No one understands the importance of fresh, locally sourced ingredients in creative, innovative cuisine more than Chef Philippe Farineau. With 25 years of fine dining experience under his belt and multiple awards to his name, Philippe Farineau is a maestro in the kitchen. As the new Executive Chef at the elegant Ashford Castle in County Mayo, he brings his love of French cuisine and Irish ingredients to the Castle’s incredible restaurants and dining rooms. We caught up with him in a rare moment out of the kitchen to talk food, foraging and culinary inspiration.
You’ve been a chef for decades – can you tell us what your best moment in the kitchen has been?
“I have to say that, without a doubt, the best moment of my career so far was the day I was appointed Executive Head Chef at Ashford Castle. The chance to take on the kitchens at Ashford was an incredible opportunity for me – it was hugely exciting.”
You’ve worked in kitchens around Europe – what attracted you to working in Ireland in particular?
“I first arrived in Ireland in 1998 to work for a 5 star hotel in County Kildare called The Kclub. Like Ashford, it’s a beautiful place. I fell in love with Ireland and the Irish people right from the start.”
Can you tell us about what inspired you to become a chef? Do any delicious dishes from your childhood come to mind?
“When I was 7 years old, I saw a television program with Paul Bocuse. He was probably the most famous chef in the world at the time and I remember being completely and utterly in awe of him – I remember thinking what an amazing job that would be.
But I also owe a lot to my grandparents; my grandmother was a fantastic cook and my grandfather spent all day in his garden, growing amazing vegetables and fruits for his family. They poured a lot of love into their food. One of the most memorable dishes I remember from my childhood has to be roast leg of lamb with pink garlic and yellow fine bean “Provençale”. It was absolutely delicious!”
As a native Frenchman – are French influences dominant in your cooking?
“They absolutely are. In fact, I have a personal motto: “French heart – Irish Produce”. France is part of who I am, but now so is Ireland. I love to bring the two together in the kitchen – French influences and Irish ingredients. And I’m very lucky here–there is just so much available at Ashford, right on our doorstep. We use local lamb and beef, fish from the West Coast, seafood (even seaweed), and delicious local cheese.”
In your opinion, what makes a truly great meal?
“There are several things to keep in mind. First off, you need to have a balance between each dish. And then make sure you include some vibrant colour on the plate because, after all, you eat with your eyes, too.
But I think it’s important to remember that beautiful produce cooked simply with care and love can be absolutely majestic. The best thing to do to enhance great ingredients is to respect them. If you do that, then I think you’ll definitely create something special.”
You’ve spoken about sourcing local food – how much can you find around Ashford Castle?
“The area around Ashford is simply brimming with top quality produce. Most of the meat, fish, and vegetables we use come from around Cong. In fact, many ingredients are sourced from no further than 20 miles from Ashford Castle.
Also, foraging has always played a big part in my kitchen and the Ashford Castle estate provides a wonderful array of things for us to use, from wild edible flowers and tree shoots like hawthorn, pine and elder, to rose hips.”
What are the key concepts and inspirations behind your menus at Ashford Castle?
“It’s an amazing privilege to create menus for a place like Ashford. One of the things that was important to me was keeping things local, so we’ve been reviving our wall garden and growing lots of our vegetables here at the Castle. Another thing I want to do is give our guests a taste of their past – to bring forgotten tastes from childhood back to life. It’s incredible what taste can do.”
How do you go about developing the menus for Ashford Castle’s four main dining rooms? What are some of the highlights?
“Much of the inspiration comes from the ingredients themselves. I like to work with two or three ingredients, but the twist is that I like to use every single part of them; I don’t want to waste anything. And that way I can also be creative, giving the same ingredients different textures and colours.
For example, one of the next things I’ll be cooking is a beautiful beef fillet, but I’ll also use the cheek and the tongue. It will be served with ‘Rainbow Carrots Texture’ – a mixture of moussed, glazed and gelled purple and Chantenay carrots.
And with so much to forage around the estate at the moment, I’ll be putting a beautiful goat cheese dish on the menu, served with some organically grown vegetables that have been pickled and fermented, edible wildflowers, and a hawthorn dressing.”
Once you finish for the day – what do you like to cook for yourself?
“I always eat pretty late because I eat after service, so I like to cook something light. And I like simple food. So I might make myself a big fresh salad with lots of seeds and nuts. And on my days off, I generally like to cook fresh fish and vegetables that I’ve picked from my garden.”
Come and try Chef Philippe Farineau’s delicious cuisine at one of Ashford Castle’s four elegant dining rooms for an unparalleled culinary experience.
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