The public face of media personality and ‘celebrity chef’ Joe Shannon is well known from his TV3 and Ocean FM appearances. Here’s a little glimpse of the man behind the personality: the real Joe Shannon. Joe was born in Coventry in the English midlands of Irish parents; his father Mick from Fermanagh and his mother Mary from Ballina. In the early 1970s they moved back to Ireland with their five children, settling first in Ballina, then moving to Enniscrone. Although his father was a blacksmith by trade and his mother a nurse, Joe discovered a ‘secret’ food history in his family when he discovered his great grandmother was head chef in Florencecourt House, in Fermanagh. In Enniscrone Joe enjoyed going out on the trawlers fishing, and learning to appreciate fresh seafood. He began summer work in a local cafe at the tender age of 12. Making chips was his first job and he recalls peeling tonnes of spuds and repurposing an old sewing machine to take the eyes out of the potatoes. A canny youngster, Joe earned £6 a week from the job and another £9 from the vegetable man for saving all the potato bags! In his second summer the owner Mrs Clarke saw something special in him and brought him into the kitchen where his real learning began.
His next step wasn’t quite running away with the circus, but it was close. When a funfair came to town Joe spotted a decrepit chip van and struck a deal with the owner – if he cleaned it up and operated it, they would go halves on the profits. Deal done and he was off with the funfair for that summer. When the family moved to Sligo in Joe’s Leaving Certificate year, he stayed behind and lived with an inspirational farmer friend. Padraig English taught him foraging, how to use what was around you and to value quality food. They harvested wild mint and garlic, stuffed lamb shanks with the mix and slow cooked it to melting perfection. He learned to make breads, jams and preserves. It was a wonderful education and set him up well for catering college in Killybegs.
For the newly qualified Joe Shannon, the world was his oyster and he fully intended to experience it. He moved to England and worked in high end hotels with large kitchen brigades; he considers himself fortunate to have caught the end of the classical cooking era and feels it was of huge benefit to him. He worked around Europe, did a stint in Bermuda and had amazing experiences cooking in the Middle East. One dinner for 800 had none other than Hillary Clinton as guest of honour, and Joe put his stamp on that one by serving up nettle soup. Another gig involved part of a five day royal wedding with 3,000 guests and a dizzying budget of £10 million. Heady days indeed. But home beckoned and Joe took a job in the Longford Arms where he met his wife Marie. Then it was back to Sligo where he worked in The Embassy Rooms and The Moorings in Rosses Point. There they kept seafood in a tank across the road in the sea, Joe wryly recalls some poor young lad accidently releasing all the mussels and oysters into the Atlantic! He tried his hand at running his own restaurant (Corianders) but that wasn’t for him and he settled in the Radisson Blu where he has been Executive Head Chef for 14 years.
The media career started with a once off appearance on TV3’s Ireland AM and more than a dozen years later he’s still there every Monday. Sunday nights are spent in Dublin and it’s a 5.30am start on Monday ensuring everything is set up just the way he likes it before filming starts. He’s back on the road home to Sligo when most people are just starting work. Food is about fun for Joe, he loves it and he loves working with a happy kitchen team. Indeed life is about fun – he enjoys playing music, usually a button accordion, and describes himself as ‘a bit of a show off’. His idea of relaxation is the comedy stage show “Come Cook With Us” which he presents with Frank Ford. Joe lives in Drumcliffe with his wife Marie and son Joseph who is just going into Transition Year. His two daughters are both in college; Orla starting a PhD in Music in DCU and Emer doing a PhD in Law in Maynooth. Needless to say they all love music and are accomplished cooks, but there’s no sign of them taking up a career in the kitchen … not yet anyway!