True characters

 

Gary Bell, executive chef

My working day. . . is never the same. I am consistently redesigning and redeveloping dishes in the Portaferry Hotel in Strangford where I am working.

I trained. . . at Shanks restaurant in Bangor; Bayard’s restaurant and Le Bernardin in New York; Thornton’s in Dublin.

As well as my work in the hotel .. . I also run an underground dining experience called Faoi Thalamh, which I designed to reintroduce people to socialising and getting connected with people who share a passion for food and entertainment. I run this with my events co-ordinator Barry Hargadon and a team of staff.

We have staged events in all sorts of unusual places. . . art galleries, derelict buildings, abandoned pubs and even old stables. The more adventurous the better.

We have brought Faoi Thalamh to the Body and Soul festival in Westmeath this weekend. . . in the evenings we will be creating a five-course tasting menu accompanied by live entertainment in Ballinlough Castle.

It certainly isn’t your usual festival food .. . We’ll be cooking salt ‘n’ vinegar fish-skin poppadoms with baby chips; king scallop with smoked bacon mousse, baby spinach “seaweed air”; lemon sorbet, green chartreuse; roast shoulder of Wicklow lamb, spring pea puree, mint essence, pea shoots, and dauphinoise potatoes with rosemary smoke; chocolate truffle torte with hazelnut praline raspberries and lime leaf dust.

The main challenges associated with this particular underground event are .. . the lack of a kitchen for a start, transporting our equipment and managing the weather.

The hardest thing about running an underground dining experience is. . . making sure everything is up to my standard.

My favourite places to eat are .. . The Fat Duck in Berkshire, Daniel in New York, Thornton’s in Dublin, The Cliff House in Waterford.

If I wasn’t doing this .. . I’d be skydiving or skiing.

When I’m not working .. . I like to eat great food, drink fine wines and socialise.

My earliest food memory . .. goes back to when I was six and my brother made me eat an oyster. I got over it, I was young.

The best thing I’ve eaten. . . was pineapple cannelloni of king crab, confit tomatoes, wasabi jelly, Beluga caviar, mustard leaf, at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud.

My dream party guests would be . .. Peter Kay, Al Pacino, Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, Keith Lemon and Florence Welch.

Five things I always have in my pantry. . . eggs, peanut butter, jam, bread and Ferrero Rocher.

I wish I was better at .. . resting, relaxing and taking time off.

Not many people know this about me but .. . I don’t sleep.

The Body Soul Festival is at Ballinlough Castle, Clonmellon, Co Westmeath, today and tomorrow. To make a reservation for dinner, telephone 0044-7435-765-357.

In conversation with Marie-Claire Digby

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