Mary Grealish of The Kings Head in Galway on her life in food
An ambassador for food, business, and the West of Ireland, publican Mary Grealish knows a thing or two about good food.
Working at the helm of Galway’s award-winning bar, bistro and live music venue The Kings Head with her husband Paul for the past three decades, Mary Grealish is an advocate for food’s power of connection. A force that connects us with one another and with the amazing ingredients found in nature, her appreciation for food was born at an early age, and continues to grow day after day.
Here, Mary Grealish shares a glimpse into her life in food…
What are your earliest memories of food?
I can remember aged about six or seven eating fresh wild salmon that my dad had just caught. My late dad was a keen fly fisherman so we were literally reared on fresh salmon. My dad also shot game so while other kids were having sausages for their tea, we were eating pheasant. Notions!
How would you describe your relationship with food?
It’s fair to say that I absolutely love food ! When I was in my early twenties my boyfriend, now my husband, and I lived and worked in Japan for two years. During those two years I had a major food awakening where I discovered amazing Japanese food which has had a major influence on my relationship with food ever since.
What was the first meal you learned to cook?
My mum’s shepherd’s pie. I have been tweaking the recipe ever since
How did food become a part of your career/business/personal brand?
My husband and I own The Kings Head Pub and Bistro. We have developed a reputation for fresh, local and seasonal food in a friendly casual environment. Food therefore plays a huge part in my business and personal life.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
I love fresh fruit with granola and Glenisk yoghurt. On the weekends it tends to be Scrambled free-range eggs on toasted sourdough with freshly brewed coffee.
If you’re impressing friends and family at a dinner party, what are you serving up?
First of all, I am delegating! My husband Paul is a former Chef who loves cooking so he is definitely ‘on the staff’. All 3 of our grown up kids are excellent Mixologists so we are definitely having a cocktail or two. Typically we like to eat with the Seasons and always look for local fresh ingredients. First port of call usually is the Saturday market for local fresh organic fruit and vegetables. Connemara Lamb, fresh Crab Claws, gratin dauphinoise, purple sprouting broccoli are all firm favourites, followed by fresh Rhubarb Crumble from our garden for afters.
Who is your culinary inspiration?
It has to be Darina Allen. Darina has championed great Irish produce and great Irish producers long before it was sexy. I love her recipes and her zero waste philosophy. It was a pleasure when Darina and Rachel (Allen) ate in our Bistro a couple of years ago.
What would your last meal on earth be?
Roast Connemara Lamb with organic herbs and vegetables from the Saturday Market.
What’s your go-to comfort food?
Homemade chicken casserole with fresh tomatoes, chilli and lots of local vegetables.
What’s the go-to quick meal you cook when you’re tired and hungry?
Vegetable stir fry.
What is one food or flavour you cannot stand?
Goat’s cheese. It’s not so much the flavour as the aroma. I love the goats but not their cheese.
‘Shoyu Ramen’. I discovered Ramen in the early nineties in Japan. When you’ve overdone it on the Sake, you can’t beat a hot bowl of Ramen while watching Sumo on the telly !
Sweet or savoury?
Sweet, preferably chocolate. Even better if it’s chocolate fondue with fresh strawberries
Fine dining or pub grub?
I like both, it just depends on the occasion.
Favourite restaurant in Ireland?
Kai, Sea Road Galway with Jess in the Kitchen and her husband Dave out front. It’s the perfect combo.
Best coffee in Ireland?
Coffeewerk + Press in Galway. Great coffee and a great location to sit outside while watching the world go by on Quay Street.
Go-to beverage accompaniment?
Usually it’s a cool crisp Italian Pinot Grigio or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc followed by an Irish Coffee or Espresso Martini.
What are your thoughts on the Irish foodie scene?
Having recently attended the Good Food Ireland Awards the future looks bright.
What’s your favourite thing about cooking?
Sourcing great ingredients and leaving the cooking to my husband who enjoys cooking even more than me.
What does food — sitting down to a meal with friends, mindfully preparing a meal, nourishment, etc — mean to you?
It’s all about connecting. Connecting with each other and connecting with the amazing ingredients found in nature.
Food for thought — Is there room for improvement within the Irish food/restaurant/hospitality scene?
The big challenges at the moment are the shortage of Chefs, the lack of accommodation for staff looking to relocate, and the rising cost of energy and ingredients.
Chef’s kiss — Tell us about one standout foodie experience you’ve had recently.
I recently attended the ‘Good Food Ireland Awards’ in The K Club, where The Kings Head was shortlisted for Pub of the Year. While we didn’t win the overall award, we got to enjoy an amazing six course lunch showcasing Ireland’s best produce and producers.
Compliments to the chef — Now’s your chance to sing the praises of a talented chef, beloved restaurant or particularly talented foodie family member.
One of the perks of running The Kings Head is getting to savour Head Chef Brendan Keane’s deliberately understated cooking. Brendan has been Head Chef with us for over 20 years and his forte is cooking with the seasons, sourcing great produce and allowing the food to do the talking.
Secret ingredient — What, in your estimation, makes the perfect dining experience.
In my opinion the best meals are where you have a special connection to the ingredients and to the environment. One of my most memorable meals was when we were ‘wild camping’ in our vintage VW in Connemara. We spent the day fishing for Mackerel and then cooked our catch over an open fire with floury potatoes, sea salt and butter. Dining al fresco watching a Connemara sunset with the sound of the waves in the background is as perfect as it gets!