Danni Barry Discusses Her Career

By Emily Hourican
Danni Barry Discusses Her Career

DANNI BARRY, born in Mayobridge, Co. Down, has a career that includes time working in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Spain, at Simon Rogan’s l’Enclume, in Cumbria, and as head chef at Rogan & Co., in Cartmel, in the UK.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in July of 2023.

Having started her cooking career in 2003, in Michael Deane’s in Belfast, Danni returned to the city in 2014, as head chef at Deane’s EIPIC, where she won a Michelin star, making her the second-ever Irish woman to hold a star. Named Irish Chef of the Year in 2016, Danni has also worked as executive head chef in Balloo House and at the Wicklow Escape.

Danni’s experience and training have always put a focus on the finest, freshest seasonal produce, with a light touch and a considered, balanced, modern approach to flavour. Her food is simple but sophisticated, with a strong visual appeal – food that she has described as “progressive and honest”.

As the new executive head chef at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Danni says, “It’s fair to say, as locations go, this is unrivalled. For a chef, it's a dream – a stunning rural location, a walled garden just steps away from the kitchen, and acres of glorious woodland estate to have as a seasonal larder. At the minute, it’s rich with chanterelle mushrooms, hazelnuts, wild herbs, and game.


“We also have our own pigs and a fantastic local butcher, Laurence, to work with on getting the very best out of them – and that’s just in Ballynahinch. Locally, we have the best oysters, mussels and crab you can get your hands on, Connemara lamb, small, independent cheesemakers. The menus across the hotel will showcase all these wonderful ingredients, so they will pretty much write themselves.”

Tell us about this new phase in your life – the move to Ballynahinch.

I moved to Connemara at the end of last year, to join the team at Ballynahinch Castle. It was a great opportunity to be offered – stunning location, beautiful hotel, great people. It felt like a good fit for me, and an exciting challenge also.

What are your hopes for the food at Ballynahinch?

The location of Ballynahinch means we are spoiled for shellfish from the west coast, beautiful mountain lamb, and a host of small artisan cheese and meat producers. We have our own walled garden and polytunnel, where we can grow vegetables for us to use in the kitchen. I’m looking forward to showcasing all this wonderful produce on the menus.

Guests come to Ballynahinch to relax, and we like them to feel at home. I’m hoping that they feel that they’ve been well fed from the kitchen as much as they are looked after by our front-of-house team.

Owenmore Resturant, Galway.

Tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.

I grew up on a farm in Mayobridge, Co. Down, with my parents, two brothers and my sister. I got a part-time job in a local restaurant when I was 15, and I fell in love with the atmosphere and buzz of working in hospitality.


I studied at college in Newry before moving to Belfast, to spend my most formative years training under Michael Deane at his restaurant of the same name – “the mother’s mothership,” as he would call it. I travelled to Australia and worked in England, in the Lake District, for Simon Rogan for a few years before returning to Belfast and to Deane’s.

What first drew you to food and cooking?

I had cooked a lot at home, especially during harvest times, when the house would be full of people all helping out on the farm, but then I got a job in the industry, and the buzz and environment of kitchens and restaurants drew me in. It didn’t feel like work, as I was constantly learning a new skill and getting to try new ingredients and dishes.

When did you first realise that you wanted to do this professionally?

As soon as I started working in the industry, I knew I always wanted a job that I would be able to travel with, and I could see that being a chef would give me that opportunity.

What was your first big role?

My first head-chef job with Simon, at Rogan & Co., was my first big role. We had a small team in the kitchen, but we were part of a very dynamic restaurant group, and with Simon’s reputation, there were always high expectations. It was challenging and a huge learning experience for me.

You’ve worked for some amazing chefs and in some amazing restaurants. Can you tell us about that?

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some great chefs in my career so far. Usually, they aren’t the ones with the names above the door, either – funny enough. I’ve had some great teachers, like Derek Creagh and Monto Mansour when I was at Deane’s, and Kev Tickle from Rogan’s.


Library doorway.

How did you find the return to Ireland?

It was the right time to come home for me, and I love being part of the Irish food scene, especially in the last ten years. It’s a great time for food, and we can see that in the quality of our restaurants.

What was winning the Michelin star like?

Winning a Michelin star was a huge moment in my career. It felt like recognition for me – after years of learning and working pretty hard, to be fair – but also for the team we had in EIPIC at the time. It was a huge privilege to be able to experience it with them.

Tell us about Ballynahinch – the background, ethos, service, etc.

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel is a Relais & Châteaux property, and we are committed to delivering high standards for food and service. It is a luxurious experience for guests, but without any pretentiousness or fuss.

What is the food ethos at Ballynahinch?

We source great produce, we cook it well, and let the ingredients shine through. We are committed to sustainability and the environment, and work with suppliers who share the same views. Most of all, we just want to feed you well, from breakfast to dinner!

What makes a great restaurant?

Great food, great drinks, and great people who want to look after their guests.


What are the major challenges at the moment?

Rising costs and staff shortages are the main challenges we face day to day at the moment. It’s the most challenging time for the industry that I’ve experienced.

What are the main opportunities?

The main opportunities are what they always have been: the opportunity to learn lifelong skills. Also, it’s a global passport to anywhere you’d like to work.

Any other plans on the horizon for the next year or so?

I’ve been asked to judge the semi-final of Euro-Toques Ireland Young Chef of the Year, which I’m excited about, and, hopefully, I’ll get to one or two of our great summer food festivals.

Ballynahinch superior double room.


Number of rooms: Forty-eight.

Number of restaurants: The Fisherman’s pub and the Owenmore restaurant.

Covers: Lunch, 50-100; dinner, 60 in each outlet.

Number of staff members in food and beverage: Forty-five.

Signature dishes? Restaurant: Cleggan turbot, roast bone sauce, walled-garden celeriac; pub: Cleggan crab, brown soda bread, garden leaves; breakfast: famous brown-sugar and mustard-glazed ham.


Read More: Hospitality Ireland Summer 2023: Read The Latest Issue Online!