02 Jul 2022

A Day in the Life of Cormac Vesey

Head Chef at Harpers Kilkenny

Cormac Vesey is the new chef on the block in Kilkenny, as he joins the team in Harpers at the Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel as their Executive Head Chef. For a 36 year old, Cormac has certainly had a very interesting path to his career in the food industry. He has travelled the world and brought back some tasty culinary twists to Kilkenny and we are delighted to have him.

Cormac, who is a native of Dunshaughlin, County Meath, graduated from Waterford Institute of Technology with a Higher Certificate in Culinary Arts in 2010 and in the same year was awarded the coveted Student of the Year title by his department. Since then he has worked tirelessly cooking in kitchens across the globe. From New Zealand, France and England to Canada. He has also been part of the culinary team in some of Ireland’s most renowned restaurants including the five-star Killarney Park Hotel, Waterford Castle Hotel and the Michelin-starred Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore.

Before returning home to Ireland in late 2018, Cormac worked as a Private Chef in St Tropez cooking for an illustrious family in their coastal villa and creating menus to serve at their many high profile events. Now feeling back at home in Ireland, he is delighted to be back in the kitchen and leading his new team at the four-star Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel.

Here is a glimpse into Cormac’s life and the interesting road that lead him to Kilkenny.

Cormac, describe your typical day in running a restaurant…

Morning – I’m usually in at 11am, quick catch up with service about the bookings for the day. Then to the kitchen to check deliveries and get ready for lunch.

Lunch - 12pm lunch starts so everything is ready to go, quick coffee before service. Normally the rush is over after 2:30pm so its time to do tomorrows orders and prep for dinner service.

Dinner – 5pm dinner service starts, on the pass for the evening. Normally starts to quieten down around at 9.30pm. Then time to write prep lists for the next day.

Becoming a chef wasn't always the plan?

No, I started out as an ornamental plasterer, mainly working in Georgian and Victorian restoration. I worked in Dáil Éireann, Cork Court House and Tony Ryan’s village in Lyons. 

How did you go from an ornamental plasterer to a chef?

It was when I lived in Queenstown, New Zealand. There wasn’t a lot of construction work available, so I had a lot of free time on my hands and I began going to the library every day. I started reading anything I could get my hands on about food. Eventually I had read every single cookbook in the library! In turn I began cooking for a few of the lads and one them, a chef, got me a job in a kitchen and I was hooked.

You spent three years working in Waterford Castle, what was that like as a young chef working in a 16th century kitchen?

The first day was weird walking into the kitchen as I couldn’t see the ceiling straight away! The kitchen was built in a time when there was obviously no ventilation, so the room had extremely high ceilings.

Working under Head Chef Michael Quinn was incredible. I learnt a lot of techniques there. Butchery and how to cook meat and fish to order in a busy restaurant. They had a huge ethos about using local and seasonal products.

What was it like being a private chef in France?

Challenging! I worked in two very different locations – the ski slopes and St. Tropez. I started cooking for high end families in the ski chalets. I worked very hard there for two seasons and I loved to snowboard on the small amount of time off.

After a break back home I returned to sunny St. Tropez where I worked for summer season as a private chef. This was different from the ski chalets as you are living with a family, there was no hiding! The expectations are high and the family were always changing their plans which made meal planning and cooking tough. They were also a lot wealthier than the families in the ski resorts and sometimes their demands were crazy. They could arrive home after midnight and demand dinner for thirty friends on the spot!

When did you decide that you had enough of the life in St. Tropez?

It’s not as glamourous as you might think being a private chef to the rich and famous, you are at their beck and call all the time. My girlfriend was also working out there as a Nanny and it was time for us to try something new.

You also worked in the renowned Cliff House in Ardmore.

Yes, when I returned from France I worked under Dutch Chef Martin Kajuiter. His approach is all about modern cuisine, with emphasis on precision and the scientific element of food. 

How did Harpers in Kilkenny find you?

I was just back home from running a restaurant in Canada and I was looking for the right place to settle back in Ireland. As luck would happen it, Harpers were looking!  

Kilkenny was crowned Ireland’s Top Foodie Destination for 2018/19. You have worked in lots of destinations around the world, how do we compare?

I’ve always been a huge fan of Kilkenny as a destination and I’m glad to now be living and working in your vibrant city. It’s a great time for me to showcase my culinary expertise, share influences from my time working abroad and creating an exciting new menu for Harper’s Restaurant. Kilkenny is doing great in the food stakes. However I think there’s room for improvement across the board in Ireland. A lot of restaurants are doing the same thing – a mixture of world dishes on their menus. Instead we should identify a style and stick with it. Be either a French, Italian, American or Irish restaurant - stick to one style and be good at that.

So what style have you brought to Kilkenny on your menu in Harpers?

The new autumn menu that we are just launching is influenced by French cooking techniques while using the best of local Irish products. That’s the type of food I get excited about. I love the ethos of French cuisine - with a lightness of touch and the simplicity of fresh flavours.

What’s your favourite dish on the menu, what would you like to see us ordering?

The Toonsbridge Mozzerella Salad, it’s with tomatoes and leaves grown organically by Riversfield in Callan and dressed with High Bank Orchards Apple Balsamic vinegar. So simple but so delicious.

What’s your guilty pleasure when you get home in the evening after cooking all day?

I would have to say good Irish cheese and cured meats. For me it’s the ultimate minimal fuss and maximum flavour type of food. Some crusty bread, cornichons and a nice glass of red wine – happy day!

This is your first Savour Food Festival. What are you planning?

It’s something different for Harpers – we are doing a Vegan extravaganza in conjunction with Helen Costello from the Cutting Vedge and Roz Purcell. We are incorporating Roz’s approach to healthy eating while not sacrificing the flavours. Roz will be there on the night and Helen and I will be serving up a four course vegan menu.  

Will we see something different on the menu in Harpers for Christmas influenced with all your worldwide travels?

Yes, autumn and winter are great seasons for chefs. We are creating a menu around braising, slow cooking, maybe some game and lots of sticky goodness!

Who is your idol in the world of cuisine?

Raymond Blanc has been my biggest influence.

Who is he?

He has only trained 34 chefs that now have their own Michelin Star restaurants. In Raymond’s kitchen he has 14 chefs just working on pastries alone. Everything is done from scratch.

So that’s why you make all your breads and desserts from scratch in Harpers?

Well we do that because that’s what cooking and being a chef is for us, it’s what gives a restaurant a personality and it’s what motivates us as cooks to progress.  

Can you give us your top cooking tip?

Always make a bit more of something than you need for a meal, i.e. cook extra pasta or veg, build a selection of things in your fridge and freezer that you have at hand, ready to go. It will make preparing meals easier and inspire you to try a few different combinations. And have fun with it! 

Join Harpers for a mouth-watering, 100% vegan culinary experience, where best-selling cookery author and entrepreneur Roz Purcell will discuss her favourite vegan dishes and overall approach to food. Inspired by Roz’s ethos, the menu is devised by Harper’s Head Chef, Cormac Vesey and Helen Costelloe of acclaimed Kilkenny Café ‘The Cutting Vedge’, with drinks reception hosted by Highbank Orchards. Tickets: €55 includes a pre-dinner drink and beautiful 4 course dinner. To book – telephone 056-777 1888 or call in to Reception at The Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel.

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