Kenneth Culhane, Head Chef At Dysart Petersham, Discusses His Career

By Emily Hourican
Kenneth Culhane, Head Chef At Dysart Petersham, Discusses His Career

Kenneth Culhane, head chef at the Dysart Petersham, won the Roux Scholarship in 2010, a Michelin star in 2020, and three AA rosettes in 2021. Born in Kerry, he talks to Hospitality Ireland about his remarkable career so far.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in March of 2023.

Tell us about your background.

Fine dining wasn’t something we grew up with. In fact, the first time I dined in a Michelin-starred restaurant, I was 22.

My childhood – on our family farms in North Kerry – was pivotal towards instilling in me an understanding of good husbandry and of the top-quality produce that only comes from a true understanding of the particular qualities of the land, the soil, and nature – now a natural harmony for me.

The other great passion surrounding me growing up was Gaelic football. Sure, you know what it’s like in Kerry – the expectancy to be the best and always win is constantly on your shoulders.


Dynamism, raw passion, skill, grit, emotion, and a true love for the sport are part of the DNA and fabric of the county. I played while at school and also for my local parish, Ballydonoghue, growing up, winning a number of medals along the way.

Our cousin is Jimmy Deenihan, and he was part of the legendary Kerry football teams in the eighties. Considered to be the greatest in the history of football, he captained them to the Sam Maguire in the 1981 All-Ireland Championship – the year I was born. He also went on to be a prominent politician with Fine Gael and served various ministerial roles for the country – very much a true conservative in protecting the arts and Irish heritage during his 33 years in politics.

Since his retirement, he’s been an ambassador for various charities around the world, encouraging sustainable developments and promoting educational programmes – unquestionably, a real inspiration, hearing his many successes and determinations to keep moving forward, constantly helping the local communities around us. I remember well the excitement of these passions and successes in our family. It certainly fuelled a passion for excellence.

On deciding to be a chef, I felt that I should look at the possibilities of doing a degree within hospitality business or management. The BA (Hons) culinary arts degree at the Technological University Dublin was the highest level of education for a chef in Ireland, so I decided to enrol in this. It helped me to understand the complexities of the industry. I was especially interested in the aspects of business and corporate management during this time.

I also became aware of Michelinstarred restaurants at this time. Lecturers such as James Carberry were exceptional at mentoring and giving advice on the best ways to learn. This certainly helped in my decision to wish to cook in the creative, quality-driven world of Michelin, and I thus persisted on applying for a job at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud in the first year of my degree – the longest-standing and only two-Michelin-star restaurant in Ireland at the time.


Kenneth at the Michelin awards. The Dysart has retained a star since 2019.

Kenneth at the Michelin awards. The Dysart has retained a star since 2019.

What first drew you to food and cooking – and, specifically, pastry chef?

I certainly remember my mother and grandmother cooking, preserving and baking on the farm. Personally, I remember the acts of warm hospitality and the spirits and characters of the people – the importance of food and the table as a medium of celebration, in tandem with the workings of the farm.

Food was about community – about the earth and taking care of it. This was especially so in times of harvest, such as making hay, silage, or gathering peat from the bog on our farm, depending on what the land required that year. I remember it was always long days, with a hard-working mindset and culture.

Growing up as a child, my mum said I had a great interest in anything that Darina Allen would do on TV. She had a cookery series during the eighties and nineties, called Simply Delicious, which was filmed on location on their farm – originally an Anglo-Norman castle built around 1450, which now is Ballymaloe Cookery School, in Shanagarry, Co. Cork. I was captivated by how she would create wonderfully simple dishes from foraged and local ingredients grown on the farm.


I’ve always felt it paramount to understand all the disciplines in cookery, so I have always taken time to work in all the pastry sections in all the top kitchens I’ve worked in throughout the world. Patrick Guilbaud’s head chef, Fred Cordonnier, truly inspired my approach, as he could work masterfully and meticulously on all aspects of the kitchen to the highest-possible standards. This was the first time I worked with a chef with such incredible raw talent and understanding of his craft – a chef of immense capabilities. He always told me that you cannot be a great chef if you don’t understand pastry, so he would constantly push me to work in the pastry section at any given moment. I’m very grateful for this training.

