WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – DARINA BRENNAN EXECUTIVE CHEF
Darina Brennan is the executive chef for Dalata Group, the single largest hotel group in Ireland, now fast expanding in the UK and Europe. If you’ve stayed in a Clayton or a Maldron, you’ve stayed in a Dalata and have sampled Darina’s work.
I’m fascinated by careers where people go from the bottom to the top. It’s not the case for every one and certainly it is the case here, as Darina Brennan’s role is as big as it gets if you’re not going down the fine dining road. A most impressive woman by all accounts!
How did your career path bring you here?
I left school and studied for a Diploma in Tourism and languages. I was working part-time in Wolfman Jacks Restaurant in Rathmines. I started out on the floor and bar and then went into the kitchen one night to help out. I fell in love with the kitchen immediately. There was something about the buzz and excitement.
I was always interested in food and cooking and thought this would be the ideal career for me. I worked my way up with stints in Jonny Cooke’s, was part of the start-up for Luigi Malones in Temple Bar and worked as Executive Head Chef in their Cork and Munich restaurants. I opened Fire Restaurant and venue and was Executive Head Chef there for 8 years, I subsequently joined Dalata Hotel Group working initially in the Ballsbridge Hotel. The Company was expanding and I was quickly promoted to my current role within a short space of time.
How does your career fulfil you?
I absolutely love what I do. Every day is completely different. Part of my job involves travelling around the country sourcing top quality Irish produce from a wide range of local producers/suppliers, I am constantly amazed at the quality of great Irish food that’s out there.
I am hugely energised by interacting with other colleagues and enjoy meeting chefs in the 45 hotels across Ireland, UK and now moving into Continental Europe, mainly Maldron and Clayton Hotels, to exchange ideas and develop new work practices.
My role is people-focused, my colleagues and I work hard to ensure that we provide our customers with excellent service and meet their needs and expectations to the best of our ability on a daily basis. The adrenalin of an excellent days service also really fulfils me.
What are your professional ambitions, what’s next for Darina Brennan?
As said earlier, I absolutely love my role. Dalata is a great company to be part of and they are constantly supporting our team, helping us to grow and move up the ranks. The staff are encouraged to upskill generally, there was a strong focus on further training and development during Covid while the hotels were closed. I took the opportunity to go back to college and studied Nutrition with Munster University. The company is growing and expanding and its very exciting times at the moment. I see my long term future being with Dalata.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry that constantly inspires you and why?
Maureen Gahan, Head of Food Service for Bord Bia. I have huge respect for her. Maureen primarily is all about Irish food and drink suppliers, actively supporting and winning new business for them. As a company, we actively seek out Irish producers. Maureen organises excellent seminars, that provide a perfect platform for participants to exchange ideas. In addition, we meet new suppliers every year through her events. Maureen is very easy to work with, an incredible person and she deserves more recognition for all she does for our Industry.
What do you think can be done to raise the profile and visibility of women in the industry?
Articles like this are an excellent starting point. Great way to raise awareness. It’s really important that this exposure carries on as that, in turn, encourages young women to come into our Industry. There can be a lot of negativity in the press around this business and we need to change that rhetoric. I think T.V shows with Chefs screaming and shouting does not encourage young people to consider a career as a Chef. Those days are long gone thankfully.
Dalata are increasingly focused on the importance of diversity and inclusion within the business and this is very important to me personally.
What is the proudest moment of your career so far?
The proudest moment in my career so far is being asked to join the Council for Chef Network. An online community and professional network connecting chefs across the island of Ireland. Founded in 2016, Chef Network is open to chefs at all stages of their careers from student chefs to retired chefs. Our three pillars are community, career promotion and education. We run masterclasses across Ireland. Chef Network builds on the camaraderie we see every day in our kitchens. Our online community provides a place where chefs can work together, learn from each other and share knowledge, ideas & resources.
Other proud moments over the years have been cooking for some of my heroes including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Irish Rugby Team the late John Hurt, Ralph Fiennes and Danny DeVito.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Sleep and travel more. Eating a more balanced diet when I was younger. Education and knowledge are always key also. Make the most of every opportunity that comes your way.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
People and good leadership skills are incredibly important. Being a good listener and having excellent communication skills are key for me. Thinking on your feet, being able to adapt and embrace change. It is also very important to continue upskilling. Keeping abreast of global food trends and culinary ideas from other Chefs and incorporating them into our business.
Are you a savoury or sweet kinda person? Please tell us about a real treat?
I am most definitely savoury! Give me Irish cheese any day over a sweet treat. We have such stunning Irish cheese producers that can compete with the best in the world. I am happiest with a glass of nice wine and 3 or 4 Irish cheeses.
My ultimate dining treat has to be dinner in El Bulli in its last season. I had a tour of the kitchen and got to meet Ferran Adria and team. 32 courses of heaven. An unforgettable experience and my stand out meal to date.