In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
is an award-winning chef who owns and runs Dunbrody Country House Hotel and Cookery School in Co Wexford with his wife Catherine. He has written three books
We met in Blinkers nightclub in Leopardstown. Catherine probably didn’t tell you she was wearing a yellow jumpsuit and legwarmers. I lived in Malahide but owned a car, a 1966 Mini 1000. I was in the College of Catering and working in Coffers restaurant at the time. I was 18: on our first date we went to a pub and there were signs everywhere saying “over 21s”; I was terrified I’d be refused. We went out for over a year at that point, then split up. But every girl I went out with after Catherine, I compared to her.
Every time I came back to Ireland, we kept bumping into each other. I sent her 21 roses for her 21st birthday, and I had her parents on my side. I had asked her to marry me when I was 18. I knew Catherine was the one for me; I think Catherine knew it as well but she was in denial.
Then I went to work in Canada, was there for seven-and-a-half years. I was working in Calgary and bumped into Catherine when I came back on holiday. I invited her to Canada for a skiing holiday, then we went to Seattle and San Francisco; I asked her to marry me and we got engaged on that holiday.
I worked in a five-star Fairmont hotel in Calgary: I loved my job, loved Canada, loved the outdoor world. I said I’d only move back if I could be executive chef in the Shelbourne, or own my own country house. And then the Shelbourne advertised the executive chef position. I’ll never forget walking into the bar of the hotel in Calgary where Catherine was working and saying “By the way, we’re going home.”
I’d always had a romantic idea about owning a country house. Catherine didn’t really want to go to the country at the beginning. Then I saw Dunbrody House in an estate agents’ window: it’s great and our three children have a great life there.
I never went after becoming a celebrity chef: Dunbrody House got a lot of press and one day a film crew for a travel show asked me to do a cooking section – and later I was offered a regular slot. In hindsight, it was the best thing I ever did, because it made us adaptable when the recession came.
Catherine and I make a great team: we have defined roles and in the workplace we talk as colleagues, not as husband and wife. And she’s a genius in terms of marketing.
I cook at Christmas: too many people get stressed but I can cook and talk and laugh at the same time.
was European sales manager for C&D Foods and worked for the Boyne Valley Group before she and her husband Kevin opened Dunbrody Country House Hotel in Wexford in 1997. They live in a house on the grounds of the hotel with their three children