On Saturday 3 June, acclaimed chef and founder of The Devils Menu, John Whelan was in Zwilling for a steak preparation demonstration. Before he tickled our taste buds, we managed to speak to John to get some insider tips and tricks for the perfect BBQ, finding fresh ingredients in your garden and to learn more about the cookery school as well as his Made in Heaven marshmallows!
KV: Can you tell us more about The Devils Menu Cookery School and why you decided to set it up?
JW: The Devils Menu was set up because I felt we needed a place where fun & passion for food was the main focus. I believe every meal should be a celebration and I insist all my guests only come if they want to have fun. The best high end kitchens I worked in nurtured the chefs and instilled passion and confidence. And that creates amazing food. I’m currently building a new premises that will be filled with the best appliances by Siemens and knives by Zwilling where I will cook bespoke chef’s table demo dinners for groups of guests from all over Ireland and the rest of the world. I also teach small groups of guests 1-6 how to cook wonderful food using professional techniques that inspire confidence in the kitchen.
KV: Your Made in Heaven marshmallows sound divine, can you tell us more about these?
JW: At one of my bespoke chefs table events a guest asked for a chocolate fountain. I use some of the worlds finest chocolate for this but I knew that the marshmallows available to me wouldn’t be good enough so I taught myself how to make my own marshmallows and then made them to a standard I thought good enough to be served in a Michelin restaurant. I use only the finest ingredients when making them, for instance my Champagne & Strawberry marshmallow use only fresh Elsanta strawberries from Kearns farm in Wexford, real champagne, a freeze dried fresh strawberry powder to coat them and then they are topped with freeze dried strawberries. The freeze dried strawberries balance the sweetness of the marshmallow making them the perfect luxury indulgence.
KV: What key Irish ingredients are a must have for seasonal cooking this summer?
JW: One of my favourite ingredients is just finishing and its free, that is wild garlic or ransom. It makes fantastic pesto, the younger leaves are stunning in salads and the older larger leaves can be stir fried, chopped and added to omelettes or sauces to add a gentle garlic flavour. Also beetroot in its many guises is becoming available and can be used in so many different ways from crisps to sorbet.
KV: Coming into the summer, what are your go to lighter recipes?
JW: I love simple Greek salads dressed in lemon juice and olive oil and served with some grilled meats. Courgettes that have been grilled with asparagus a slow cooked duck egg, poached chicken and Parmesan shavings is a cracking summer dish. Add a few edible flowers and its a feast for the eyes and the belly.
KV: Do you have any top tips or insider secrets for impressing guests with barbecue essentials?
JW: Learn to poach sausages, chicken legs and wings in a flavoured stock so when you cook them on the BBQ they will be perfect every time (nothing raw). Once you have a nice colour on the meat brush with a BBQ sauce a couple of times and it will taste amazing.
I love to mix up some salt, smoked pimenton and garlic powder with olive oil and marinade chicken breasts and pork chops in it for an hour or so before cooking. This gives a delicious flavour without overpowering the meat. And buy good quality meat not the ready marinated supermarket packs.
KV: What is your advice for cooking the perfect steak?
JW: Firstly buy dry aged steak from a good butcher, make sure it’s at least an inch thick and bring to room temperature before cooking. Season with sea salt (I use Maldon) and rub the surface with some olive oil. Then bring your pan or grill to a high temp and place your steak in holding it down gently so the whole surface makes contact with the pan. 2 minutes each side should give you a medium rare steak. Now rest the steak on a warm plate for 5 mins before serving as this will allow it to relax and it will be much more tender.
KV: What are the key kitchen tools you believe are worth making the investment in?
JW: You need good knives, save up and buy the best you can it really makes a difference to your cooking. And never put them in the dishwasher!!! Also get a good sharpener that you can use easily. I love the Four Star 2 range and the Miyabi knives. Good heavy bottomed saucepans like the Zwilling passion range are fantastic, easy to use and clean and they look great. And a Staub cast iron cocotte will be a friend for life once you use one.
KV: Do you have any advice on sourcing fresh, local ingredients?
JW: Go to local farmers markets and find out if they grow near you then build a relationship with the growers. Ask nicely and they might grow things especially for you like they do for me! Also foraging is a great way to get seasonal produce and its free, but make sure you know what you're picking.
KV: Are there any hidden gems in Kildare you could recommend to pick up Irish produce?
JW: Produce? Unfortunately I don’t know if you can buy direct from them but Redmond Fine Foods near Naas are amazing for the professional kitchens.
KV: Following from your time on RTE’s Taste of Success, are there any major food trends or up and coming names in the Irish food and beverage industry we should keep an eye out for?
JW: Funnily enough wild foraged products that didn’t do so well on the Taste of Success have taken off like a rocket. I always thought The Wild Irish Foragers & Preservers products were amazing and I’ve been proved right by them winning multiple awards over the last couple of years. Quality healthy food is big now, so great tasting healthy food is the way to go. Always go quality over quantity.
KV: And finally, what are your top 3 go to, must-stop brands who you visit when you come along to Kildare Village?
Zwilling J.A Henckels is my no.1, Asics no. 2 and Hugo Boss no.3
Thanks to John for taking the time to answer our questions and for all that advice, we cant want to show off our new skills at some BBQ's this summer season!
And don't forget to keep up to date with all in-store events and offers from Zwilling on their brand page here.