The chef serving 10,000 perfect breakfasts every day
Darina Brennan puts passion and Irish ingredients at the heart of a perfect recipe
A hotel breakfast is like a parting kiss, it should linger long and be the reason you return for another. Clayton Hotel Dublin Airport has already served 600 people breakfast but the fruit bowls are still full, the bread, cheeses, meats, jams and hot food well stocked and there’s no shortage of bowls or a scramble for the last pastries. It is a finely honed machine and pride has been taken to make everyone’s visit a memorable experience. Overseeing this incredibly positive food experience for guests is the Executive Head Chef at Clayton Hotels, Darina Brennan.
Clayton Hotels are owned by Dalata, the largest hotel operator in Ireland and operates the Maldron Hotel brand and Clayton Hotel brand throughout Ireland and the UK, as well as managing a portfolio of partner hotels. There are currently 13 Clayton Hotels across Ireland and the UK; Dublin, Wexford, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Manchester Airport, Leeds, London and Cardiff in Wales.
One of the most important things a hotel can do, Brennan says, is empower and support local suppliers and this is at the heart of her philosophy, putting Irish ingredients wherever possible on their hotel menus - even at this time of year when she estimates that her teams are serving 10,000 breakfasts across the Clayton group.
“It’s brilliant, because the producers are so passionate. I mean, look at the cheese we have in this country - it’s the best in the world. Look at our heritage, look at our land, our beef. It has to be about Irish food and we buy Irish as much as possible across all areas including meat, fish, vegetables and fruit.”
Brennan is passionate about carefully choosing quality Irish produce as part of every meal in the hotels, something quite rare in a place that could easily cut costs with cheaper products. She does not compromise, and admirably champions the smaller producer.
She has over 20 years of experience in the industry and has opened six 200-plus seater restaurants. She opened and established Fire Restaurant and Venue at the Mansion House Dublin and during her career has cooked for celebrities like John Hurt, who she said was her favourite, Rhianna, Ralph Fiennes, and the Irish Rugby, soccer and Olympic teams. “That was a lovely side of it, getting to cook for people like that.”
“I kind of fell into it (the industry) by accident really. I was studying tourism and languages in college and working part time in a restaurant in Rathmines in 1990 and it was brilliant. Chilli con carne was a rarity (then) and I remember when they got real Spanish Rioja wine in it was a huge thing.”
She had an opportunity to go into the kitchen during her time there and that was it, she “just loved it.”
“There is something about the madness of it all. So I ditched the tourism and languages, I did my diploma and that was it. I just stayed in the kitchen.”
Brennan has been shortlisted for Best Event Caterer 2015 (Event Industry Awards), shortlisted for Best Chef, Best Restaurant 2013 (RAI Awards), and Business Person of the Year 2010 (Galas). She is also a proud Board member of Marriage Equality which was part of the successful referendum last year.
Not long before joining Clayton Hotels she took six months off to catch her breath. “I wasn’t burnt out, but not far off it. I had my first Christmas off ever in my career. I didn’t know what to do with myself, everything I was invited to I said yes. It was fantastic, and I suppose it was an eye-opener for me. I started interviewing in December and I met Des McCann who is the general manager here but he was the General Manager at Ballsbridge (Jury’s) at the time.”
“I started as a head chef in Ballsbridge in January 2014 and we had an incredibly successful year. Then the group took over the Bewley’s Hotels, including Clayton Hotel Dublin Airport here.”
One of the key things Brennan can do for one of the smaller Irish suppliers is connect them with their distributors, which can be life-changing for a small business. “These guys can’t deliver around Ireland so if I meet somebody, our distributor lists them and they can then distribute it. I met Zanna’s Cookhouse, a family business based in Wexford who make award-winning pies and quiches and I can’t wait to get them into the Coffee Docks.”
“We partnered with Brakes as our main supplier for dry goods and other breakfast items, so they’re our wheels. So if I meet somebody, Brakes list them and then we list them for all our hotels and then they get in that way.”
The Clayton Breakfast is something they pride themselves on, offering a traditional cooked breakfast that hasn’t come close to a fryer or frying pan, a relatively revolutionary step for such a large scale number of covers. Brennan said it was just about taking the deep fat fryer out of the equation. “Everything is steamed or roasted.”
As well as a fantastic gluten free section, their Vitality Breakfast selection offers a delicious, healthy option. You can incorporate a little, or all of it, in your breakfast and it includes muesli, a porridge station with real honeycomb, nuts, seeds and dried fruits, fresh fruit, cold meats, fresh yoghurt, detox water and an energy shot.
The bar food menu offers staples like steaks, burgers and fish and chips and the Coffee Dock has sweet and savoury snack options all day. For room service, their fresh pizzas are a delicious option, and far superior to the typical hotel dry club sandwich and chips.
You will find ingredients like Kilkenny’s Goatsbridge trout, Monaghan’s Silverhill Duck, Gubbeen cheese from Cork, Keelings strawberries, Irish beef and chicken, vegetables and jams on Brennan’s menus. Discovering fantastic Irish producers and bringing that produce to her menus is something which gives her and her team a sense of joy and satisfaction.
“At the moment we are at the middle of gathering photographs to display our suppliers and we would like to do that in all the hotels. That’s how you educate the guests, and educate your customers, telling their story.”
Towards the end of this year and into 2017, five more hotels will become Clayton Hotels: the Clarion Sligo, Clarion Limerick, Clarion Cork, the Gibson in Dublin and Croydon Park in London. Despite this ever-growing network of success, Brennan’s focus will continue to be on local, Irish, fresh, premium quality and seasonal. “I just love the variety, I love the mix of my job and meeting new producers - and giving producers a start.”
Essentially, anywhere Brennan can source an Irish product, she does. And her passion for sourcing and supporting new Irish producers is infectious and inspiring.
Enjoy your next summer break at Clayton Hotels from €119 per room per night, including breakfast. Choose from 13 hotels across 9 destinations in Ireland and the UK.
Call 1850 655 855 or visit claytonhotels.com to book your stay.
Terms & conditions: Subject to offer availability. Based on 2 people sharing. Rates and inclusions vary per hotel.