To the relief of many foodies, Bantry’s Willie Pa’s reopened just before Christmas under the new ownership of Patrick Kiely of O’Connor’s Seafood Restaurant fame. Known for its hearty meals and warm, unfussy welcome, Willie Pa’s retains these qualities under new head chef Sinead Desmond, who has returned home to put her stamp on one of West Cork’s favourite restaurants.
Remarkably, for someone who grew up in West Cork, Bantry native Sinead was exposed to flavours from around the world at her mother Veronica’s kitchen table, a legacy from her parents’ days at sea early in their marriage.
Most Bantry locals will be familiar with the name Jerry Desmond, harbourmaster in Bantry for many years and Sinead’s father. Jerry started his career at sea working on international ships, bringing his new bride Veronica along for the trip. Bored with life above deck, Veronica spent much of her time in the galley with the mostly Indian chefs, where she became acquainted with spices and flavours unheard of back in West Cork. “Back in Ireland, mum passed her love of food onto me and is my biggest inspiration,” says Sinead today.
As a 16-year-old Sinead got her first job in the now closed Sheehan’s Café as a pot scrubber. The buzz of the kitchen convinced her to pursue a career as a chef and she embarked on a hotel catering course in the College of Commerce before honing her skills at Ballymaloe Cookery School in the late 90s.
Having served an apprenticeship in the Crawford Café, Sinead decided to travel to broaden her culinary horizons and stints in Belgium and Thailand amongst other places followed. She returned to spend the next 10 years at The Quay Coop in Cork, where she learned “how to create a vegetarian dish for a menu that is more than just an afterthought.”
After a decade in the Quay Coop, Sinead was ready for new adventures and spent three months on the high seas as a personal chef on The Starry Night, an 82’ yacht, before returning again to Cork, as a chef in Gallagher’s on McCurtain Street.
“After a life spent learning and travelling, I was ready to return home to West Cork,” says Sinead, “both to be closer to my family and to get the chance to work with 100 per cent West Cork produce. We are lucky to live in ‘Produce Heaven’, where the meat and vegetables are so good we don’t have to overdress it, in fact we want the flavours to come through. For example, right now I’m so excited to be ordering pork chops in the market which will be specially smoked for us.”
Restaurant manager Pat Murnane is as passionate as Sinead about putting a spotlight on West Cork produce and she is grateful for his support in putting together a menu that showcases the best quality meat that the region has to offer.
Willie Pa’s is open for food Wednesday – Sunday, 12.30pm – 9pm. Tel: 027 50392 Mobile: 087 7887565.