I would go into the pastry section on my break from the main kitchen or help at any moment – in New York, Sydney and France, I would do the same. It became a ritual and approach I’ve always kept to, in all the businesses I’ve worked in.

With pastry, you have to be very organised, disciplined, and have a sense of flair, to capture the imagination – constantly intrigued by the suitable nuances that make up this wonderful collaboration of craft, art and science.

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What was your first big role? What was that like?

Chefs Guillaume Lebrun, Kieran Glennon, Fred Cordonnier and the team at the two-star Michelin restaurant Patrick Guilbaud’s was a major changing point for me. This was the first time I worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant, and the years of training and mentoring made a great impact on my life.

At the time, I was just immersed in learning, knowing little of what made these French classical restaurants tick and have such an amazing sense of quality. Premium seasonal ingredients, food artistry, perfectionism, precision, discipline, restraint, finesse, and the foundations of the classics of cookery were all part of the teachings.


Embracing a can-do-anything attitude, every endeavour had to be your absolute best. I now wanted to learn everything I could about what it takes to be a chef. It was a turning point for me.

This was my first introduction to fine cooking and nature communicated as an art form. The many years working in that environment helped me to understand the important principles of fine-tuning the craft of cookery and becoming a professional – and, importantly, the positive energy needed to transmit a little magic into food.

Why did you leave Ireland?

I felt it important to go and experience other cultures and food traditions, to further my knowledge and understanding of the world – a necessity as a chef in developing a good repertoire and, ultimately, a true sense of taste. Cooking food is a beautiful alchemy and transformation. The consequence of this is where we integrate various influences to create certain meanings.

I enjoy travelling. It’s something that, as a chef, is very important, and a profession where you can certainly explore the world, as you never stop learning. Travelling changes your consciousness and invigorates the senses.

These travels have helped me appreciate food that looks undemanding, but has a complex flavour profile once you eat it, paying respect to each of the ingredients. Understanding flavour and taste is the most compelling aspect of cookery, for me, as it places the natural ingredients first. I will always start by working out the harmonious balance of flavours on a dish before anything else is achieved, while being continuously inspired by the techniques and traditions of various cultures.

Food and cooking is great, as it lies at the heart of understanding culture, so, as a chef, you travel, eat, take in and interpret culture. It’s almost like culinary anthropology, representing our knowledge and experiences to our customers in an innovative manner while staying respectful to each of their true characteristics.

Presentation is far more than just some abstract or fashionable notion of what may or may not be art, or interesting, or trendy, at the indulgent whim of an individual chef seeking to be different, or to promote a ‘new’ concept. It is a way of celebrating and communicating the natural relationship between man and nature – the natural beauty and worth of the ingredients, their importance as bounty of the Earth, the joy in them ... pleasure for all the senses.

The mood, senses, movement of the seasons, an entire and well-balanced experience that is ‘of the place’, respect and honour, aiming to give pleasure at the heart of all we do – it’s flattering and immensely rewarding to be able to create happiness through food and the shared magic of true, warm hospitality.

Where has been your favourite place to work so far?

Working in the Loire Valley with twoMichelin-starred chef Pascal Bouvier was a period of enlightenment for me, especially in his celebration of vibrant, flavoursome and inspirational produce – the use of the best seasonal produce available around him.

It was the most intense and consistent approach – informed by thoughtfulness and joy in food and flavour – that I had ever experienced up to that point as a chef. We would go to the local markets twice weekly, and all the farmers would make sure that they always presented the finest produce at the given time in each season. This environment instilled in me an even greater respect for nature and working with it.

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How did you come to work for the Dysart Petersham?

I won the Roux Scholarship in 2010, while working as sous-chef to the executives of Barclays bank at their global headquarters in Canary Wharf. I’d worked for the bank over two and half years then, giving me an insight into the corporate structures of management and business. It was a very busy operation, with a building population of 8,500, providing bespoke catering services to the managing directors in 12 dining rooms, with a total of 140 covers per service.

We had a hospitality provision, which included breakfast and buffets, averaged around 200 covers daily, and canapé parties for up to 500 guests. It also included special-events catering in various off-site locations, with high-profile clients from around the world. I felt that winning the Roux Scholarship gave me the opportunity to decide what I wanted next in my career, and that was to chase my ambition of building and running a top independent restaurant business.

