True Character: Declan Ryan, baker

Declan Ryan, baker

Declain Ryan with some of his Arbutus Bread. Photograph: Alan Betson

Declain Ryan with some of his Arbutus Bread. Photograph: Alan Betson


I haven’t always been a baker . . . My career began when I trained in hotel management in London. I returned to Ireland for a weekend as my parents had bought a hotel and needed help with a big occasion, and I never returned to college. That was the start of Arbutus Lodge.

Bread wasn’t so sophisticated in those days . . . We served my granny’s west Cork brown soda bread.

When we sold Arbutus Lodge in 1999 . . . I didn’t want to retire and vegetate, so having identified a need for real bread, I started a small artisan bakery in my garage.

We spent a lot of time in France over the years . . . I trained as a chef in Les Frères Troisgros in 1974 and subsequently we spent many happy times wining, dining, training and grape picking.

Baking is a special skill . . . I learned from a book to start with and on Darina Allen’s suggestion I joined the Bread Bakers’ Guild of America. This enabled me to join them in Aurillac, France where I learned the French traditional methods of baking.

Back in Ireland . . . I started making bread in my converted garage and soon outgrew the garage due to demand. So strong was my passion for real bread I sold my home to fund a full working bakery.

We have expanded again . . . employing six bakers, but still using the old artisanal method.

My favourite bakery produ ct . . . is my sourdough medieval bread which has dates, figs, hazelnuts, walnuts and organic apple cider syrup.

I am working on . . . potato bread using slacker, moister dough. I also plan to experiment with corn bread. Every day brings a new idea which we work on, some make it to market some don’t.
It gives me a buzz . . . when I hear small children demanding my bread at the market, their taste buds haven’t been dulled by processed foods, so they taste all the flavours.

The best advice I’ve ever been given is . . . “There is always somebody going to be better than you” – so there is always room for improvement.

My favourite restaurants are . . . in France, Troisgros; in Dublin, Chapter One and China Sichuan; and in Cork, Isaacs and Ballymaloe House.

My dream dinner party guests would be . . . Terry Pratchett, Louis Armstrong, the Monty Python crew, Robert Fisk, Humphrey Littleton to host and my wife Patsy to hold it all together.

And I’d cook them . . . nettle soup, followed by scallops and prawns, and a main course of aged rib of beef with sauce Bordelaise followed by an Irish cheese board and tart tatin or bread and butter pudding made using our own brioche.

Five things I always have in my larder are . . . pasta, garlic, ginger, shallots and tinned tomatoes.

But if only had a tenner to go shopping with . . . I’d buy bread, a newspaper, chocolate and tea.

I’m really good at . . . telling stories from the past, I love local history.

Not many people know this about me . . . but in my younger days I loved to surf.

My guilty pleasure is . . . chocolate, chocolate and chocolate. I buy in bulk.
In conversation with Marie-Claire Digby
Declan Ryan is the owner of Arbutus Bakery,

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