“It’s a funny story how I got into cooking,” begins chef Daniel Willimont. “In my family they reckon that I became a chef because of the film The Shining. The kid in the film is called Daniel and he has a superpower, and there is only one other person who has this and it’s the chef; so they reckon it’s because of that.”
“For some reason my godparents thought it was a normal thing to put that movie on when I was 8 years old,” he adds laughing.
Hailing originally from Gloucester, he concedes in his distinct West Country accent that it’s more likely his career inspiration came from growing up in the kitchens of his parent’s pubs.
It was also his mother who, originally from county Waterford, inspired his career move to Ireland. 15 years on these shores later, Daniel recently took on his biggest project yet, as Executive Chef at Delphi Resort.
In his new role Daniel will oversee the diverse restaurant scene at the four star hotel in Connemara that encompasses the hotel restaurant, bar and onsite café.
His first post of note was at The Bear of Rodborough Hotel, which held 3 AA Rosettes at the time; then The Lodge on the Common, where he says they “used to cook for the royal family every week,”; followed by Michelin starred experiences at Cheltenham hotels Lords of the Manor and Lower Slaughter Manor.
And as for managing the scale of the 300 acre Galway hotel Daniel isn’t worried, having worked at the five star Atlantica Aeneas Resort on the south east corner of Cyprus, which houses five restaurants, four bars, and three kitchens; one for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with 60 chefs in each.
“The best thing about it was that to get from one kitchen to another there were underground tunnels and we had golf buggies to drive around.”
On his return to the UK he worked with a friend to open Amberley Inn, bringing the derelict old country manor back to life. “It was like a film, when we walked into the kitchen there were bats in there. We literally had to redo the whole thing.”
Moving to Ireland he settled into the Irish food scene working Crocketts on the Quay in Ballina, earning them a nod in the Michelin Guide, and at The Garavouge, Sligo. His most recent, and longest, post was at Mount Falcon Estate, where he worked with highly regarded French chef Philippe Farineau for five years.
Now stationed at Delphi, Daniel will embrace his passion for growing food. Taking over the untended garden at the 300 acre Delphi estate, Daniel has set the land to begin planting next year. In the meantime he has created a flower garden on a balcony overlooking the mountains, which he will use for plating and decorating.
“The owner was laughing at me when I said about the redoing the polytunnels, he said there’s nothing grows on this land. So I said why don’t we look inside rather than outside; like making our own butter.”
Along with growing and foraging, Daniel is keenly interested in the history of food: “I’m making butter now here and I’m going to bury it in the bog. Back in the day they used to bury it to preserve it and it’s supposed to give it great flavour.”
While techniques like foraging and smoking are among the many trends we are seeing on menus right now, for Daniel these techniques have always been a part of his repertoire.
“It’s weird to see how stuff is said to be coming back, but really it never went away, it just got overshadowed by other things. I’ve always smoked salmon, or meat that was at a certain stage, to preserve it in that traditional way. “
“I forage all the time. I’ve got all my gorse picked now, and my gorse syrups made. The wild garlic is coming up now, and there are four stages to that: the young leaf pestos and oils, garlic buds pickle, flowers to garnish, big leaves for baking and salads. Buckthorn, hawthorn, elderflower, and then berries; it’s never ending.”
“I make a lot of my own kimchi too. When my mum dad lived in the Philippines I traveled around Asia and did spent some time in kitchens there; I learnt how the Vietnamese and the Cambodians preserve their food. I’ll be bringing a lot of that to Delphi.”
Constantly innovating, and with the best of local produce used at Delphi, like Bernard King’s Connemara Mountain Lamb and Andarl Farm’s free-range Velvet Pork, Daniel can’t help but change the menu on a regular basis.
“I’m constantly moving and changing things. If you stay here two or three days I want you to eat as much stuff as you can.”
Still finding his feet, it’s little wonder that Daniel admits to feeling a little tired when I chat to him. “The main thing that makes me tired is that I lie awake in bed thinking too much, the paranoia brings me to work early.”
“An ingredients comes in and I’m thinking is it going to be any good? Can we make money out of it? Is it worth it? I’ve a wedding coming up; what extra work do I have to do? What deals do I have to strike with suppliers? There are millions of things going on in my mind.”
Despite having a lot on his mind, Daniel says he couldn’t be happier in the job, and gives some advice to aspiring chefs:
“I think the golden rule would be first of all don’t think about the money. Second thing is knife skills, I see a lot of people coming out of college with no knife skills whatsoever. I think it’s more pen in the hand than knife in the hand nowadays, which worries me.”
“Don’t have too many tweezers in your knife box either,” he continues. “I saw a chef recently who rolled out his knife bag and he had more tweezers than he had knives, I said to him are you a doctor or dentist, or what’s the story?”
More likely then to be seen with a knife, or even a garden spade, in his hands than fiddling with a set of tweezers, Daniel Willimont is clearly not a chef that’s afraid to get hands on.
For more information on dining at Delphi Resort visit www.delphiresort.com.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.