Fresh Culinary Direction in The Old Spot – Chef Fiachra Kenny Interview
Gastro Pub The Old Spot in Sandymount serves consistently exceptional food at a price that allows people to dine out with zero regrets. The gentleman leading the kitchen is Fiachra Kenny. Those of you that have tasted Fiachra’s cooking will understand the multiple awards the team at The Old Spot have received. We have gained some insight into the man behind the menu and hope you enjoy reading this as much as we did.
Tell us what inspired you to cook and the age you were when you started?
The first time I ever would have cooked was when I was 11 years old – cooking family dinners for 6 of us as both my parents were working at the time. Professionally, I began cooking at the age of 18, after dropping out of an electronics engineering course. Guidance counselors in school kind of pushed us all to courses like engineering, but I hated it and needed a more creative outlet. I started cooking more at home while I was trying to figure out what to do, then something just clicked and I applied to the Culinary Arts program in DIT.
What is your favourite food memory?
My favourite food memory as a child would be seeing my father cook dinners at home using my grandmother’s cookbooks. He would on occasion cook fresh rainbow trout in wine – not very common ingredients used in the Irish kitchen in 1980’s Kildare. Another memory would be sitting in our kitchen on Christmas Eve aged 3 watching my Nana prepare her stuffing for the dinner the following day and being washed in the amazing scents of simple ingredients like parsley, thyme, and onions.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your menus?
It can come from having tried something new when eating out in other restaurants, or remembering two or three different meals and the pieces from each knit together to create a different dish. We had a homemade pappardelle pasta and octopus dish on about a year ago which was inspired by an octopus dish I had tried in Osteria Lucio and a friend’s dish I remembered with ‘nduja and pappardelle. When I combined those two dishes, it made up our dish in the Old Spot.
I’ve been trying to use more local suppliers and aiming to get as much produce from within an hour of the restaurant. So try to stick to seasonal food as much as possible. If it grows together it goes together. I was recently introduced to another chef through working with ‘ChefCollab’, Conor Spacey, who runs a zero waste kitchen and uses only sustainable ingredients (which will be my next effort to switch out any ingredients that can be more sustainably gotten). I took inspiration from Conor’s starter at the ChefCollab for an element of one of the dishes I have on the menu at the moment.
Have you any suppliers/ producers that stand out to you and why?
I prefer to deal with smaller suppliers where possible, the likes of Pat McLoughlin Butchers and Simon Kilcoyne of Artisan. Both are very passionate about their product. We’ve been using Feighcullen Ducks, from Kildare that were brought to us by Artisan which are a great product, we order on day one to have them prepared and delivered to us fresh on day three. The Castleruddery organic vegetables they supply are fantastic and Artisan arranged a visit to see the farm working which was great to be able to see where the product is coming from and talk directly with the farmer.
Pat McLoughlin is a very straight up supplier who doesn’t put up with the usual chef schtick, which you have to respect. I have been working with Pat for years now, through several different restaurants because of the quality of his beef and the good relationship we have built. I have been complemented on several occasions by beef farmers from England and elsewhere on the quality of his produce on eating it in the Old Spot. He also champions and lists his suppliers on his website, most of whom are in the greater Leinster area.
What, in your opinion are some of the most underrated ingredients available to us in Ireland?
I think the wild seaweed that we have in abundance would be one of the most underrated ingredients we have. It’s become more prevalent on menus in the past few years following on from focus shifting to the Scandinavian influence on modern cooking. Buttermilk is also an ingredient I’ve found has may more uses than just bread making – which is what our mothers would have used it for. It works great with fish and also as an acid to cut through fattier meats like pork. It’s also being used more and more in desserts like pannacotta.
How do you stay motivated and relevant within your role?
I’ve been working with the ‘ChefCollab’ project this past year which I’ve found has been a catalyst in reigniting the passion you forget you had. It’s a great initiative by Chad Byrne, designed to give junior chefs the opportunity to be mentored by an experienced chef, giving them access to the kind of kitchens they wouldn’t normally have access to for work experience, and showing them the camaraderie between chefs – the fun side of the industry. Each mentor is assigned a junior chef and you work together to create a dish for a tasting menu dinner, which you prepare, cook and serve together. I was first asked to be a mentor to a young chef for their second ever event held in a small pub in Killarney, and through some mix up, we got assigned the dessert course. I’m no pastry chef, but we took on the challenge together and I really enjoyed the experience. So much so, I mentored again, doing the main course for the first Dublin-based event last March, and now Chad has roped me in to compere the next ChefCollab event with him – it’s on 23rd September in the Aviva Stadium. Watching these junior chefs, who are so eager to learn, and seeing the sense of wonder in their faces as your dish comes together, it’s inspiring and reminds you why you love cooking and wanted to be a chef in the first place.
Taking part in something like ChefCollab also reminds you that one of your key responsibilities as head chef is to teach and inspire, and give the junior chefs in your team opportunities to learn and to try new things. It’s a great initiative to be involved in, and even as a mentor, it’s an opportunity to learn from your peers – you get to meet and work with some other great chefs.
What is your ultimate food indulgence?
I love ramen – it’s simple, and full of flavour. My kids love it too – we’re lucky Ramen Kitchen in Stoneybatter is on our doorstep and it’s a favourite of ours for takeaway night.
What are your favourite restaurants, who are your favorite Chefs?
I really enjoy the Pig’s Ear. I ate there again recently and it never fails to deliver a great meal. We are spoiled for choice locally – L Mulligan Grocer and now Grano are favourite spots for a casual meal.
In terms of chefs, the industry is full of talent at the moment. I could name the usual suspects, but there are also a lot of great chefs flying under the radar at the moment. People like Paul Brogan in Forest Avenue or Mark Treacy who’s currently in Dromoland Castle, but who would have trained some of the more well-known chefs during his time in Dublin. These guys are doing amazing cooking behind the scenes, bringing up the standards across the industry.
Your job in undoubtedly both physically and mentally demanding, do you have an outlet that helps you refresh & re-energize your mind and body?
I cycle to and from work and I play guitar. The exercise and music help to clear your mind after a busy service and gives you a chance to reset and reflect.
Tell us what you love about working in your current role and why it is the right fit for you?
Though I worked in Pichet and Forest Avenue and learned a lot there, I like the more casual approach to pub food in The Old Spot. I think it’s changing nowadays, but generally when people enter a pub for food they have low expectations, and we aim to surpass their expectations and surprise them with a memorable, good meal. I enjoy combining classics and good hearty dishes with some ingredients that would be unusual on a pub menu, like octopus. Working in a gastropub gives you more room to play around – you can take comfort foods and turn it into something more – make it an experience to remember.
The Old Spot
14 Bath Avenue
T: 01 660-5599