef.

The Bacchus Room, housed in the Killarney Riverside Hotel on the picturesque Muckross Road, has seen a transformation since Cyrille took the helm, landing it an AA Rosette for culinary excellence just last month. Bringing with him his wealth of experience and French passion, Cyrille chalks this success down to “revamping the old menu to put a classic French twist on it, combining French cooking techniques with the best of the local produce available.”

“It took time and hard work to get to where we are today but it has been worth it”, Cyrille notes, in the same breath referring to the Rosette as their first, demonstrating an obvious drive towards a second and beyond. With Cyrille’s dedication, drive and all consuming love for food, this isn’t difficult to envisage and he admits “I want to keep working hard constantly achieving higher standards. I think the Bacchus Room has the potential to be one of Killarney’s best restaurants.”

While the Bacchus Room is aiming to set themselves apart from other restaurants in the Kingdom with the decidely French approach, Cyrille believes the food scene in Kerry overall has come on leaps and bounds. “Chefs here are looking to go back to basics seeking out fresh, local and quality produce, which we are so lucky to have plenty of around. Part of our job is to educate the guests on this as well as feeding them,” he says.

Cyrille’s mandate of using the finest local,produce and putting a “French twist” on his creations is the key element he believes distinguishes The Bacchus Room from the rest. While he doesn’t believe he has a signature dish but loves cooking with duck – showing his french roots with a penchant for canard, I am hungry just hearing about his favourite dish of the moment, a celebration of Kerry’s finest ingredient – lamb.

Describing a Clay Baked Kerry Lamb dish from his current a la carte menu, Cyrille talks me through what sounds like a dish worth making a trip to Kerry for – “a fillet of lamb wrapped in clay, baked at 270 degrees for 12 minutes and carved at the table.” “It is proving to be our best seller and the guests love it!” he notes, and I can see why.

As ardent an advocate of Irish locally sourced produce as Cyrille is, he does admit missing the mind-boggling variety of foods in his homeland – “You can find anything in a French supermarket! I think yoghurt is what I miss most. It might sound strange but in France we have a great selection of different yoghurts. Of course there are the usual suspects as well like French wines, charcuterie and cheeses – I miss them all!” he laments.

Between dreaming up new French inspired dishes, hunting down the finest local produce to execute them and keeping up pace with busy services in the ever popular Bacchus Room, Cyrille admits that striking the ideal balance between work and his personal family life isn’t easy.

It is a challenge for chefs but I think I’ve found the right balance. As well as that I appreciate my free time with friends and family a bit more. Being a chef is a really demanding and hard profession and I think you can only do it if you’re passionate about it and love what you are doing.

That said, Cyrille has kept his French connection alive not only through classical techniques in his cooking, but also by taking part in international initiatives like Good France, which sees approximately 2000 chefs all over the globe cooking up a French feast simultaneously to honour and celebrate France’s rich culinary tradition.

Cyrille’s active engagement with Good France saw him invited to a Bastille Day banquet with the French Ambassador, and he concedes that he misses Dragibus, the ubiquitous Haribo equivalent of Irish penny sweets, but his roots are firmly in Kerry. With this passionate Frenchman at the helm, The Bacchus Room is going from strength to strength, and Cyrille has his sights set on drawing even more visitors to this stunning part of the country with his accomplished Gallic gastronomy.

Unable to resist, I pose the ultimate clanger – Irish butter or French butter? Cyrille laughs heartily and considers his words wisely…”Well I’m living in Kerry so I suppose I have to say Kerrygold…even if we all know French butter is better!”

INTERVIEW BY DARINA COFFEY

Darina CoffeyGrowing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.

Darina Coffey Darina Coffey

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