Darragh Milligan of Belfast Undercover Chef on the importance of home cooking
Here, we catch up with former chef turned content creator extraordinaire, Darragh Milligan of Belfast Undercover Chef, to chat about all things foodie related.
A man with a background in hotel management who cut his teeth working in the high-pressured atmosphere of restaurant kitchens, Darragh Milligan brought his expertise to the online world during lockdown with his Belfast Undercover Chef account.
Having amassed 29.3K followers on Instagram and over 10K on TikTok, Darragh takes a wholesome approach to meal preparation and demonstrates how to make one-pot family meals and comfort food favourites using the best ingredients and accessible methods so that everyone can create delicious dishes at home, no matter their skill level.
Here, we chat with Darragh about everything from his first memories of food to his go-to mealtime favourites.
What are your earliest memories of food?
I’ve grown up in a family who loves to cook. Both my mother and nanny were amazing home cooks who always cooked tasty wholesome meals.
How would you describe your relationship with food?
I love to cook and showcase easy, family-friendly recipes to show people that with a few simple and accessible ingredients, you can prepare a tasty meal.
What was the first meal you learned to cook?
The first meal I learnt to cook was an Irish stew, this was one of my nanny’s favourite recipes.
How did food become a part of your career?
I have always enjoyed cooking, as it was a way to spend time with my mother and nanny. From then, I studied Hospitality Management and trained to be a chef at the same time. I no longer work in the hospitality industry now. In the middle of lockdown, my wife advised me to start an Instagram page to document my recipes as a way to help others who struggled in lockdown. Two years later, here I am.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
When I have time, I love making my breakfast potatoes. Cubes of potatoes, various herbs and spices with a hint of tomato, served up with my creamy scrambled eggs and crispy bacon. This recipe went viral on TikTok.
If you’re impressing friends and family at a dinner party, what are you serving up?
To start, it would be a Gambas Pil Pil, with homemade crusty bread, followed by curried monkfish, coconut rice, Asian greens and crispy fried wontons, and to finish, a homemade sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce.
What would your last meal on earth be?
It would have to be a BBQ — pulled pork, chicken wings, steak, lamb served with all the trimmings.
What’s your go-to comfort food?
It has to be pasta — there is something about pasta that is just so comforting with so many different recipes and flavour combinations. My pasta dishes always go down well.
What’s the go-to quick meal you cook when you’re tired and hungry?
Most of my recipes take under 30 minutes to cook, which is perfect for my busy work and family life. But the dish I would cook the most (that takes mere minutes to make), would be a beef and veg stir fry.
What is one food or flavour you cannot stand?
Has to be Scotch eggs, I tried them before when I was in school and still remember the taste to this day. I can’t even look at them in the shops anymore!
I stopped drinking three years ago, so I don’t get hangovers anymore! I definitely don’t miss them!
Sweet or savoury?
Both to be honest, but I would tend to favour savoury! Nothing beats a homemade sausage roll or a chicken and mushroom pie.
Fine dining or pub grub?
I love both, but for different occasions. There is something about sitting in a country pub, fire lit, soaking up the atmosphere and having some food! But on the other hand, I love getting dressed up and going to experience different restaurants and new methods of cooking, and I always try to try something new or something I haven’t cooked before.
Favourite restaurant in Ireland?
There are so many to choose from. By far the best restaurant I have eaten in is Eala Bhan in Sligo. We had the 8-course tasting menu and I couldn’t fault any part of the whole experience, from the staff and décor to the quality of local produce, it was amazing.
Best coffee in Ireland?
I love the small independent coffee shops, they just always offer the best coffee and delicious homemade traybakes.
What are your thoughts on the Irish foodie scene?
The Irish food scene is booming at the minute, from fine dining, pop-ups and markets, we have it all. With all the fresh local produce and the sea right on your doorstep, it’s amazing to see restaurants using the best local ingredients. The calibre of chefs in the industry has grown over the years and their love for food and creativity inspires me.
What’s your favourite thing about cooking?
I love to teach and show people how easy it is to produce low-cost, accessible meals. I think teaching young people to cook is a life skill, which is why my son has a keen interest in cooking — that’s set him up for later in life.
What does food — sitting down to a meal with friends, mindfully preparing a meal, nourishment, etc — mean to you?
From a young age, we have always sat at the table to have our dinner and this still happens in my own family. It’s an opportunity to spend quality time with your loved ones over a tasty meal. Even now, each Sunday, it’s an open house at my parents’ place, where we meet for dinner to catch up and spend time preparing and eating dinner as a family.
Food for thought — is there room for improvement within the Irish food/restaurant/hospitality scene?
I think we have some of the best hospitality, food and restaurants in the world. With global hotel brands, small independent hotels and now with AirBnB there are so many opportunities for visitors to experience what Ireland has to offer.
Chef’s kiss — tell us about one standout foodie experience you’ve had recently.
Eala Bhan in Sligo and Hooked are both exceptional. The 8-course meal in Eala Bhan was breath-taking from start to finish. The owner was so passionate about his restaurant and menu which was just amazing to hear!
Compliments to the chef — now’s your chance to sing the praises of a talented chef, beloved restaurant or particularly talented foodie family member.
Eala Bhan of course! Hooked in Sligo with the talented Becca Sweeney (I still dream about the chorizo-loaded fries!). Last but not least is Tedfords in Belfast run by Alan Foster – amazing steak and seafood. I worked with Alan and he has taught me a lot about the hospitality industry.
Secret ingredient — what, in your estimation, makes the perfect dining experience?
There are a number of ingredients which make the perfect dining experience, from atmosphere to friendly staff who take an interest in you and want you to have the best possible meal. The whole team has to have a passion for the food and the customers, and want to be able to provide the best service and cuisine to ensure the customer returns and tells as many people as possible.