COMMUTING from Dublin to Castletownbere three times a week wasn’t enough to pour cold water on a dream one woman had of opening a restaurant with her sister.
After years of talking and brainstorming Eileen Quill and Mairead O’Driscoll, opened Ocean Wild in their home village in west Cork earlier this summer.
Eileen, who lives in Dublin with her husband and two grown up children is front of house while Mairead, also a mum of three, is the chef.
Everything about their new restaurant, including the menu, is inspired by their location in a busy fishing port and their love of the sea.
Eileen explains: “Dad came from Sherkin to Castletownbere with his brothers. He met and fell in love with mum, local girl Kitty Dudley. Along with his brothers back in the 60s, they were instrumental in setting up the Castletownbere Fisherman’s Co-op and he was the first chairman of the Irish Fisherman’s Organisation in the 70s.
“Our heritage in the fishing industry runs deep with our cousins still fishing out of Castletownbere.”
Their restaurant can seat 50, and the adjacent tapas bar can accommodate 20 and their vision to create a casual but chic space.
“We put a lot of thought and hard work into creating a place with a special ambiance where you feel you can have a special experience. We wanted to create a place locals and visitors will want to spend time and enjoy fresh food lovingly prepared. We are lucky to employ a great team of eight enthusiastic wait staff and Máiréad’s son works in the kitchen with her together with a second chef we have taken on for the busy summer season.
Mairead learned her trade in France and spent 10 summers cheffing in kitchens of the rich and famous in the US.
Being the discrete soul that she is she’s not name dropping but she has cooked for pop stars, tennis stars as well as famous names in the financial and political world over there right up to the White House, divulged Eileen.
But with a young family she returned home 10 years ago and lives just up the road from Kieran in their grandmother’s house.
Eileen insists the commute — some 380km doesn’t knock a feather out of her. She says she’s back in her old room with her dad spoiling her with breakfast every morning before she takes off to the restaurant where she looks after all things finance, staff and front of house. On the days off she returns to Dublin to hubby and daughters to check all are well.
The sisters say they are loving working together.
“We are so focused on Ocean Wild and the success we want to achieve in our home town that believe it or not there have been no clashes. The fact that we have responsibility for two different arms of the business means we each have our area of expertise and recognise what we bring to each,” said Eileen.
Mairead added: “It’s absolutely amazing to work with my sister. She was instrumental in bringing my dream to a reality. I never could have done it without her.
“From the restaurant perspective it is great to have the peace of mind knowing that someone i.e. my sister is completely passionate and dedicated to running the front of the house to the highest standard. She treats the staff like they are her children and knows how to bring the best out in everyone. And is the financial wizard too.”
Both speak fondly of their mum who passed away 15 years ago and who they wish could have seen their dream come true.
Mairead said: “Growing up with a dad as a fisherman and mam being from a 100 acre farm on the Atlantic Ocean just outside of town was incredible. Our mother was an amazing cook and it was usual to see a massive pot of scallops or prawns on the stove. She loved cooking and would take part in cooking classes and was always trying out different recipes.
“Christmas was a feast for the eyes leading up to the big day. Mam made everything down to blanching her own almonds for the puddings and Christmas cake. The table would be covered in spices, dried fruits nuts and the old earthen bowls — it left a lasting impression on me. She baked every day and is most definitely my biggest influence. When I left for New York in 1986 she got up at 3am to cook my favourite brown bread! I still have her very first two cookbooks and treasure them — even taking a quote from one of them and putting on my menu.”
And their dad — who regularly dines in the restaurant — continues to inspire.
“Being on the pier and around the fish auction hall growing up when Dad would come in from fishing was very exciting. Watching the fish being loaded onto the pier off the boat. One of the most exciting days of our lives was when he brought home his biggest boat the Draoícht na Mara and there is a nod to that boat on our menu.”
The busy port in a beautiful sheltered harbour naturally is where the girls source their fish.
Local shellfish producers Shellfish de la Mer supply their crab and scallops, a local family recently launched a new state of the art prawn fishing trawler which supplies the Co-Op with the prawns they use in their pil-pil dish.
Máiréad’s recipes are influenced by her time spent in kitchens in America working with chefs from all corners of the world as well as her love of spices and herbs which give all her dishes a global flair.
Among their own favourites are Taste in their own home village; the English Market and Cork Coffee Roasters on French Church Street.
Mairead said: “When Eileen and I go out we make it special, usually for a night covering business in a pleasurable way and our last venture was Hayfield Manor. Amazing.
“But I mostly admire people of my mother’s generation. I love Myrtle Allen’s story and found it very inspiring. I have huge respect for those of my mother’s generation and before who cooked everything from scratch with no shortcuts available.”
And it looks like the sister’s collaboration is only the beginning of their family empire.
“It was a a gift to discover accidentally that my son is a natural in the kitchen and is cooking with me behind the line in the restaurant! He now has plans to be a chef!” says Mairead.