Shaun Brady is executive chef at the Reserve in the Ambassador Hotel, 1111 Grand Blvd., 816-298-7700. The Tipperary, Ireland, native has introduced Irish specialties to the restaurant, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 365 days a year. This conversation took place in the dining room.
How is St. Patrick’s Day different here than in Ireland?
It’s definitely a bigger celebration over here. There’s one main parade in Dublin, but it’s not like over here where every major city has a parade and people dye their hair green.
I never saw a green beer until I moved to the U.S. I remember the first time somebody handed me one on St. Pat’s, and I was like, “I’m not drinking that.”
Why does everybody eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day?
That’s more of an Irish-American thing. In Ireland, we’re more about bacon and cabbage. But it’s not like American bacon. It’s more like pork rind that’s cured, and we boil that up.
I heard you cook a mean lamb.
Yeah, growing up in Ireland, especially in spring, we’re just so spoiled with all the delicious lamb. We had uncles who raised lambs and sheep, so there was always some coming into the house from somewhere. So I grew up cooking and eating lamb.
The week of St. Patrick’s Day I’m going to run several lamb specials, including a traditional shepherd’s pie.
What do you mean by traditional?
I mean not what Americans call shepherd’s pie. I find it amusing when I go to so-called Irish places in the U.S. and shepherd’s pie is on every menu, but it’s always made with beef. (Shakes his head.) The hint is in the name. You don’t shepherd cows. It should always be lamb. Cottage pie is made with beef.
Do you have other authentic Irish dishes on the menu when it’s not the week of St. Patrick’s?
Yes. On the brunch menu, I do an Irish whiskey-cured salmon. I also make a corned beef hash, which is an Irish-American dish, but I put my twist on it with really long-simmered meat. I also make my own scones and soda bread for brunch. For lunch and dinner I have a steak-and-Guinness pie — that’s one of our top sellers. I also do mussels in a Guinness-and-mushroom sauce.
How is a hotel restaurant different from a regular restaurant?
A hotel restaurant kitchen is always open, basically. You can get food 24 hours a day, seven days a week if you count room service. I always said I would never work in a hotel for that reason. Until I walked in here (gestures at the dramatically decorated dining room). I set foot in here and fell in love with it.
When did you get interested in cooking?
I was that kid who, when every other kid was running around saying, “I want to be a fireman, I want to be a policeman,” I was saying, “I want to be a chef.” My mother wasn’t too keen on it at the time.
Chefs in Ireland 20 years ago had a reputation of being hard-core alcoholics. So my mother didn’t want to see that kind of life for me. But I wasn’t deterred. My grandmother was always cooking, so it was just around, and I learned a lot from her.
Was your grandmother a good cook?
My grandmother grew up in the middle of nowhere, a country woman. So her style of cooking was based on what was there. But there was always a full meal there. It was comfort food. And the hospitality component was there. You can’t go into a house in Ireland without being offered a cup of tea or coffee and a sandwich. As soon as you walk in the house, somebody starts making a sandwich (laughs). So I just gravitated toward hospitality, and I’m still loving it.