Raglan Road, the popular Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs, has a new executive chef, and he brings with him worldwide experience and Michelin-star credibility, not to mention the innate culinary acumen from being a native-born Irishman.
Mark O’Neill is only the second executive chef in the 13-year-old restaurant’s history. In an interview recently, O’Neill, 33, said that he’ll continue Raglan Road’s tradition of serving innovative Irish cuisine.
“I’d like to do really great gastropub food,” he said, “to have our team creating really nicely executed dishes like we have back home in Ireland.” But don’t expect to find Shepherd’s Pie or Irish Stew on the menu, at least not in familiar pubgrub form; think more contemporary. “It’s important that we stay in front of the modern Irish food trend and keep our guests excited about great new dishes on the menu,” O’Neill said.
That means a focus on fresh produce and sourcing ingredients that are true to Irish cuisine. O’Neill said that he recently traveled to Boston and found a good fish supplier. “They’ve got the same waters as Ireland,” he said, “so I’m pretty excited about getting some of their nice fish down here.”
O’Neill developed his culinary style after spending more than a decade cooking in top kitchens not only in Ireland but also in Britain and Europe. His peripatetic culinary education was encouraged by well-known Irish chef Oliver Dunne, who headed the Michelin-starred Bon Appeitit in Malahide, a coastal village north of Dublin.
After stints at Dublin’s Brasserie Sixty6 and the Four Season’s Hotel, Dublin. O’Neill was was hired by Dunne, who told him that if he wanted to grow as a chef, he needed to go and work in London’s top kitchens. Taking the long route, by way of jobs in Germany and Australia, he eventually did.
His first job in London was at the Green House, a two-Michelin star restaurant in the city’s tony Mayfair district, working under Antonin Bonnet, who currently owns Quinsou in Paris.
In 2011, O’Neill set his sights higher, literally, to 40/30 at the top of London’s iconic Gherkin building. There he worked as senior sous chef to Arnaud Stevens, who had previously led the Gordon Ramsay restaurant Maze. At that fast paced restaurant he learned some essential skills that will come in handy at the 400-seat Raglan Road. “I learned so much about kitchen management – it was intense,” O’Neill said. “You are working 100 miles per hour, racing against the clock all the time, cooking at a very high skill level. Everything has to be perfect.”
He returned to Ireland to work with renowned chef Kevin Thornton at Thornton’s Restaurant Dublin, recipient of a Michelin star and a 4 Rosette rating from the U.K.’s AA Restaurant Guide.
O’Neill was helping Irish chef and London restaurateur Robin Gill with a signature dinner at Airfield Estate, a Dublin farm-to-table restaurant, when John Cooke, who owns Raglan Road with Paul Nolan, came in for dinner. The two men got to talking and Cooke soon knew that he’d found his new executive chef.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Mark to Raglan Road,” Cooke said. “His instinctive talent and creativity combined with his remarkable culinary journey make for a very exciting future for our diners.”
O’Neill moved to Central Florida in December with his wife, Malwina, and their three children. He said they’re all delighted about the adventure and about how good life can be in Florida. The weather is better than in Ireland, he said.
And he’s excited about the challenge of leading Raglan Road. “I’m looking forward to working with this great Raglan Road team, keeping up the high standards in place and innovating and evolving the food culture back home in Ireland to Raglan Road.”