Fresh, local, organic, produce and a focus on flavour are the twin passions of executive head chef at the Connemara Sands, Reece Grehan. Since starting at the hotel earlier this year, he has moved the menu away from the fiddly foams and tiny portions of molecular gastronomy, and back to basics.
"I’m very passionate about what I do," Grehan says. "I live it, and I dream it. Food in Galway is undergoing a renaissance, and I want the Connemara Sands to be at the heart of it.
"Here in Connemara we have the best of everything available to us, from freshly caught fish, to organic vegetables, to Connemara hill lamb. We’re going back to the roots of Irish cooking, where everything tasted as it should, with no added chemicals. I want to extract the natural flavours of food, not mix them."
The 24-year-old Dublin native worked his way up through hotel kitchens "the hard way", and wants to show other young people that a career can be built out of a passion for food and cooking. Grehan started in kitchens as a dish washer when he was just 16, and learned ‘on the job’ until he was interning as head chef.
"Those seven years are where I picked up all my skills and knowledge," Grehan says. "But it was incredibly hard work – I gave up a lot in my life to get this far."
Grehan says the move out to Connemara earlier this year was "the best decision ever. The setting here at the Connemara Sands is inspirational – you have breathtaking scenery, as well as the freshest of local ingredients right on your doorstep." This stunning location, with a purpose-built function room and views of the beach, makes the Connemara Sands a highly desirable wedding venue. Here, too, chef Grehan is keen to bring his passion for food to the table. Chef Grehan will work with couples to plan their ideal menu, a customer service approach he extends to all areas.
"If customers have particular dietary requests, I’ll bend over backwards to accommodate them. And, of course, I’m always happy to get feedback." Over the summer, Chef Grehan has got "nothing but positive feedback – it’s the same for the whole hotel. We’re getting amazing reviews on TripAdvisor, with people raving about the welcome, the ambience, and the food." He is now busy working on a polytunnel at the hotel, to add organic vegetables to the home-grown herbs used in the kitchen. Meat and fish is all sourced locally, and Grehan is keen to build up further relationships with local suppliers. But for now, Grehan has one eye firmly fixed on proving himself as one of the best chefs in the west.
"I want local awards, recognition of what I’m doing. We have the best of everything here at the Connemara Sands, and I want to get the word out."