Laying The Cards on The Table – Head Chef Eimear Ni Cheilleachair at Table Restaurant in Brown Thomas Cork
Eimear Ni Cheilleachair is the Head Chef at Table Restaurant in Cork’s Brown Thomas store, a role she has held since November 2017. But where did her career begin and how did she reach this point?
“I’m from the middle of the countryside in Kerry. All my family are total foodies and meal times were and always will be, a very important time in our house. To this day, any family occasion is always planned around the food. I got my first job in Tralee as a pot washer when I was 15 and have been in the industry ever since.”
Recalling some of her earliest experiences in the food industry, Eimear says: “My earliest experiences of food were making toasted sandwiches and chocolate muffins – I graduated to them from the pot wash! When I decided on the kitchen as a career, I was 17, in college and doing an Arts degree. I got my first job as a commis at night and I was hooked. Segmenting lemons properly was one of the first professional things I ever learned and to this day it’s still one of my favourite jobs.”
Describing how her career properly got started, Eimear remembers her time travelling around Europe after college: “I decided to move to London and see if I could make it there. I attended the world-renowned culinary academy at Thames Valley University on one of my days off every week for three years.”
I secured my first job in the city with Angela Hartnett at The Connaught. The restaurant received its first Michelin star within my first year there and it completely cemented my decision that I wanted to do this as a career. I learned so much there. They were extremely long days full of hard work that could get quite stressful, but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Following her travels, Eimear returned to Ireland, setting up shop in Cork city. Gaining more experience in The Crawford Art Gallery and Star Anise, she found her place in Brown Thomas, joining the team as Sous Chef before taking the helm as Head Chef last November.
Speaking about working in Table Restaurant, which is operated by sisters Peaches and Domini Kemp, Eimear says that every day is different and she’s kept on her toes as there are always a number of new challenges:
“Work in Brown Thomas changes every day, but always starts with our morning baking. We bake everything in house fresh, except for the amazing sourdough we get from Arbutus Bread. We have a busy calendar of events happening in store throughout the year, from private functions and fashion shows to launches.”
She adds: “Every week, there are new and exciting challenges. We are open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and early evening meals. We also serve coffee and cake and we have a very loyal clientele.”
Eimear describes the food in Table Restaurant as “modern, non-fussy, fresh and deliciously tasty”, adding that “nothing is overworked”.
It’s cooked with love and care to unlock the ingredients so they can speak for themselves and for the customer to enjoy the best possible meal they can when they visit us. It’s that simple.
Describing some of her favourite dishes on the menu, she says: “I am a huge fan of our American style buttermilk pancakes with bacon and maple syrup on our breakfast and brunch menu. I don’t think I could ever take them off the menu, they’re so popular.”
“I also love our toasted sourdough, guacamole, spiced feta and slow roasted cherry tomato dish, it’s simple, clean and full of fresh flavors working together in harmony on the plate. I’ve recently added a gluten free apple and almond cake to our selection of cakes on the bar that matched with a Cloudpicker Americano is essential in the afternoon.”
Utilising local suppliers is proving more and more important for chefs, with Eimear being no different. She says they’re lucky to be based in Cork as she and her team are surrounded by a great number of high quality producers:
“Using local suppliers is extremely important to me and I use them as often as I can. Thankfully here in Cork we are so close to some amazing produce and suppliers and of course the English Market. O’Flynn’s sausages are a constant on my menu along with Arbutus Bread, Ballycotton Seafood and smoked salmon from Ummera Irish Smokehouse.”
She adds: “I have used cheese from Toons Bridge Dairy in the past and currently have Hegarty’s smoked cheddar from Whitegate on the menu. I am a huge fan of butter from Glenilen Farm, it’s absolutely perfect with our scones in the morning.”
She also has her favourite gadgets, saying: “KitchenAid is my favourite. There are so many attachments available. You can prepare everything from pasta to ice cream, pastry and juices.”
Despite loving her job and being used to the “long hours on your feet”, there’s little who would deny that a chef’s lifestyle is notoriously demanding, with Eimear doing her best to take some personal time in the evenings:
“My partner also works an extremely demanding job (though he’s not in the same industry) and we make time in the evening to walk our two dogs and chat about our day. It’s a good chance to de-stress and shake the day off. If we’re not too late, we’ll go for a swim or a class at the gym.”
“I do try to cook at home as much as possible, but I love eating out too. We travel as much as possible, it’s great way to recharge the batteries, do some research and get some inspiration.”
Despite the stresses that come with the job, Eimear continues to have a great passion and love for the kitchen, musing:
I still to this day, love the buzz of a busy yet smooth service. I love when I am completely focused, the kitchen is totally organized and running like a well-oiled machine. It’s so satisfying when it’s busy, the food is flying out the door and you hear the great feedback from the customers.
With 20 years experience in the food industry, Eimear is well poised to offer advice to any budding chefs, advising: “I would tell them to go travel. See the world and eat everything on the way. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and work your way up. It’s the best industry in the world.”
“If you are serious about it then go be the best you can possibly be. My mom always told me and my siblings growing up, that “if you’re not going to do it properly, then don’t bother doing it at all”.”
Glad to support others in the industry, Eimear has been impressed by a number of her fellow chefs recently, with two really sticking out in her memory:
“I really admire Enda McEvoy of Loam in Galway, really sublime cooking and one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Also, JP McMahon of Aniar is doing so much for the west and is next on my list for Galway.”
When asked about her plans for the future, Eimear says that she’s quite content with her work and hopes to continue evolving the menu and experimenting with dishes at Table Restaurant:
“I still hope to be heading up Table Restaurant for the next couple of years at least; cooking away, pushing, evolving, feeding people and making them and myself happy through the work that I love.”
Table restaurant is operated by two of Ireland’s leading food entrepreneurs Domini and Peaches Kemp. The success of Table is payable to their renowned expertise in the industry and dedication to the operation for the last 12 years.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Named Best Break Out Travel Writer at the 2018 Travel Media Awards, Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.