Derek Creagh has enjoyed working in test kitchens for Finnebrogue Venison and Marks & Spencer for the last two years but he recently returned to where he is happiest, both cooking in a restaurant - well two, actually - and finally back at home in Donegal.
Working every available minute, sharing his time between Harry’s Restaurant in Bridgend and Harry’s Shack in Portstewart, the last 6 months have actually been the first time Derek has cooked professionally in a Donegal restaurant.
It is probably only their shared obsession with provenance allied to the canny charm of Donal Doherty that could have persuaded this chef’s chef to up sticks and move his family from Northern Ireland to collaborate with the man behind Harry’s and the Made In Inishowen brand.
Since Derek’s return to his home turf, just two miles from Killea where he grew up, as well as cooking in Harry’s in Bridgend, Donal and himself have opened the gorgeous Harry’s Shack. A cheerful, casual beachside restaurant serving electrically fresh fish and delicious, simple food in a National Trust building right on the sands of the stunning beach in Portstewart, it has been jammed full of happy customers since the day it opened, and was this year’s Georgina Campbell Awards Best Newcomer.
“Winning Chef of the Year at a time when food and dining have never been better in Ireland is special,” said Derek Creagh, speaking after the announcement of the 2015 Georgina Campbell Awards.
“With so many great chefs at the top of their game. But winning while back working with the produce from where I’m from makes it very, very special. And winning Best Newcomer for Harry’s Shack makes all the crazy hours and mad challenges we’ve taken on more than worthwhile.
The most satisfying thing for myself and Donal is the amazing and consistent feedback we’ve had from our customers in Harry’s in Bridgend and since we opened Harry’s Shack. This is only the beginning for me and Donal, we have a lot of work still to do and great plans and we are working our hearts out, but I’m loving every minute.”
Described by the Georgina Campbell Awards as “an exceptionally talented and committed chef, who is clearly very happy to be back on his home patch and overseeing both this restaurant and the newer Harry’s Shack at Portstewart” the citation describes his enthusiasm for the very best local produce.
“Derek is one of a new wave of classically trained chefs who have moved away from fine dining to a more informal style of cooking that is underpinned by technical skill yet notable for its immediacy, simplicity and great flavour – and they are cooking some of the best food in Ireland today.”
Donal Doherty and Derek Creagh have, according to the Georgina Campbell Awards, created a place in Harry’s Shack where “simplicity rules, yet there’s a real sense of excitement among the hungry diners queuing at the door - happy punters know the wait will be worthwhile
“Under Derek Creagh the cooking is simply brilliant, memorable for its freshness, flavour and colour. You’d travel a long way to find food as good as this, and hardworking staff make sure you get the service to match.
“This little place was a runaway success from the day it opened, and no wonder.”