We won’t beat around the bush. Your menu will be the biggest talking point of your wedding. Whether it’s guests raving about the delicious desserts or your mam’s pals moaning about being served a chicken dish instead of beef, it wouldn’t be an Irish wedding without dissecting every detail!
If you are a total foodie, you will LOVE the innovation and passion displayed by Head Chef Danny Craughwell at Hotel Doolin. Over the last 18 months, Ireland has seen a shift in culinary trends towards a more hipster vibe with a huge emphasis on big flavours and locally sourced produce. We caught up with Danny to find out how he takes inspiration from the Wild Atlantic Way and the hotel’s garden to create classic wedding dishes with a modern twist. And we are seriously impressed!
Tell us about yourself and your passion for food?
I’m a Galway native who started working in kitchens at a very young age. I became hooked on the organised chaos of a working kitchen and went on to catering college at 18-years-old. I worked in several cities around Ireland and moved to the South of Spain where I opened my own restaurant and bar on the Costa del Sol. After working hard for 10 years, I decided to move back to Ireland. I got back working in hotels and finally progressed to the Head Chef Position, here at Hotel Doolin.
My passion for food is something that has always been in me. I would be sent off to the cousins in the country (as all kids were back in the day, and no, I’m not that old) for a couple of weeks every summer, and I would always watch my Gran make bread and churn butter. I’d watch my uncles growing and harvesting vegetables and picking mushrooms in the fields or wild peas in the hedge rows. I still remember picking, cooking and tasting mushrooms for the very first time. Thinking of it now still makes my mouth salivate. Also the fact that there is always something new to learn about food. You could probably live multiple life times on this planet and still find something about food that’s new and wows our senses.
You are cooking for wedding couples and their guests every day. What is the most popular dish at Hotel Doolin and why?
Rack of local, grass-fed lamb has to be the most popular by far – although all of our seafood dishes come in at a very close second (we are right on the coast after all!). Our seabass, monk and scallop dish is a real hit with seafood lovers. The lamb has great flavour and is a tender and succulent piece of meat. It is smothered in a lovely mustard and herb crust (the herbs we grow ourselves), which complements the lamb very well. To finish it off, we serve it with baby vegetables and a rich reduction of Madeira, bacon and shallots topped with fresh rosemary.
What do you predict to be a huge trend for wedding cuisine in 2016?
Food trends are something I like to watch closely. I’d love to see classic dishes back on the menu, but cooked and presented in quirky and innovative ways. Classic but with a modern twist. I’ve noticed over the years that couples have become more interested in the chef cooking the food than the actual food itself. That’s why I meet with all our couples during their wedding tasting, sit and have a chat about their meal experience. It’s something all hotels should be doing really. After all, you as a chef should be honored to cook their first meal as a married couple – so making the effort to meet with the couple will make the whole meal experience a more memorable one.
A little birdie tells us you are a seafood specialist and hobbies such as fishing, BBQ and all things foraged are reflected in your creations. How do you infuse these in your dishes?
I suppose all of the above mentioned are related to one thing, and that’s the outdoors and surviving the elements. Using natural cooking methods to extract the foods natural flavours and then combining them to excite the sense is something I aim for.
What makes the wedding menu and food at Hotel Doolin so special, we hear you grow your own ingredients, have your own hens and use local artisan suppliers?
Growing fruit and vegetables is something I’ve been always been interested in. From growing watermelons, tomatoes and lemons in Spain, to growing cucumbers and chillies here at home. We try and grow as much as we can here at Hotel Doolin and I’m hoping to turn our garden into a Garden of Eden with all plants and flowers being edible – meaning these can be used on our menus as garnishes or part of a salad or dessert. We use a lot of wild garlic, nettles and samphire which are all foraged locally. All of our suppliers are also local. Our fish mongers, Garrihys, are within walking distance of the hotel and our Kilshanny Lamb is reared just a stone’s throw away.
What advice would you give couples for planning their wedding menu?
Wedding Couples should always keep their guests in mind when choosing a menu. They should always meet with the chef at some stage and he can advise them on seasonality, dietary needs and any other queries they might have. Chefs all over the country, from what I’ve seen are sick of cooking salmon or beef and wedding guests must be tiresome of it to. Here at Hotel Doolin, we have plenty of options – even offering our wedding guests venison when in season! We love to see wedding couples looking for something different and challenging. This way the chef can differentiate their wedding from other celebrations.
What are your top picks for winter desserts?
I would always suggest something indulgent at winter time, so anything with chocolate and alcohol in it – both comforting and warming. My Hazel Mountain Chocolate Marquise with Bunratty Mead Caramel is one of my favourite “off the menu” choices which I would suggest couples sample during the tasting stage if they were having difficulty deciding.
What is the wildest request you have served up at a wedding?
I remember being asked for a dish of stuffed baby pineapples one time. It was for a Hawaiian/Elvis themed wedding. I had to order fist sized pineapples all the way from South Africa!! Very hard to source, but the end result was fantastic. I stuffed them with a spiced lamb, mango and coconut curry. They were the talk of the wedding! Compliments all round. Just shows you, meeting with your wedding couple and discussing their needs really works well.