Acclaimed Head Chef Stefan Matz has led the kitchen at Ashford Castle for the past 11 years, delighting diners with fresh, seasonal dishes. Originally from Germany, Stefan moved to Ireland in 1990, and has worked in many prestigious restaurants, including his own Michelin starred restaurant and hotel Erriseask House in Ballyconneely together with his brother. He has been recognised with some key awards over the years including Chef of the Year in Ireland.
What inspired you to become a chef?
The great grandparents of my mother as well as my father were heavily involved in the catering industry of its time (almost 100 years ago). Both parties owned their own guesthouse, pub & restaurant and were well known in the locality for their services. Subsequent generations overlooked the catering industry, but I found myself in my early twenties drawn to the hectic environment of the kitchens rather than continuing my scheduled economics studies at university. I like to be very busy and am passionate about food so the role particularly suits me.
What is your mission statement?
Simply, to ensure guests enjoy the food as much as they do the whole experience of Ashford Castle. Ashford Castle is a destination in its own right and the total impression should be one of quality and enjoyment. I believe the dining experience begins before the guest even arrives – it has to provoke a sense of anticipation and compliment the style of the castle.
What are the dining areas available?
The George V Dining Room is considered one of the best 5 star hotel restaurants in Ireland, with an elegant setting for a formal dinner and is also open for breakfast and lunch. Cullen’s at The Cottage is a more casual option for guests in the setting of a traditional thatched cottage and is open during the summer months. Cullen’s at The Dungeon is a wonderfully atmospheric space offering Irish themed dinners – with thoughtful food concepts that are clearly conveyed to guests. The Drawing Room is perfect for lunch or drinks – overlooking the fountain, gardens and Lough Corrib and the spectacular Connaught Room is perfect for private dining or to enjoy our indulgent Afternoon Tea!
What is your favourite dish?
It is hard to choose just one, but I do love succulent lamb dishes – the quality of produce is second to none. We are also blessed with delicious fish, which is both a pleasure to cook and eat!
What is the signature dish of Ashford Castle?
Our Table d’hôte menu changes daily and our tasting menu changes every 3 – 4 weeks. We love to provide different combinations of flavours that work well together – every element is important on each of our dishes and we take pride in creating different menu’s for guests’ enjoyment. We also combine the culinary talents of Beatrice Tollman, with popular signature dishes that are featured in every Red Carnation Hotel, which combine homely comfort foods which are always appreciated by guests after a busy day.
Where do you source your produce?
We are fortunate to have remarkable produce in Ireland. We insist on quality Irish produce wherever possible and have strong relationships with local suppliers and those in surrounding areas. There are two particular companies where I have been sourcing excellent artisan produce from for over 20 years now. Both companies, Graham Roberts from Connemara Smokehouse and James Mc Geough from Connemara Fine Foods, are excellent examples. Both took over the businesses from their fathers, but evolved the businesses from traditional to artisan producers of unique products. From smoked wild tuna or honey roast smoked salmon from the Smokehouse to the air dried meats from James (for which he has won may internationally awards competing with long established products and producers). Both have gained a fantastic reputation based on innovative products, and possess a drive for hard work and perfectionism.
What are your future plans?
We are developing a new menu for a Traditional Afternoon Tea, Contemporary Afternoon Tea (featuring gels and popular pastries) and the Ultimate Afternoon Tea, which will use the best produce of lobster, truffle and caviar. We are also planning to expand our philosophy of using fresh produce from the Ashford estate with the expansion of a herb and vegetable garden with a full time gardener who can provide the kitchen with the freshest ingredients.
In addition, we have a small section within our main kitchen which is almost completely fitted out as a small demonstration kitchen. This area will be used once completed as a small kitchen to hold demonstrations and small tasting sessions with guests.