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Kevin Dundon on his Ales, Awards and Being an Ambassador

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Kevin Dundon loves to show people how to cook. It’s not really a surprise that a chef with an award winning country house, cookery school, range of cookbooks and a high profile television career loves sharing his passion for food. What might surprise you is that he is just as happy cooking on The Today Show in America as he is in your local SuperValu.

Kevin has been the SuperValu ambassador for the last seven years and regularly does demos in stores all over the country. I met him in Lucan where he was celebrating the recent revamp and showing customers how to cook the perfect steak, among other things. (You have to have a steaming hot pan and massage the oil into the meat, don’t put it in the pan!)

His relationship with SuperValu is, and always has been, one of mutual respect. Kevin says he decided to work with them over other retailers because they’re ‘super’ people to deal with. He also admires their structure: “The Supervalu stores around Ireland are individually owned by families so when a family is working hard to get a business going and I can help them along it’s great. It kind of reminds me of the Blue Book in the sense that we all own our own properties but we’re marketed by one group. I think there’s so much more ownership within the stores and I just think it’s a lot more personable.

Bernard Brogan and Kevin Dundon 9/6/2014

Kevin connects with the owners as they share principles like truly supporting Irish. By stocking indigenous and local products, SuperValu is playing its part for local and national business and the country’s economy. This shared ethos means Kevin has a great relationship with everyone in SuperValu because they believe in each other.

I can’t do something unless I really believe in what I’m selling. If I don’t believe in what I’m selling I’ll just end up not doing it
because I’m not doing them any favours and I’m not doing myself any favours. You need to be true to yourself, it’s very important in everything you do in life.

Something Kevin strongly believes in is the Food Academy Programme which has been supporting local products and companies for years and is now providing a formal process of mentoring and product development. *I think SuperValu needs to be credited for the amount of companies they have actually indirectly started, if you know what I mean, giving them the foot up.

The academy evaluates the business and mentors the producers while expanding the range slowly to control production and costs. Kevin likes the process because it helps connect the customer to the people behind the product. “When you can talk about a producer, where they started and what they’re about, their ethos and everything else, you get a huge buy in from the customer base. If I’m talking about a producer suddenly everyone is buying their product which is great.

This is a method that hopefully will work for Kevin himself as he is now a producer in his own right in Arthurstown Brewery. The project started out as a microbrewery and now consists of a large plant and a range of five beers. The latest offering is a commemorative affair, the 1916 Proclamation Porter. Kevin wanted to mark the local history of the proclamation in Enniscorthy and the team created a limited edition special brew. “What I love about it is it’s a true porter and it hits the craft beer mind but it also will fit in an old man’s bar cause it’s like an old bottle of Guinness off the shelf type porter which I think is great because it’s hitting a lot of people’s palates.

The range already consists of pale ales, red ales and their first lager is currently being trialled by the customers in the Local, the pub located in Dunbrody. When it comes to product development, Kevin relies heavily on the expertise of Brew Master Kieran Bird who tweaks the flavour profiles with exacting precision whenever something is askew. Kieran is constantly experimenting with new concepts for Kevin such as adding Wexford strawberries to the lager for the summer.

It’s not just Kieran’s skill that makes the beer from Arthurstown special. The natural spring water leads to an imbalance in flavour so the team have to compensate. “You don’t get that really hoppy bang off it so we just have to change the profile slightly, with a little bit more hops and time the process of making the beer differently and then suddenly you get the hop content you are looking for. It’s all about temperatures and time.

Making the most of the local resources is an ethos Kevin has fully developed at Dunbrody Country House Hotel. The sizeable gardens of 300 acres allow the hotel to operate at 90% self-sufficiency throughout the summer, but through the rest of the year they still have access to some of the best produce in the country. This is one of the reasons why Dunbrody was recently crowned Best Luxury Country House in the world by the Luxury Travel Guide, a prestigious honour and a great achievement for Kevin and his wife Catherine who manages Dunbrody. Kevin won’t let the award put pressure on the team though.

It was brilliant for Dunbrody but also great for Ireland as well to achieve that, and the South East. We haven’t done anything different, we didn’t go after it. I always say to the team, we are who we are and people like us for who we are. Sometimes when you have someone coming in you try a little bit too hard and you’re actually not giving the true relaxed atmosphere that Dunbrody has. So that to me is really important.

The atmosphere Kevin and Catherine have created in Dunbrody is the result of some serious research. The Dundons stayed in houses all over Ireland looking for characteristics they wanted to emulate and aspects they wanted to avoid. “You don’t have to dress up for dinner, we just want you to chill and relax and enjoy yourself and feel as if you are at home. To me that’s true Irish hospitality. I think you wear a shirt and tie all week, we don’t want to go there with restaurants.

