Irish couple here to cook

Ken and Fiona O'Connell outside Bracken, their new restaurant at 95 Filleul St, Dunedin. Photo by...
Ken and Fiona O'Connell outside Bracken, their new restaurant at 95 Filleul St, Dunedin. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
An Irish couple who love food have bought and renovated the old villa at 95 Filleul St, home to numerous restaurants over the past 30-odd years.

Fiona and Ken O'Connell and their two children came to New Zealand from Ireland in 2007 looking for a better lifestyle for the children

They spent four years in Hawkes Bay, where Ken was chef at Vidal winery restaurant.

Although they loved the food culture in the bay, they moved to Mount Cook where he was executive chef.

They enjoyed living in the mountains, but they felt isolated, and with their children coming into teenage years, they moved to Te Anau, where Ken was group executive chef for Distinction Hotels.

However, with all that experience behind him, he and Fiona decided they wanted to start their own restaurant and fell in love not only with Dunedin but also with the old villa in Filleul St.

They've called their restaurant Bracken, a link between New Zealand and Ireland which both have a lot of wild bracken, Fiona said.

Although a trained chef herself, she looks after the front of house.

They've done most of the renovations themselves, stripping the floors, repapering and painting and refitting the kitchen.

At present, they live upstairs but plan to turn it into private meeting and dining rooms eventually.

Chef O'Connell is particularly keen on fresh local food, and gets most of his produce from southern suppliers including the farmers market, and plans to grow herbs and microgreens in the small courtyard behind the restaurant.

He says he aims to serve honest good quality food at reasonable prices, and his menus will change every couple of weeks according to what is available.

As a newcomer to New Zealand, he was delighted to find interesting ingredients he was unfamiliar with such as kumara, yams, horopito, kawakawa and tiny seagrapes, a seaweed that goes deliciously with his southern seafood dish.

He also likes using modern techniques such as vacuum packing cubes of watermelon to concentrate the flavours or freeze-drying raspberries to a sweet crunchiness and drizzling them with white chocolate.

A keen culinary competitor, he has won the New Zealand chef of the year title twice, in 2008 and again last year, and before coming to New Zealand he was a member of the Irish culinary team.

Entering competitions is a discipline that refines your skills and food knowledge and encourages you to develop ideas, he says.

He loves the pressure of competitions and restaurant cooking and wants to inspire younger chefs.

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