Tom Keogh, farmer and crisp manufacturer
Ours is a family business . . .We’ve been farming the lands of north Co Dublin for about 200 years. My father Peter is the eldest of 10 children, and along with his brother Tony they have grown practically every vegetable that can be grown in this country. Potatoes were always a key crop.
I joined the business after leaving college in 1998 . . .My brother Ross and cousin Derek soon followed. I manage accounts and work as general manager, Ross looks after production, and Derek spends most of his time looking after the crops.
We started making crisps . . .because fresh potato sales in Ireland have fallen by about 50 per cent since 2002, mainly due to the increasing popularity of competing carbohydrates such as pasta and rice.
Breaking into the crisp market in Ireland was . .. a tough task. Everybody told me I was mad to even consider it. It’s very competitive and dominated by a handful of strong brands.
We cook the crisps on the farm . . .in an old potato store my grandfather built in the 1950s. I converted it into a food- grade building and started to source machinery from around the world. Our crisps are cooked by hand in an old kettle fryer I bought in Amish Pennsylvania.
We come up with seasonings based on local flavours and ingredients. . . I try to source everything as close to the farm as possible. Our cider vinegar comes from David Llewellyn’s orchard a couple of miles away. Our seasonings are completely natural. I work with a flavourist who dries the ingredients to a powder before blending them to create our seasonings.
It’s very tempting having crisps on hand. . . During production we sample crisps every 15 minutes to check the quality. Every day I take a sample bag from the crisping house to have with my lunch, just to be sure.
Traceability is important. . . So much so that we developed the world’s first Spud Nav. We print the name of the field where the potatoes were grown on the back of the pack. The customer can visit our website, click the Spud Nav link and enter the name of the field. The website will then show the customer exactly where the crisps were grown and give details on the growing season and so on.
National Potato Day (August 25th) falls during the Tall Ships festival in Dublin .. . so we’ve decided to join the celebrations and set up our potato marquee along the quays, where we will be cooking and talking all things spud.
The best advice I’ve ever been given . . .is care for the land and in turn it will care for you. I think this rings true for many things in life.
If I wasn’t doing this. . . I would probably be a pilot. I love flying and got my private licence a few years ago.
My earliest food memory is. . . tasting the bright red tomatoes as they grew in my grandfather’s glasshouse.
The best thing I’ve ever eaten is .. . I’ve just come back from a holiday in Sicily where, I have to say, the food was amazing. My sister-in-law is marrying a Sicilian and they grow most of their own food, which tastes great straight from the garden.
My dream dinner-party guests would be. . . Dara O Briain, Audrey Hepburn, Richard Attenborough, Mary Robinson, JFK, Richard Branson – and the Red Hot Chili Peppers for entertainment.
And I’d cook them. . . roast beef with my Mam’s famous rosemary roast potatoes.
Five things I always have in my larder are. . . potatoes, sea salt, baked beans, chocolate HobNobs and coffee.
Not many people know this about me but .. . I play midfield for my local Gaelic team, Ballyboughal GFC.
In conversation with Marie-Claire Digby