SHOWCASING homegrown and locally sourced produce is at the centre of a new food attraction at Raphoe’s Oakfield Park put together by the venue’s head chef and head gardener. The monthly event showcases the huge range of fruit, veg and herbs grown on the grounds of the park and also promotes the use of Donegal food produce.
Ahead of their June showcase in Buffers Restaurant we met up with head chef, Damien McGettigan and head gardener, Wendy Bridgett to see how it is all put together.
The vegetable garden at the park is well established and continues to supply the main house as well as the restaurant.
Over the years glasshouses, polytunnels and herb gardens have emerged, diversifying the material grown in the grounds.
In the greenhouse there is a mix of tomatoes, aubergines, bell peppers, chilli peppers, and cucumbers. In the herb garden there is fennel, marjoram, mint, chocolate mint (unusual), pineapple sage, chives and garlic chives, horseradish, thyme, lavender, lovage along with annual herbs like parsley and basil. Wild garlic can be found growing along the drive and there while fruit trees, raspberries, gooseberries and strawberries are also grown on site.
The vegetable garden is home to beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, courgettes, celery, leeks, salad leaves, marrow, spring onion, peas, and rhubarb.
Wendy started at the park 20 years ago this September and she has seen a lot of change down through the years. She said the public is becoming more interested in organic produce and visitors often ask her questions about what she is growing.
“I bring food down here and bring it through to the kitchen and people do say you can’t get any fresher than that. So it’s quite a good thing when they see you. We ask the chef what he needs and we grow what he wants. We have found that’s the best way to do it.”
For head chef Damien, who is from Strabane, it is a dream come true to have such fresh produce at his fingertips.
He said: “We try and grow between 50 and 60 per cent of our own produce in the garden and the idea for the event stemmed out of that. The reaction has been amazing so far. This is our fourth event and the last three have been fully booked. We are trying to use as much local produce and suppliers. Everything we use fish wise is Donegal based and McCarron’s Butchers, Raphoe supplies everything.”
If there are vegetables they need that are not grown on the grounds then local companies Ballyholey Farm or Doherty Roe are used. Given the reaction has been so good they are now considering running the showcase events throughout the winter months when the park is closed. With each event limited to 50 people bookings are quickly being snapped up.
We got the chance to sample some of Damien’s creations on Friday giving us a sense of what to expect at the showcase. This included a barbecue beef brisket, a pressed chicken leg with house pickles and Oakfield Apple Chutney followed up with a chocolate, strawberry and honeycomb ice-cream dessert using honey from the park’s own bees.
From the atmosphere in the restaurant coupled with the quality of food produced it is easy to see why the events are becoming so popular. The next Buffer Night will take place this Saturday. To book a place you can contact 074-9173710.