Sister act all set for expansion

As part of our new feature series on Cork chefs doing new and exciting things, Kate Ryan talks to the Perry sisters, of The Glebe Gardens in Baltimore, who are embarking on a new chapter
Sister act all set for expansion

THE PERRY SISTERS: Tessa (chef), Keziah (front of house) and JoJo (manager)

AS with so many people who call West Cork their home, the origins of The Glebe Gardens in Baltimore were seeded by a couple of blow-ins who visited and never left.

Jean and Peter Perry, market gardeners from Gloucester in England, purchased a run-down house on a generous plot of land overlooking a coastal inlet on the way into Baltimore and moved their entire life, including their four daughters, Tessa, Keziah, JoJo and Mia, to this little corner of paradise.

These days, The Glebe Gardens is celebrated for its amazing vegetable and flower gardens, an outdoor amphitheatre (one of the most magical places to spend a summer’s evening in West Cork), an on-site bakery and The Glebe Café — now run by three of the Perry Sisters: Tessa (chef), Keziah (front of house) and JoJo (manager).

I caught up with them for an interview, during which they pondered how they have gotten to where they are, and spoke about their plans for the future — taking over the space formerly occupied by Carmel Somers’s Good Things Café in Skibbereen.

WHERE DID THE DECISION COME FROM FOR OPENING THE RESTAURANT IN BALTIMORE?

Tessa explained: “It was really a decision that was borne of the garden: mum and dad, being gardeners, that was all they knew. Their idea was to open the garden to the public and charge for people to go around but it was never going to earn them a living, and we thought it would be a good idea to open a little tea shop to entice people to visit.

“Our only option was to open it out of the family house, so my dad and godfather built a conservatory off of our house and that was to be the tea room. We had a domestic kitchen, a kettle, a domestic dishwasher that took 45 minutes to do a cycle, a coffee pot and four rings, and that’s where it started.

“We opened on an August bank holiday. We were chilling out, drinking coffee, thinking everyone would be down in the village because it’s regatta day. Then people started trickling in. We ended up doing 70 breakfasts that morning with our four-ring cooker.

“It was chaos: people were sitting inside, sitting on the grass outside in what was effectively our back garden; chickens were running around everywhere, people waiting an hour for their breakfast.”

Keziah added: “I think some people just came by to watch because it was hysterical!”

Tessa added: “It seemed as though people were willing to wait forever — and it carried on like that for about two years of just absolute bonkers madness. Eventually the fire inspector came and said we either had to put a lot of money in to refurbish the house or move.

“We didn’t have many options, but we had a lodge at the end of the driveway, outbuildings and barns. We sold the lodge in 2005 and used the money from the sale to renovate an old milking shed into what is now The Glebe Restaurant.

“When the restaurant first opened, we were lucky to hire Clonakilty woman Gillian Hegarty who had worked for Ballymaloe House and trained at The River Café in London. We all got our training through her: she is an amazing chef and really understands how a kitchen should operate. I was her Commis Chef for the couple of years she was with us, and that was where I picked up my training as a chef.”

SO, IF NONE OF YOU COME FROM A CATERING BACKGROUND, WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE THIS?

Tessa said: “I was, I am, a musician and a songwriter. Self-taught chef.”

While JoJo explained: “I’m a musician too, I play the violin with the Vespertine Quartet. Self-taught baker, part-time spoon whittler.”

Keziah said: “I was hanging out in Dublin and Spain basically having a good time! Our mum, dad and grandparents are all really good cooks, we grew up around homemade food.”

Tessa said, however, that “running a kitchen is whole other ball game”.

JoJo added: “We are a complete reflection of our childhood growing up with mum and dad.”

Tessa continued: “Yes, if there was an easier way to do something we would rebel against that. But the result is honest, grass-roots, very slow development — which is exhausting but nice. There is no pretention about what we do, because we have nothing to back it up with! It is what it is.”

DOES BEING SISTERS PRESENT A CHALLENGE WHEN WORKING TOGETHER?

Tessa said the sisters get on really well, while Keziah added: “We know each other’s strengths and stuff really well.”

JoJo continued: “We’ve never really had a massive falling out, because we’re sisters we would have been careful not to upset each other.

“I think that’s where the business side got left behind a little bit because of it, but we are getting better at that — we’ve basically grown up with the business.

YOU HAVE ACCESS TO AMAZING SEASONAL FOOD FROM THE GARDEN AND BAKERY, AS WELL AS THE LOCAL PRODUCERS TOO — IS THAT YOUR INSPIRATION?

Tessa said: “We do, but we take our garden for granted.”

Keziah said: “We’re no good at ‘selling the place’ because this is just our back garden.”

Tessa continued; “We don’t have to sell the provenance of our food, we can just point out the window and say, look: there it all is!

“We don’t have to tell you where every little bit comes from, it’s not a shtick to us — it’s just naturally what we are, it’s a part of who we are; the way it’s always been.

“There’s a necessity to use what we’ve got in the garden which is interesting and exciting. But because the produce is so amazing, I often say I don’t have to cook that much. As a result our food is simple, but tasty. A beautiful golden beetroot straight out of the garden just needs to be shaken, washed and roasted — I don’t want to do too much to it at all.

“The cheeses: really you’re just presenting it; our meat and fish is local — we are so lucky to be living in West Cork.”

AS WELL AS THE GARDENS AND RESTAURANT, THERE IS THE AMPHITHEATRE...

Tessa said: “The amphitheatre is our passion project. Dad literally dug it out by himself and it is so seasonal because it’s in the open air. But when you’re stood there and watching everyone laughing at Tommy Tiernan or jumping up and down to a gig, it’s just a magical place to be and brings enormous amounts of pride.”

THERE ARE NEW PLANS ON THE HORIZON TOO, AS THE SISTERS PREPARE TO TAKE OVER THE SITE OF CARMEL SOMERS’ GOOD THINGS CAFE, ON DILLON’S CORNER

Tessa said: “It’s so amazing to get into Dillon’s Corner. It means that everything that Glebe in Baltimore is can remain a passion project, albeit tamed a little bit.

“Bob Cairns will be our head chef — he’s so excited about living next to a butchers shop! He wants to work with what is immediately available.

“During the day, our focus will be a great lunchtime offering, and evenings will have a wine bar vibe with small plates and a few meal plate options. The food will stay true to The Glebe’s roots with Bob’s creative spin on it and it will develop as Bob settles in, but there will be a few items that are Glebe classics that will always be on the menu.”

The Glebe Gardens, Skibbereen, is open from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, and open Thursday to Saturday evenings. The upstairs dining room is available for private lunches, chef’s table dining experiences and cookery workshops. Hosting art exhibitions and gigs too are in the pipeline. For more, see www.glebegardens.com

Next week, Kate Ryan talks to Kristin Makirere and Clare Condon of Good Day Deli.

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