F&W's Jordan Mooney recently visited the beautiful town of Rosscarbery in West Cork to stay at the Celtic Ross Hotel and during her stay was able to get a true understanding of what makes this part of Ireland so special.
The Celtic Ross Hotel sits with a backdrop fit for a postcard of Ireland, however, it is the luxury found inside and the quality of food it serves that garnered its most recent accolade of 'Best Three-Star Hotel in Ireland' at the National Hotel & Catering Review Awards.
As well as the brasserie menu, the hotel has recently launched a new fine dining restaurant menu, which focuses on quality local produce. The launch of this menu was spearheaded by executive chef Alex Petit and head chef Shane Deane, who joined the team in April 2018.
Jordan chatted with Alex Petit to find out more about him, his ethos and his team. What had made a French chef fall in love with West Cork? The food? The people? The beautiful surroundings? Well, as it turns out, it’s all of the above. Read on to find out more…
“I became passionate about food at the age of 16. I told my Dad that I wanted to try it out, he picked a local fine-dining restaurant that specialised in seafood and I worked there for a couple of weeks. It was a revelation; I loved the buzz, service and the passion people had for food. After that, I did six years of catering studies in France and on weekends I worked in nearby five-star hotels."
I had no English at that time so I was sent to Ireland for two months to learn the language and meet new people. That was 18 years ago and I was actually sent here to the Celtic Ross and loved it. I went back to France and finished my studies, then came back to Cork the following year. Then I met someone very special here and I never went back."
Alex and his partner travelled for a few years, Australia included, until coming back to Ireland in 2011 to work as head chef at Oyster in the Clarion Hotel. After two-and-a-half years there, the opportunity came up to go back to the Celtic Ross and he took it.
Is local produce a big passion for everyone here in the hotel?
“Definitely! When we do the menus, Shane and I get out of the kitchen and try to find as many local suppliers as we can that we don’t already have on the menu. We try to give a chance to as many small suppliers as we can. It makes our daily order take a lot of time because we have so many people to ring! The produce that we get into the kitchen is amazing. There’s a lot of places where you don’t have the luck to get such good local produce, so we really embrace it. At the end of the day, the chef can’t make good food if they don’t have great produce to start with; you can’t turn something that’s not great into something amazing."
What are some of your favourite products?
“I think the fish in West Cork is mind-blowing. The fish man rings us every morning to tell us what he has and makes sure it’s of good enough quality. That’s the relationship you should have with your suppliers."
"Dairy is another one. When we heard of the buffalo farm up the road in Macroom we were amazed. They do their own Mozzarella, Fior di Latte and more, it’s amazing stuff. We use a lot of cheeses because I’m French and we love our cheese! I respect what’s being done here because there is so much passion and love put into it. I respect that and I pass it on to the customer to let them enjoy that. I’m not the type to say ‘I’m French and in France, we do everything the right way’. Ireland has amazing produce so I want to give the public the opportunity to taste it and educate them about what’s local.”
What has the reaction been like?
“When I started here four years ago, the clientele was very different and they were used to bog-standard hotel food. Then I came in and said we need to give this a shot and use the amazing stuff that’s around us. We had to take a gamble. We saw that people understood that the chefs in the kitchen had a passion for what they were doing. Suddenly the local community started to support us again and the local suppliers did too. It was a snowball effect, everyone has supported us and it’s been very good for us.
We are passionate about what we do, we don’t accept shortcuts and we work hard for everything we do. The rewards for this are the customer’s enjoyment and that they come back to us, that’s what it’s all about. Cheffing is a tough job but it’s a really passionate job and you have to love it.”
How has Shane impacted the food and the team?
“Shane joined us about six months ago from Hayfield Manor. The market for chefs is in very bad shape at the minute and we’re trying to give the young crowd that come through passion and show that it’s not just a job, it’s something we all share as a team, it’s not just the head chef or the sous chef that does the job. I want my team to be known more than me to be honest, because that’s what’s going to elevate them and make them love the job.
Shane is funny, he only has about eight years’ experience and now he’s at the top level! It’s all because he has a huge passion for produce and he wants everything to be done the right way. That’s what’s driving him to the top level. The two of us have a very funny relationship and work shoulder-to-shoulder and that guides the team because we’re saying ‘come with us’."
Tell us about the new concept for the menu?
“From day one, we always had about 16 local suppliers on the menu, but then when Shane joined us, we stepped it up again to about 22 suppliers. The new concept in the new year is going to highlight a different supplier every two weeks. We’ll do one dish as a special for two weeks, using one product from a supplier. Hopefully, this will help us to create a relationship with suppliers where they start to come to us with their new produce. We’re aiming to start this initiative on January 15 and run it for the whole year so it will help the smaller suppliers who may not be able to get to the restaurants.”
Where do you see the Celtic Ross Hotel in the future?
“We need to keep going in what we do. We need to believe in and stay true to our values, which is local food served in a simple way and to respect the product from start to finish. We need to keep evolving our menus and following the seasons. We’re currently a three-star hotel but we’d like to gain a higher rating in the future."
The Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, County Cork is a three star hotel located on the Wild Atlantic Way. To find out more about the hotel, click here.
To see Alex's pork belly recipe, click here.