We are always keen to hear from the people behind the different roles within the food, drink and travel industry. John Kelly, Head Chef in the Michelin Star Lady Helen Restaurant – Mount Juliet Estate agreed to answer some questions to give us all a better insight into the man leading the kitchen team.
Tell us what inspired you to cook and what age you started ?
I don’t really know what inspired me to cook, I just fell into it like most chefs and got a job as a kp at age 16 and went from there as many chefs do.
What is your favourite food memory?
My favourite food memory is eating a tomato and basil salad with a glass of Chablis in the south of France while I worked there. An ingredient so simple but underappreciated as we don’t see it as a quality product as most times they are not good and under ripe. I know it’s a very simple memory but very iconic and its always the simple things are the best.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your menus?
I draw my inspiration for the menus from mainly seasonality and product quality and availability. We source high end products and we add one or two items to the plate and that’s it. If you do more than you dilute the ingredient and also creates confusion to the chef and customer. The essence and taste will be loss in over complication. Our motto at the Lady Helen is “Keep it simple and do it well”. If we do this all the simple things done well will build to one great product and that is our daily aim.
Have you any suppliers/ producers that stand out to you and why?
We have 8-10 suppliers, I won’t say one stands out over the other but they each do certain items very well. for example one supplier will get the best girolles and another will get the best squab pigeon. Therefor as a chef you have to utilise their resources that best suits your menu and concept.
What, in your opinion are some of the most underrated ingredients available to us in Ireland?
The most under rated ingredient in Ireland is definitely fish. For an island nation we don’t eat enough fish which I can’t understand. The other stand out ingredient we have which you on realise when you move abroad is our dairy produce, for me its second to none.
How do you stay motivated and relevant within your role?
How do I stay motivated, I don’t know as I got I a great work ethic from both my parents and was always instilled in us to work hard and do well in life. Mount Juliet is a great place and is an honour to be part of it. As a person I think I’m very driven and to be part of this trade you have to be.
What is your ultimate food indulgence?
My ultimate food indulgence, give me a roast chicken dinner any day and apple tart and cream and I’m a happy man. Again keep it simple.
What are your favourite restaurants, who are your favourite Chefs?
I neither have favourite restaurants or favourite chef, it’s what I’m feeling, sometime a really good burger or steak or another go all out and go to a 2 or 3 star Michelin venue.
Your job in undoubtedly both physically and mentally demanding, do you have an outlet that helps you refresh & re-energize your mind and body?
Outside of work I’m a keen fan of hurling being from Kilkenny. My other passion is my two red setters that I share with my brother. We really enjoy field trialing and like to shoot during the shooting season. This allows me to get out in the open air and just leave work behind. You have to have something to make you switch off.