Petersham is surrounded by incredible natural beauty – there are so many calm spaces that depict the vivid changes of the seasons around us. This was what struck me firstly, especially with the Dysart facing Richmond Park. The name Dysart also comes from the Gaelic word díseart, which means wilderness or a place of spirituality. It [An Díseart] is also a cultural centre in Dingle, Kerry – not far from us back home.

I was introduced to Nicholas, Jackie and Barny Taylor – the family who have run the Dysart Petersham since 2004 – back in summer 2011, by a mutual friend. There was a natural connection with Barny and his family from Day One. We shared the same values, passions and visions for the business. A core philosophy of living thoughtfully, responsibly, well, has guided us from the beginning.

I spent a good period of time at the restaurant, getting to know the family and their ethos, but, to be honest, I knew instantly that this was the opportunity I had been looking for. It is a stunning Arts and Crafts building, situated perfectly on the outskirts of London, in what feels like a very rural setting, but is just half an hour from the centre of the city.

When I joined, the business was in its early stages of transition, from gastropub to fine-dining restaurant. This presented challenges at the beginning – not least changing the reputation of a business that had been running for so long as something else, but, at the same time, presented a one-off opportunity to really make my mark and create something wonderful, together with the Taylor family.

It was clear from the very start that I had full support from them to create an ethos of cooking that cut no corners, using top-quality produce, cooking classically and traditionally whilst bringing a few of my more modern ideas. We already had a relationship with a local gardener and forager, who provided a fine selection of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers for the menu, which really added a great deal of inspiration to the menus – perhaps one of the only restaurants in the London area to be able to make use of produce from right on our doorstep. My overriding personal ambition was to run a kitchen that could reach the top level and lay a claim to winning awards, and I knew the opportunity to do this was there, at the Dysart.

The family have a great eye for details, perfectionism, and upholding the beauty of the arts, constantly making me reflect on my creative processes, along with mentoring on the day-to-day runnings of the business – invaluable help in a world which, at times, can feel Sisyphean in nature, and tremendous support in finding one’s inner voice.

I’m very fortunate, as the Taylor family have introduced me to the world of classical music, of which they have an extended knowledge – something I had very little knowledge of previously.

We are currently looking at the possibility of redoing our classical recitals, an intimate and personal atmosphere with musicians who are already performing as soloists and in chamber groups at international venues, such as the Wigmore and Carnegie halls. Music is a wonderful example of something that’s in this world, but not of this world, comparable to fine gastronomic experiences. Classical works of music speak to us from another province, even though they speak to us in ordinary physical sounds.

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Tell us about the dysart – the ethos, food, service, etc.

The Dysart Petersham is situated in an old Arts and Crafts building from 1904. It has been restored to lend emphasis to as many of the original features as possible, particularly the wood. The oak was restored by hand, in line with the Arts and Crafts principles. The simplicity of decoration ensures the original detail speaks for itself. Colourful table flowers are sourced from the surrounding gardens. By inviting the elements of nature into the restaurant in any way possible, the Dysart Petersham creates a harmonious relationship between building, garden, and surroundings. Located in between Richmond Park and the River Thames, the restaurant offers a beautiful view from its main rooms. Guests are invited to wander through the lush woods in its rural village environment.

The Dysart is a family business, and the ethos reflects that – from the welcome to our guests through to the relationship with the team. We want the restaurant to be a happy place for all who enter. We have created a dining room with comfort, space, time and luxury – tables never rebooked within a service, guests encouraged to linger for as long as they like, to enjoy our hospitality. A welcoming log-burning stove, a stately 1987 Bechstein grand piano – these features are echoed in our approach in the kitchen, cooking based on tradition: heat, pots, pans, and hard work. As I said earlier, I am given full support to source the best ingredients I can, so if scallops are on the menu, for example, I am searching for the very best I can find.

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Our focus is to run the restaurant in the most sustainable way possible, and this year the owner has compiled a comprehensive sustainability report. Significant actions have included the creation of our own on-site kitchen garden – something that we hope to reap the rewards of next spring and summer. We have renewed our search for the best local suppliers, whose travel footprint is minimal when coming to us – not to mention asking all our suppliers to eliminate non-recyclable packaging, such as plastic and polystyrene.


