The latest in our series of interviews for the 2016 year of food and drink here in Northern Ireland saw us catch up with one of our favourite local chefs, Paul Cunningham, owner of the popular Brunel’s Restaurant in our home town of Newcastle. If you haven’t had the pleasure of dining in Brunel’s yet, we highly recommend it. Read on to find out some of Paul’s food memories and inspirations.
Q&A with Paul Cunningham from Brunel’s Restaurant
1. What is your first food memory?
Picking mussels & cockles on Dundrum beach with my Granda when I was a little boy.
2. What made you want to become a chef, and more recently, open your own restaurant?
I fell in love with cooking and food at a really young age – it was always a dream of mine to open my own restaurant.
3. How important is it to work with local food producers and do you have a favourite local produce to work with?
I believe totally in what Northern Ireland has to offer. It pays hugely to build strong, trusting relationships with local producers, in order to get the best ingredients to create the best possible dish. Some of the finest producers are based right here in NI, and some ingredients we get right here on our doorstep are some of the best in the world, like one of my favourites, Mourne lamb.
4. Having dined in your restaurant several times we can see that you like to forage for produce. How did this passion for foraging come about?
My Granda taught me a lot when I was very young, and this ended up directly inspiring and influencing my style of cooking.
5. Northern Ireland is enjoying a bit of a renaissance of late in terms of the restaurant scene – how do you feel NI currently compares with the rest of the UK and Ireland?
Northern Ireland has a rapidly blossoming “foodie” scene, and is now a big destination for food lovers to visit. It is all down to the sheer quality of the produce that we have always had available to us. I have always firmly believed that NI can compete with Ireland and the rest of the UK.
6. Where in Northern Ireland, or overseas, have you had your best dining experience?
7. What chef do you admire the most, and if you had to prepare a dish for them, what would it be and why?
It would be Magnus Nilsson from Faviken. I would take him forageing on Dundrum Bay for mussels and sea vegetables, then cook them right there on the beach, to show him where I get my inspirations from.
8. What is your favourite type of cuisine to cook at home and is it hard to transition between top chef and home cook?
Cooking in the house is a lot more relaxed – I just cook with whatever is to hand.
9. If you could give one piece of advice to home cooks around Northern Ireland what would it be?
Just remember to taste, taste, taste as you go. And most importantly, enjoy yourself! It should always be a pleasure to prepare and cook.
10. Final question – what is your idea of food heaven and food hell?
My idea of food heaven is really simple – delicious Mourne Blackface lamb, with some locally foraged sea vegetables – perfect. Food hell is a bit harder – I really don’t like overwhelming portions though, mountains of food on your plate in restaurants. We’ve got to get smarter about food waste, and the way we eat. And I really hate it when good fish is overcooked too!
We just had to finish with a photo of the sort of dish you can expect should you dine at Brunel’s – roast salmon with pui lentils. How inviting is this dish! It’s often said we eat with our eyes, and this is a plate of food you just want to dive straight in and start enjoying.
To find out more about Paul and the team at Brunel’s, including their upcoming events and tasting nights, visit www.brunelsrestaurant.co.uk.
A year of interviews here on Pikalily
We’d like to thank Paul for taking time from his busy schedule to do this interview with us and giving us a real insight into what drives him as a chef. It’s great to hear a chef talk so passionately about the great local produce here in Northern Ireland, particularly the great produce that is right on our doorstep here in the Mournes.