Chef Jonathan Keane has been the Executive Head Chef at The Lodge at Ashford Castle for just over a decade.
Connemara native Jonathan Keane is the co-founder of Slow Food Mayo, which is a non-profit organisation that celebrates the best of the region’s food and produce. The organisation aims to counteract fast food and fast life, instead promoting the importance of understanding where our food comes from and how our food choices affect the world. Chef Jonathan Keane is a member of Euro-Toques and the chairperson of the Cong Food Village, which is a festival based in County Mayo showcasing the brilliant produce of the West of Ireland in an exciting way.
Keane has a wealth of knowledge about the Irish cooking scene, serving an array of innovative dishes at Wilde’s restaurant in the luxurious Lodge at Ashford Castle. We spoke to him about his experience at The Lodge and the inspiration behind his cooking.
What do you love most about Wilde’s Restaurant at The Lodge at Ashford Castle?
What I love about Wilde’s Restaurant is the care and attention given to each dish on our menu. We prefer to shun complex recipes in favour of letting the flavours do the talking, combining imagination with the finest of Irish produce. It’s an exciting kitchen to work in and the passion that each person on the team puts into their craft is something I am extremely proud to be a part of.
Describe your food philosophy in one line.
The Lodge at Ashford’s food ethos is simple: only use the best ingredients, don’t over complicate the dish and cook with passion.
Who has influenced your cooking the most?
My dad probably has influenced a lot of my cooking. My dad owned a sheep farm in Connemara. A core memory from my childhood is Dad cooking lamb from his own flock. We used to help him forage for edible seaweed on the coastal shores which he would use to flavour the lamb as it cooked. This slow food ethos really stayed with me, and it is something that inspires and guides my own cooking as a professional chef. As a result of my upbringing, I felt inspired to start the Slow Food Mayo movement alongside a great friend of mine, where like-minded people come together to champion quality, ethically and locally sourced foods.
Best piece of advice you’ve received?
Keep it simple, let the ingredients speak for themselves, and empower all team members.
Who are your favourite Irish producers?
It would be impossible for me to pick one Irish producer as my favourite, there are too many great food producers to choose from. Some of the brilliant producers we use at Wilde’s include Andarl Farm, Velvet Cloud, St Tola Goats Cheese and Cuinneog Farmhouse.
Why do you love working in the Irish food industry?
Ireland is a special place when it comes to our connection to food. We should be proud of our heritage as food growers and producers. It is an honour to work alongside these food producers and showcase their hard work through my recipes and dishes. I have a deep passion for taking these ingredients and creating something special at Wilde’s Restaurant that our diners will enjoy.
What’s the best way to cut down on food shopping costs?
Growing your own seasonal ingredients is the best way to cut down on shopping costs. We are blessed with a great climate for growing our own herbs, vegetables and fruits. Not only can this help cut down on food costs, but there is something a lot more satisfying about eating foods that you grew yourself – you are more conscious of food waste and on top of that, the produce is super fresh and filled with flavour.
Favourite travel destination for food?
Barcelona – lots of world class restaurants with simplicity at the core of the cooking.
What is the best food memory you have?
I grew up in the wild Connemara countryside, from a young age I was exposed to growing and foraging our own food. My mother would send us out to collect wood sorrel and berries from the hedgerows near our home. These memories are something I cherish and I now take my own kids out to forage on my days off.
Sweet or savoury?
Savoury always wins.
What do you cook when you don’t feel like cooking?
Spag Bol is a firm favourite in our house. Nothing is more comforting than a big bowl of pasta and it’s an easy one to rustle up after a busy day in the kitchen.
The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnet.
What’s one ingredient you put in everything?
Achill Island Sea Salt is a key ingredient in all of my recipes and enhances any dish.
Which 4 people (living or dead) would you like to make dinner for?
Anthony Bourdain, Nelson Mandela, Michael D Higgins and Keith Floyd.
You are stuck on an island, you can pick one dish to eat forever without getting tired of it, what would you eat?
Bread and butter!
Jonathan Keane – Head Chef at The Lodge at Ashford Castle