Following on with the local theme, we have a strong English focus to the wine and drinks list, with all-British beers and gins alongside a wide selection of wines – sparkling, white, red and rosé. On top of this, Barny has created a fantastically broad and diverse wine selection, with wines often selected with my style of cooking in mind – our pairings with the tasting menu are something that a great number of our guests enjoy – and we even offer an alcohol-free pairing option, which always features a drink we have made in here in the kitchen.


I have always shared the Taylors’ view that music and food share so many of the same values. Throughout the year, we present evening classical music recitals. I have attended many – before heading back to the kitchen, to prepare our guests’ dinners – and it is so clear how interlinked the hard work, dedication and passion of music and food are, both in practice and performance.

What makes a great chef?

Take your time. It’s not a sprint – educate yourself.

I know everyone alludes to the sentiment that you should get straight into the kitchen from an early age. I don’t agree with this. I didn’t follow this path, and I’m better for it.

The world of a modern chef is a very complex business. If you have the opportunity to study first, then take it, and don’t waste time in developing your mind through knowledge. Become an effective listener and communicator – always ask questions. Develop a strong work ethic, and always surround yourself with the best productive people. Responsibility and opportunity are synonymous: work smart, be humble – all the while being constantly open to new possibilities.

What are the changing trends in food – people’s expectations, new types of flavours, etc.?

Sustainability, in one way or another, is always in the news these days – increasingly so for a few years, and rightly. So, too, have climate change and carbon emissions. We set out to be a sustainable business, with concern for the environment, for all aspects of corporate social and environmental responsibility.

When we set out, some 15 or so years ago, we saw the manner of our journey as having qualitative importance. At that stage, we gave implicit, indirect recognition to the importance of reducing our carbon footprint, rather than attributing explicit significance and setting explicit goals for this – quantitative imperative.

We always kept an eye on the progress we were making in our qualitative goals, but we started to review more systematically our achievements, our progress on this journey, and what more we should be doing as Covid struck. We started to look explicitly at carbon emissions.

There is, of course, never a right time for something like this. Commitments now have to be looked at in the context of the economy, the social consequences of Covid, the national and international political situation, and, of course, the implications of all those things for our customers and for our team.

We look at all aspects of sustainability. We look, in particular, at what a small business like ours can do to help make a difference. We start from the proposition and belief that a business like ours can make a difference.

To draw out from it, what it means to us, in practice and our ‘living thoughtfully, responsibly, well,’ and to suggest that there are significant qualitative elements within it that have been core to most societies, and that these have inspirational and motivational value, linked to, and needed for, the reduction of carbon footprint, when most of us are Davids to Goliath. Is it not the case that we need to engage heart, spirit, reverence, as well as mind?

Is it not the case that we need to draw on both sides of the brain – the emotional, as well as the rational? It is such a simple proposition: where are we, and where will our children be in the future, without it? It is the foundation for all life – plant and animal – of which human beings are a mere component. We need it.

We need to cherish and nurture it. Arguably, we are it. We need to give back so much of it to what has been lost across great swathes of the countryside, sacrificed on the altar of ‘progress’, industrial levels of productivity and the creation of abundance, encouraged by successive governments – national and across the world – leading, in turn, to unprecedented levels of misguided consumption, overproduction, and profligate, immoral waste misdirection, when the world still sees massive hunger and damage to the planet’s key, essential resources.

Here lies the loss and misdirection of the true link between human beings and nature: the failure to remember we are one part of nature – one and indivisible – understood instinctively for most of humankind’s time on Earth, until comparatively recently.

The last few decades – though bringing huge advances and benefits – can now be seen clearly in this particular context, at the most fundamental level, as an aberration – a triumph of human hubris. It’s about remembering, honouring, applying to the ‘now’ the wisdom of the past, acquired over millennia.

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What are the main opportunities?

We live in reflective times, and we all have our roles to play in addressing the issues of anthropogenic climate change. Ecosystems are homeostatic and benefit greatly from reciprocity evolved locally in small communities, all of which I experienced growing up in a rural environment.

