If you were following along during our #RaglanRoadTrip coverage, then you know that I recently returned from spending four days in Ireland with the winners of the Raglan Road Master Chef Contest as well as Chef Kevin Dundon.
The winners will all contribute a dish to the Raglan Road 10th Anniversary Celebration October! I wanted to get to know our winners a little better, so I asked each of them three simple questions:
What gave you a desire to work with Raglan Road?
What was your first experience with Raglan Road like?
As a home cook, what’s your biggest cooking takeaway from this experience?
Here’s what they had to share with me.
Aaron Von Swearingen had long been a fan of cooking — and Raglan Road. It’s been a favorite spot of his for nearly as long as it’s been around, and he and his family often choose to go there for special occasions.
But recently, his passion had taken a different turn: recipe development. So when Aaron heard about the Master Chef contest, he thought the challenge to come up with a three-course meal would be a terrific way to test his new found interest.
And clearly, he rose to the occasion. Following his successful bid to become a Master Chef finalist, Aaron headed to — where else? — Raglan Road to celebrate!
His time in Ireland was, as with other members of the group, transformative. Aaron says that, more than anything, he’s leaving with a clear vision that a simple approach is the best one; focus on simple, great, pure ingredients, and be creative and thoughtful in your presentation. “To know those things, going home, is very freeing,” he summed up.
Like Aaron, Colleen Kerney has a young family and lives in Central Florida. But her motivation for entering the contest was a little different.
Colleen had been in the process of planning a family trip to Ireland, and had even considered leaving at the same time as the contest was planned for. But budgetary constraints led her to reconsider the timing, and she and her family began to earnestly save for a trip some time in the future.
One day recently, she was flipping through a local Central Florida publication when she came across this headline: “Kevin Dundon wants to send YOU to Ireland.” Well. That sounded pretty good to her. And we can say that the rest is history.
Interestingly enough, Colleen hadn’t ever actually dined at Raglan Road, although she was familiar with Chef Kevin because of his cooking show, which airs on PBS. However, she and her extended family celebrated her winning the contest by booking brunch at the Irish Pub.
While she enjoyed her time in Ireland immensely and definitely plans to return for that promised family visit in the near future, she also had some fun takeaways from the experience. First and foremost? “Butter makes everything better,” laughed Colleen. But in addition to that delicious advice, she also loved the time that Chef Kevin took with each of the winners, as he worked to make their recipes even better. “He is clearly very passionate about people and the work he does,” she offered.
Heather McBroom Walker’s road to Ireland was also an interesting one. As one of the two contest winners who hails from outside of the Orlando area, she learned about the contest from a friend. “She thought we could all enter, win, and enjoy a trip to Ireland together,” she says.
But in the end, that isn’t the way that it shook out. One friend opted out of the contest. Another wasn’t successful in her bid. So at the end of the day, she found herself booked on a trip with 4 strangers.
Because Heather lives outside of Florida, she hadn’t yet had the chance to enjoy a meal at Raglan Road. The night before she left for Ireland she rectified that, as she and a friend enjoyed dinner at the Pub, sharing dishes like the Appetizer Sampler and the Lamb Shank.
Heather’s takeaway is a new confidence that comes down to one specific skill: she learned how to filet a fish. After she caught her own dinner during our trip out to sea, she learned the specific steps for breaking down the fish and getting it on the dinner table.
After this, she says she’s pretty much ready to tackle anything.
Janice Epaillard’s passion for cooking serves as a relaxing hobby. While she enjoys her job in the field of banking, it’s the weekends that she looks forward to, when she can tackle recipes that require more time and focus. So when her husband spied the contest and encouraged her to enter, her excitement began to grow.
As a resident of Central Florida, Janice first dined at Raglan Road during one of their signature dinners. She loved the ambiance, the food was delicious, and the service was impeccable. So when she had the chance to buy one of Kevin’s cookbooks and have it signed by the author, it was an added bonus. But the hospitality that he showed guests that evening was what impressed Janice the most.
While many things about this past week’s visit stood out to her, she says that she’s returning home with a fresh vision for one overarching theme: use fresh. Cooking seasonally is the key to truly remarkable food, she learned, and cooking with herbs picked from the garden and preparing fish caught earlier in the day really cemented that new passion. Her new philosophy is a very simple one, and she plans to live by it: “If you can’t find the right ingredient in season, then change your recipe.” Seeing this first hand drove the point home.
Linda Rohr came to our little group from New England and learned about the Master Chef Contest via a friend. Because the connection between food, family, and heritage are so important to her, she was immediately interested in the opportunity.
While Linda hadn’t been to Raglan Road, she, like Heather, knew of Chef Kevin from his show. With tight flight connections during this trip, she wasn’t able to make her inaugural visit to Raglan Road right away, but she looks forward to visiting in the very near future.
When I asked Linda what she’s taking home from Ireland, her answer was very similar to Aaron’s: when it comes to food, simple is best. Quality, fresh ingredients trump complexity every time. She looks forward to perfecting her recipe between now and the private dinner in October, and refining a simpler approach to cooking in the meantime.
We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know the winners of the Raglan Road Master Chef Contest a little better, and that maybe, just maybe, you’re leaving the experience having picked up on a couple life lessons yourself. I know I have!
But now I want to hear your thoughts. What is your driving philosophy in the kitchen? Leave me a comment and join in the conversation!