The professional life of a chef is notoriously difficult to balance with personal life but Philip Brazil loves a challenge. This Summer he is taking on the both the Ring of Beara and infamous Ring of Kerry cycles, a combined distance of 300km, while ‘re-educating himself at the age of 45’ by finishing his Masters in Culinary Management through IT Tralee. All this is on the 2016 agenda, while heading up the culinary team in multi-award winning Relais and Chateaux property Sheen Falls, in stunning Sneem, Co. Kerry.
Growing up, Philip became a dab hand in the kitchen, as he fondly recalls Friday trips to Howth Market’s West Pier with his parents to buy fresh seafood. “I was fortunate enough to be allowed to make a nice chowder for a Saturday afternoon and depending on how much money was in the purse we were allowed to get some prawns to make cocktail for Sunday lunch starter,” he remembers. Before long he was hooked and a career in food beckoned.
‘I had two loves – cooking and carpentry – and I had to draw the line and choose which one I thought I would be best at’ Philip explains, describing himself as ‘a creative’ who relishes the process of taking raw materials, be it wood or ingredients, and creating something wonderful.
With the desire to be ‘hands-on’ in every aspect of his career, Philip found himself at age 14, itching to get into a professional kitchen, working as a kitchen porter in Oscar Taylor’s of Malahide on the weekends. It was here that his enthusiasm and passion was spotted by chefs Cian Gibney and David Walnut. Having proven himself, he began to work in the kitchen on busy weekends under their watchful eyes and cites them both as excellent mentors. But what drove a teenager to spend his free time immersed in the world of cooking?
It was the love of the kitchen, the pressure, the atmosphere, I really liked and being able to start at the bottom and work my way up.
The seed was planted and having first undertaken a CERT course Philip set off to DIT Cathal Brugha Street where he would study culinary arts and begin a career which would eventually see him taking the title of Best Chef in Kerry at the 2016 Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards. Philip enjoyed sojourns at other five star luxury properties such as Fota Island in Cork and Killarney’s Aghadoe Heights, but his heart it seems belonged to Sheen Falls.
It is immediately obvious talking to Philip that he has settled completely into the idyllic surroundings of his adopted Kerry home, far removed from his Dublin roots. He now lives just minutes from the resort, immersed in the magic of this stunning haven. If there is a rivalry between Kerry and Dublin, it has been left to the GAA, as Philip is eager to highlight from the outset just how proud he is to be a part of the Kerry food scene.
Neighbouring Kenmare is ‘cosmopolitan’ with amazing restaurants to satisfy any diner he believes, while Killarney and Dingle similarly have much to offer and attract the masses, according to Philip.
Philip describes with great enthusiasm the close relationship he maintains with local suppliers, from fish-mongers to craft butchers, firmly believing that Kerry is a cornucopia of the finest produce. Keeping it close to home, Philip sources all of Sheen Falls’ seafood from Star Seafoods, located on the Ring of Beara Peninsula just 7km from the resort. Laughing as he lists black pudding as ‘one of the biggest Super foods for 2016’, he tells me that Peter O’Sullivan, based a stone’s throw away from the hotel in Sneem ensures the Sheen Falls breakfast offering always includes the highest quality local sausages and black pudding.
However, for Philip one ingredient outshines the rest and represents the jewel in the Kingdom’s local produce crown – Ring of Kerry Lamb. Philip is clearly passionate about showcasing the best of Kerry, as he describes the unique quality of year round seasonality – ‘in the spring and summer seasons we have high mountain lamb whereas in autumn and winter have lambs grazing on lower ground.’ The difference? High mountain spring/summer lamb will feed on heathers while low mountain lamb will in many cases graze on sea water-sprayed grass, both subtly influencing the flavour profile.
Philip isn’t the only one who is keen to place emphasis on the fantastic produce unique to the county, noting that Simon Regan of Panorama in Killarney’s Europe Hotel and Martin Hallissey of Packie’s in nearby Kenmare are both doing ‘a phenomenal job using as much local produce as possible’ and championing their shared philosophy.
Speaking of his signature dish, Philip lists a tantalizing combination of roast fillet of turbot, basil, tomato and apple water essence, char-grilled asparagus, tomato pancetta ragu and pancetta crisp as his show-stopper offering. Always keen to keep abrest of innovative new combinations and influences from other food cultures, Philip cites pork belly confit, apple, mooli and carrot salad, five spice jus and potato mousseline as his own dish which he is most proud of to date.
Sheen Falls is a unique culinary destination hotel, as Philip tells me it has for the last 25 years maintained its own on-site smoke house, where he smokes not only traditional salmon but also chicken, duck and pork to be used as elements in his delicious creations. That said, fine dining aside, his guilty food pleasure is a simple toasted cheese sandwich on batch loaf – made with the Galtee cheese he always has on hand in the fridge!
Living just a stone’s throw from the grounds of Sheen Falls, ensconced by rolling green hills and wandering brooks, Philip ensures he maintains fitness of both his body and mind by taking in the outdoors – cycling regularly to ‘clear his head’ and even tending to his own vegetable garden.
Long hours and split shifts naturally mean his schedule is different to most others, but Philip counts himself lucky that his wife also works in catering, meaning they both aim to make Tuesday their equivalent of Saturday. Sharing his passion for food, Philip jokes that if born again, his wife would be a chef capable of going toe to toe with the likes of Angela Hartnett, as she makes a spaghetti bolognese to rival even his own mother’s, his favourite childhood dish.
Having been awarded accolades such as ‘Best Chef in Kerry’ at the 2016 RAI Awards, Philip believes the secret to his success is multifaceted, ‘I have passion, I’m highly motivated and I think I’m a good leader with a good management head to get best out of people’. As precision is key in the kitchen, Philip mentions finely honed time management skills as paramount (he tells me his home is precisely a 12 minute cycle from the resort, so I believe him!) and finally he feels with his team he is ‘very firm but extremely fair.’
The time is nearing 1.30pm, and with lunch service under way and running smoothly, it is about time for Philip to switch off and head home before returning to wow his guests at dinner. I imagine he will hop on his bicycle and enjoy every minute of his picturesque journey, breathing in the Tolkienesque scenery of his adopted Kerry home. Sheen Falls has found a keeper, a champion of Kerry’s rich offerings, producing food as beautiful as the Falls themselves.
For more information or to book Sheen Falls visit www.sheenfallslodge.ie
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that (and greed) as the ultimate motivators, I quickly realised that home-baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, which fuelled my desire to set my focus on food in a serious way. Working with The Taste allows me to satiate this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me as I share my food adventures and hopefully inspire others to indulge their passion for cooking and food in the process!