We need to address our mono-cultural agriculture systems. Thus, we look at building on our commitments to working with people that are knowledgeable about the responsible food cycle, from farm to plate. Important questions that we always ask – Sustainably caught? Line caught? Humanely raised? Grass fed? Free range? Driven by the seasons? Biodynamic, intensively, traditionally, naturally, organically or GM farmed? From a smallscale independent producer? – are only part, and the beginning, of the big picture. Sensations, greater responsibility towards the welfare and survival of a rich diversity of animals and plants, and of nature itself, greater understanding that this starts with the land itself, greater perception of the need to preserve these for the future are vital. It’s about living thoughtfully, responsibly, well.

We are back, once more, to essential connections between ‘local’, moderation, responsible living, protection of our environment. We are back, once again, to patience, love of the plants and what they bring to life, to reverence for nature.


How often do you get back to ireland, and what’s the first (food-related) thing that you like to do when you get here?

With work commitments and organising various school activities with our two young boys, it’s been difficult the past decade. I’ve only been home a handful of times. I’m currently organising a summer trip for us around the Kerry peninsulas.

Our two boys have a keen interest in various elements of geology, so a visit to Valentia Island is planned, and we shall wander around the fossilised trackway of the Devonian time period. This is one of the oldest and longest tetrapod trackways on Earth. The surroundings are beautiful, and I really love visiting this part of Kerry when I can.

There are no greater memories of rural Ireland than the morning call on the farm, of the soda bread’s heartwarming aromas baking in the peat oven – a ritual that shaped my childhood – so, for certain, freshly baked treacle bread, a freshly churned farmhouse butter, and Sally FernsBarnes’ wild smoked salmon or hotsmoked wild mackerel is wonderful. The utter simplicity of these scents and flavours always reminds me of home.

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

In my capacity as a Roux scholar, I shall be collaborating with the charity Debra. Hosted by Michel Roux, the black-tie Debra Great Chefs’ Dinner shall be at the Langham Hotel, London. We hope to raise lots of money for the work this charity conducts, funding vital research into finding a cure for epidermolysis bullosa and in supporting its community on a daily basis, with pain and wound management.

The winning of a Michelin star for the business is a new chapter in the story. We are constantly looking at further evolving the Dysart and nourishing its individuality as a wonderful destination to dine, and continue to push the business forward, towards earning more accolades, developing its international recognition, all underpinned by family values.


Coren, In Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery

‘Rarely is such technical skill and high gastronomic ambition married to such an allpervading commitment to sustainability. The product on the plate is world class.’

Forbes Magazine

One of the ten coolest places to eat in the world in 2017.

Michelin Guide (2020)

‘On every visit the Inspectors felt that the kitchen really cares about every single thing it does. It is the chefs’ understanding of classical technique that allows each and every dish to shine.’

The Good Food Guide (2019)

‘Kenneth Culhane’s cooking is a beacon in south-west London, his modern approach underpinned by a classical theme and driven by an awareness of the seasons and a grasp of flavour combinations that work.’

The Londonist

‘We’re celebrating a young Irish chef at the top of his game. We’re celebrating the exquisite dishes from his vegetarian menu. We’re celebrating a beautiful restaurant in a fairy-tale location.’

Andy Lynes, The Times

‘[Twentieth]-century Arts and Crafts building overlooking Richmond Park [...] lit by candlelight, perfect for a sophisticated date night accompanied by live music performed on the antique grand piano. Superlative modern food comes courtesy of the talented, unsung chef Kenneth Culhane.’


Our signature dish of wild bream, radish, champagne and ginger is inspired by my trip to Japan with the roux family. They organise biannual educational trips around the world for the scholars.

In 2012, we visited Japan – a life-changing experience with so many wonderful memories in traditions and culture. On my return, i wished to eulogise these experiences in a dish, along with respecting the philosophical principles of kanso, which was a standout discovery during our stay. it represents the ingenuity of Japanese culture, and how nature can be characterised and respected through a natural manner using humble ingredients to make something celebratory and special, with skill, harmony, balance and restraint.

This dish has become one of the most popular dishes among critics and our customers at the Dysart.

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