Whatever atmosphere exists in Dunbrody, it is certainly popular. Kevin admits the recession still hasn’t lifted from the countryside but as Dublin and other urban areas improve they are seeing greater footfall and an increase in the average spend on wine; a sure sign of progress. Another promising indicator is the interest in Dunbrody’s cookery courses which is continually on the rise.

Aside from internal improvements, it seems Dunbrody’s profile abroad as a tourist destination is also having a moment, thanks to awards like Best Luxury Country House in the World and also to Kevin’s blossoming TV career in the States. “Americans are coming specifically to Dunbrody house. The South East was always a hard sell for tour operators, they always wanted to go west but now there’s people saying we want to go to Ireland and we want to stay two nights in Dunbrody house.

So has the tide turned for tourism in Ireland? Fáilte Ireland are certainly trying to do so with their follow up initiative to the Wild Atlantic Way. Ireland’s Ancient East is going to focus on the history of the Eastern coast and is posed to do for Leinster what the WAW has acheived for Connaught and Munster. Kevin is quick to defend the organisation who were accused of neglecting certain areas during the WAW initiative.

I sat on the board of Fáilte Ireland for five years. Catherine was giving out about the Wild Atlantic Way and I said when you only have a limited budget, you’re better off pushing it all into one area and getting a good shout out. The Wild Atlantic Way got huge media coverage all over the world, it was very impressive. Yes it put the West on the map, but it also put Ireland on the map too.

Kevin’s ethos seems to be ‘the more the merrier’ as any business for Ireland is good for everybody. He pays tribute to ambassadors who are raising Ireland’s profile such as Francis Brennan and Rachel Allen but maintains it is more effective if you have a landmark to direct people towards. “I think it’s very important to have a product, like a business, a hotel, a restaurant on the ground because if you don’t have that, you are a personality more than a product.

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Although an international profile was never part of the plan, Kevin’s is about to be raised even higher. His TV shows are going to be shown in Asia and Australia with the Food Network. “I always said that I never wanted to go East but things get out of your control because distribution are selling your shows worldwide and then this is a big acquisition. But it opens up a great market for Dunbrody House and the South East corner of Ireland.

When it comes to appearing on televeision, Kevin says it is different in America, that they expect a lot of upbeat energy. He prefers to be himself. “A lot of people say what they like about me on telly is that I’m very relaxed and I just like chat to them as if I’m in their living room and I think people engage that way. I love the craic and I love having a good laugh.

Kevin’s new television show is a bit more challenging this time as he goes exploring for the Travel Channel. The series will see Kevin travel from Southampton to Victoria Falls on a flying boat, following his grandfather’s footsteps along the route he took in 1948. “He kept an amazing diary so so we’re kind of reliving his steps right the way down to Africa and then down to Cape Town and back up through the bush. It’s going to be amazing. I can’t wait to do it cause it’s my grandfather, I love the guy.

The best part of the trip for Kevin is that his son Tom and his mother will be joining him in Cape Town for the return leg. It is a case of history repeating itself as his mother made the same journey with her father all those years ago and Kevin is looking forward to having his family with him. His wife Catherine is missing out though she does make it on some trips. “When I’m away, I’m working so much that we barely see each other. One of us has to be there [in Dunbrody] plus with the three kids in school it’s all very well to say let’s just go off, you can’t.

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Kevin is fully committed to his gastro pub in florida, Raglan Road and puts in the effort required to maintain its great reputation. That effort requires a lot of time away from home but Kevin tries to keep it balanced. “It actually hasn’t been that bad this year, I’ve only been in the States once so far. I try and curtail it to no more than three weeks. It’s hard on the kids when I’m away so I always try and get back. And my heart is in Dunbrody house, I like to be there so I try to do a lot of work from there. I do as little travelling as possible.

When talk turns to the kids, Kevin says he would only welcome them into the business once they had studied, travelled and returned with something else to offer Dunbrody. “I think it’s very important that they put their stamp on our business, I don’t think it would be healthy for them or for the business if they just kind of continued our legacy and didn’t put their stamp on it.

Kevin is adamant though that they do whatever makes them happy and follow their own paths.

I would love that to happen and so would Catherine but I’d be quite happy if they’re happy in whatever they are doing. When you decide on a career that you’re going to go into, it’s a big portion of your life. You have to wake up in the morning and enjoy what you’re doing; if you don’t, you’ll have a very miserable life.

I’m sure if they inherit even half of their father’s passion they’ll do alright.

 

INTERVIEW BY ALISON DALY

BioAlison has been writing since she could hold a pen, which came in handy for her degree in English, Media and Cultural Studies. She has been working in media since graduating and is the latest features writer for TheTaste.

Writing for TheTaste allows her to combine her passion for the written word with her love of food and drink. Find her on Twitter @AliDalyo

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