Rare Living Autumn 2019
I can still remember the time in culinary school when we were told we were going on a foraging field trip. I was annoyed that I had to drive somewhere on my off-day and puzzled that we weren’t going to be in the kitchen. I was imagining a day of wandering through farmer’s markets and grocery stores to find food items. I sat back in my seat, rolled my eyes, and listened as the instructor gave out the dress code for the trip. My definition of foraging meant to basically wander off in places (farmer’s market, grocery store), and find different foods. I quickly learned my definition of foraging was very different. What it really meant was we’d be driving to a local forest, with a foraging expert and going off into the wilderness to source food, and thats exactly what we did. I had no idea that one could literally find insects and random plants to eat.
This broadened my horizon on the restaurants surrounding my neighborhood and it wasn’t until foraging for class credit did I fully understand what a restaurant meant by “sourcing locally”. Much like many restaurants in my home state California, the chefs of Ireland are no strangers to foraging. I can only imagine what it would be like in the lush, wild, green fields of the Emerald Isle. Foraging food at your local farmer’s market, is for amateurs. This particular native to Ireland, Chef Paul Cunningham is a pro at sourcing food in the wild. Having his first experiences of foraging while hanging out with his “granda Paddy” at an early age. His love for food began to sew its roots in the young mind of Cunningham. One of his first memories with food was picking mussels on the beach with his grandfather. Little did Cunningham know that he’d be destined for an advanced palette. CONTINUED
He began to work in the kitchen as a dishwasher and eventually transitioned into a chef. He is now the director and head chef of his restaurant, "Brunel’s". This unique gem is nestled at the feet of the Mourne Mountains in Newcastle Co. Down, Northern Ireland. It is said to be a seaside resort on the beautiful island. He has taken the town by storm with his foraging roots, which are responsible for the locally sourced menus produced at Brunel’s. The restaurant is already up for several awards such as Best chef, best restaurant management, best cocktails, seafood experience and of course, to no surprise, best emerging Irish cuisine.
The menus play host to local ingredients such as the toasted hay oil that has come with his rigatoni pasta. His use of seasonal ingredients creates unique, mouthwatering dishes plated in a modern-day style. Chef Cunningham’s wife, Jennifer, a local artist, designs and hand crafts the plates and bowls for the restaurant. The teamwork between a beautiful plate and the tasty food makes for a dish to be remembered.
The new Brunel’s location was renovated by Jane Simon Design. She is based in Belfast and a specialist in commercial design. Her firm provides services for office, commercial, retail and exhibition spaces. Jane redesigned the new Brunel's space with a palette that is reminiscent of a ship with stunning navy blue walls, brass colored accents throughout are a great compliment to the herringbone patterned hard wood floors. They all beautifully tie in together to create a modern, warm and inviting space. The name “Brunel’s, bears a substantial significance and it’s history ties to Drundrum Bay and CO. Down. “Born in 1806, Isambard Brunel became one of the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history, building dockyards, railways and steamships but some of the most iconic bridges ever seen, the Clifton Suspension Bridge & the Maidenhead Railway Bridge. Among his most notable designs were the three steam powered, iron hulled ships, which transformed the face of naval transportation.
When the SS Great Britain was launched in 1843, she was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic. The story goes that Brunel himself arrived at the coast to oversee the resurrection of the ship from the dangerous tides of Dundrum Bay and whilst staying in the Dundrum Hotel he fell in love with the scenic coastal area and decided to stay for a significant time after the ship was rescued. The SS Great Britain was returned to service and continued on to spend the next 30 years transporting emigrants to Australia, bulk transportation of coal to the Falkland Islands and then eventually was brought back to her native shores to be restored and can to this day be seen in Bristol Floating Harbour and it’s anchor can be seen proudly on display at the Harbour in Newcastle, Co Down.
The decision to expand to a larger space a couple of years ago to accommodate the rising tide of visitors, was a good one. But one thing will always remain the same—the foraged, local-based, fresh focus of the menu. Head Chef and director Paul Cunningham alongside co-director Fiona Davey aim to continue to provide fantastic food and service to their ever growing customer base. The most impressive characteristic of this thriving Chef is his passion behind his roots. He believes that his country has so much richness to offer to residents and tourists alike and Brunel’s will always make for an unforgettable dining experience.
He maintains that sustaining a healthy relationship with local producers is imperative to creating the best possible dishes. Mourne lamb is one of his favorite ingredients that he purchases locally. Currently working on several projects coming up. This culinary genius is a pioneer and innovator that continues to re-invent himself through old traditions while breaking new barriers. A trip to Ireland and a stop at Brunel’s should be on everyone’s bucket list and is definitely on mine. END