The RNLI and me: Derry Clarke

The Michelin-starred chef reflects on how a chance meeting on holiday was the inspiration for cooking up regular lifeboat support.
Celebrity Chef Derry Clarke

Photo: Barry McCall

How would you describe yourself?

I’m a chef first and foremost, that’s my passion in life. Then I am a restaurateur, working closely with my wife Sallyanne. Everything else, like the TV work, comes after that.

Your career began in Kinsale. Tell us about that.

I always visited family there in the holidays when I was young. As I got older, I took summer jobs at my aunt’s restaurant: washing up, clearing tables, waiting. Before long I was in the kitchen. Kinsale is where my love of the water comes from too. I remember launching pennies in the lifeboat collection box as a kid. I went on to do a lot of dinghy sailing there. I really took to it. I had to decide whether I wanted a career at sea or in the kitchen. I chose the latter, but the draw of the sea is always there. I chefed in Dublin from 1977 and opened l’Ecrivain in ‘89.

What’s special about your restaurant?

I was trained in the classical French style, so it is French-based cuisine using the best of Irish locally-sourced produce. It gives such a different feel to the food. I make it my business to know exactly who produces those ingredients. What comes in the kitchen back door makes or breaks you. And it’s the people who spend time dining with us that make it what it is.

Why did you get involved in the RNLI?

The more I got into boating, the more I realised how important lifeboat crews are. With a VHF radio, there’s that security of knowing someone will save you if it all goes wrong. When I hear bad weather’s on the way, I go for port and batten down the hatches – but the lifeboat crew are doing the opposite and heading into it!

People don’t always see the other crew of volunteers supporting them on shore too. The RNLI brings such a sense of spirit and community to a town. I love that it covers the UK and Ireland too and I’m honoured to be an RNLI Ambassador.

You’re a big supporter of RNLI Fish Supper. How did that start?

I used to take the family down to Sherkin Island with the boat. One night, over a beer, I was chatting with some local guys who wanted to do something for the Baltimore crew.

I immediately said we should do a barbecue. That was 9 years ago. Now about 400 people turn up every year. I’ve adopted Kilmore Quay, Courtown and Baltimore as my three lifeboat stations and it’s lovely cooking for all of them. I know it costs a lot of money to keep the charity running and I’m delighted to be part of it.

About Derry Clarke

Derry Clarke is a celebrity chef, reality TV judge and proprietor of Michelin star restaurant l’Ecrivain in Dublin. He is part of the TV series Lords & Ladles and is a regular on the 6 O’Clock Show and other TV and radio shows. He’s written two cookbooks Not Just Another Cookbook and Keeping it Simple, and is renowned internationally for cooking with flair and imagination, using the very best in local, fresh produce.

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