Marguerite Keogh is Head Chef of The Five Fields, London, England
(One MICHELIN Star in the 2017-2020 Guides)
Mark Birchall is Head Chef of Moor Hall in Aughton, England
(One MICHELIN Star in the 2018 Guide & Two MICHELIN Stars in the 2019 & 2020 Guides)
Rob Krawczyk is Chef-Owner of The Chestnut in Ballydehob, Republic of Ireland
(One MICHELIN Star in the 2019 and 2020 Guides)
What started it all?
My earliest memories of food are baking tarts, scones and brown bread with my mother. Growing up on a farm I fell in love with fresh vegetables and meats and I always loved cooking and playing with food. I have many memories of planting and harvesting vegetables in my father’s gardens. I also have fond memories of picking crab apples, elderberries and damsons, then helping my mother make jams, pickles and soups.
I think I was about 12 or 13 when I first knew I wanted to work with food. I kept telling my family and friends that I wanted to be a chef and subjecting them to my experiments – not always good but lots of fun! At 16 I started an apprenticeship at Dromoland Castle, where they also sent me to uni to do a Culinary Arts diploma.
I can remember my first shift there – I was full of excitement and questions but also a little terrified. I was a young 16 year old girl with no idea what was ahead of me. It was not only my first time in a professional kitchen but my first ever real job. I was like a duck out of water.
My earliest memory of fresh food is from around the age of eight in my grandad’s back yard, where he grew tomatoes. I clearly remember the smell of the vines being so strong and potent – I couldn’t believe that smell, and every time I visit our local tomato grower, Brian, I get that same sensation.
The first recipe I made was a pumpkin tart out of a 1,000 recipe cookbook – the different stages and processes intrigued me, albeit unknowingly very basic!
When I was growing up, chefs like Brian Turner, Gary Rhodes, and James Martin were on TV. It was then, at about 14, when I started to think of cooking as a career option after seeing them, listening to their passion and seeing ingredients I had never heard of before.
For me, as far back as I can remember, food and creativity have always been part of my life. I grew up in beautiful West Cork which is renowned for its spectacular scenery and amazingly rich larder. My parents’ home revolved around food.
My father grew up in London to Polish parents so his family heritage and traditions were very much prevalent in my upbringing. My mum is an artist, originally from Cork, and we learned to see and appreciate the beauty in everything.
During my teenage years, my parents had a small, intimate restaurant in their house which comprised of two tables in our sitting room (a pop up in today’s terminology). Dad cooked and mum was the host. The menu revolved around what was in season from their garden and from local food producers. With the restaurant in mind, my father began to produce charcuterie based on his mother’s recipes. This evolved into my father producing artisan charcuterie full-time. My father shared his knowledge, skills and passion with me and we have spent many years creating and experimenting.
I left West Cork to pursue a career initially in art. I studied model making and special effects for TV & Film in Dublin. After about a decade working in that industry my love of food was calling me to change my career, so I did, and made the decision at the age of 30 to pursue food. It was always part of my life and I loved combining my creativity with food. After spending many years working in some of the best kitchens around the world, West Cork’s spectacularly rich larder drew me home to open up my own restaurant in the heart of this stunning area.
Which people have played the biggest part in your career? What did they teach you and why were they so influential?
My parents gave me a great start in my love for all things food related. My mother with all the baking, pickling and cooking; my father with growing our own vegetables and having our own cattle for beef – I was very lucky. I also had an aunt who was a chef and I loved hearing her stories from the kitchens.
My head chef, David McCann, and sous chef, Nicky Flynn, from Dromoland castle were probably my biggest influences. They were great teachers and gave me a very good foundation and an understanding for classical French cooking. The kitchen had a great vibe, we were like a family, which taught me a lot about team building and good leadership. David and Nicky were also the reason I moved to London, they encouraged me and helped set everything up.
As a teenager I got a part-time job washing up at a nearby pub. Only one chef cooked in the kitchen, so I started helping with the starters and plating the main courses – I loved it. When I started at Runshaw College I managed to get a commis chef position at a local hotel, where the sous chef, David Dugdale, spoke of his time at The Walnut Tree with Franco Taruschio, so I opted to do my college placement there and stayed on.
I then returned to Lancashire to spend four years at Northcote Manor. Nigel Haworth has had a huge influence on me, I really learnt from him about regional cooking and sourcing local produce – what it does for the food you cook, as well as for the local community. I really enjoyed working for Nigel. He was the best sauce cook and taught me great butchery skills.
I suppose I have been fortunate – everywhere I’ve worked I’ve taken something on board and have been lucky to spend time surrounded by exceptional chefs. I spent nine years at L’Enclume and it was a massive part of my life and career, almost a third of my life when I left. Simon Rogan had inspirational dish ideas. He’d come up with some wacky things that were real eye-openers.
Winning the Roux Scholarship was a big turning point; having the support of the Roux family and giving me the opportunity to spend time at El Celler de Can Roca on Spain. The Roca brothers are amazing people, extremely warm and welcoming, and I’m still in touch with them today. It was great to spend a bit of time taking in a different culture.
It wasn’t until the age of 30 I began working in kitchens. It was very daunting at first, however I believe that you have to dedicate yourself to whatever you choose to do – it’s either sink or swim. So I put my head down and worked really hard in kitchens around the world.
Throughout my journey working with various chefs I learned so much. I gained amazing knowledge and lifelong skills. Each kitchen environment was very different and from each opportunity I had, I grew as a chef. This included experience of how chefs respect ingredients, the importance of using the best of what is in season and establishing relationships with food producers, as well as understanding the seasons, your own cooking style and your personal ethos when it comes to creating food.
Staying on Top
Where do you go now for day-to-day inspiration?
I love looking at what other restaurants and peers around the world are doing – it’s great for inspiration and keeps you on your toes. The younger generation of cooks are great too. I find the young guys in the kitchen will have seen something new on the internet or TV and want to try it out. Their passion is so infectious and a real inspiration.
In my spare time I love to read books on different cooking techniques and cultures. I also love to garden, which gives me a better understanding on seasonality and availability of fruit and vegetables.
Day-to-day inspiration comes from our natural surroundings – our garden, the farms we are surrounded by and the artisans who produce everything, from our tableware to rearing the cows for our milk.
Late summer is my favourite season – our garden is bursting with produce and our growers in the area are at their peak, it really is a fantastic time. We always start on our doorstep, so everything we serve is in the best possible condition. Earlier in my career I thought it was all about expensive produce from overseas – I’m sure Sicilian tomatoes are the best but maybe not after travelling 1,300 miles!
My father Frank passed on his Polish culinary heritage to me and it has been a huge influence in my life. He taught me to use the best of the season’s ingredients and to not waste anything. Through the use of old techniques, such as pickling, fermenting and curing, I learned to preserve the best of the season’s produce to use at a later stage in the year. We still create charcuterie together and it’s great to spend that time with my father.
Being based in West Cork, I am immersed in nature and my day-to-day inspiration comes from the landscape that surrounds me. I want to create food as close to nature as possible, creating an honest encounter between chef and diner. Nature has been and will be my constant source of inspiration. The changes within the seasons bring constant streams of ideas that I take with me into my kitchen.
And finally, what is your life motto?
Be happy, work hard and love what you do.
Never stand still. Never stop moving forwards.
Impossible is nothing. Work hard, set your mind to your goal and you can achieve it.
Read the rest of our ‘Spotlight on Chefs’ series here:
Aktar Islam, Sally Abé, Stephen Stevens and Taylor Bonnyman
Alex Greene, Billy Boyter and Richard Craven
Richard Swale and Eric Matthews