True character

Rory O’Connell, chef, tutor and writer


I am a chef, and a cooking tutor . . . I fell into cooking by accident. The decision was based on greed – there were some sauces I wanted to learn how to make so I thought a few months in the kitchen would achieve that. I hadn’t reckoned on discovering I love cooking and was reasonably good at it.

I’ve done my time in professional kitchens . . . I trained at Ballymaloe House with Myrtle Allen. I also worked with the Ryan brothers at Arbutus Lodge in Cork. I’ve also worked with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxford and with Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico in London. I have cooked at Chez Panisse in California and at the River Café in London. This year I hope to cook with David Thompson in Bangkok and do a stage at Noma.

Teaching people how to cook is . . .
something I really enjoy. Taking great ingredients and turning into them something delicious in front of an interested audience doesn’t really seem like work, it’s more a privilege.

The things people find hardest to master are . . . making shortcrust pastry , lining a flan ring with it, filleting fish, believing simple can be best.

I am also a writer . . . I’ve just published my first book, Master It , and hopefully it captures my experience as a cook and a teacher and delivers a strong, clear and encouraging message to those who read it.

It’s not a “chuck it all in and see what happens” type of book . . .
I really encourage cooks to measure ingredients, follow the instructions and you are pretty much guaranteed a good result.

I find beauty in many places . . .
mostly the countryside, though it’s mood dependant. What is grim and sad today can be tomorrow’s perfect setting.

I have many other interests outside the kitchen . . .
especially gardening and growing food. I still can’t believe when I put a tiny dry seed into the ground it emerges bravely as something living, strong and beautiful.

If I wasn’t doing this . . . I’d be running a beach-shack restaurant.

When I’m not working . . . I try not to think about work – it never works.

My favourite restaurant is . . . the River Café in London.

My dream dinner party guests would be . . . Oscar Wilde, George Clooney, Edna O’Brien, Pablo Picasso, Kate Moss and Vita Sackville-West .

And I’d cook them . . . East Cork lamb, Ballycotton potatoes, asparagus and a very light mint béarnaise.

Five things I always have in my larder are . . . eggs, Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, Coolea cheese, Gubbeen chorizo, chilli flakes.

But if I only had a tenner to go shopping with . . . I’d buy potatoes, cabbage, onions and lamb kidneys or a ham hock.

I’m really good at . . . making lists.

I wish I was better at . . . doing all the things on the list.

Not many people know this about me . . . but I like boxing.

My guilty pleasure is . . . the odd Jaffa Cake.

In conversation with Marie-Claire Digby

Master It is published by 4th Estate, June 6th