Our Emigrant series features Brits who have made far-flung corners of the world home, we look at what led them to their home and the extraordinary lives they have made there. We start with chef Dominic Geraghty.
The vigour of youth can cause a man to do many things. Cause a man to cut himself from the fabric of his home, his life, and stitch himself to some place fresh. Like new laid turf. And so it was with Dominic Geraghty. He met a girl, accepted her offer, sealed it with loves brittle kiss, and made a transatlantic leap. And though the dense and dewy-eyed earth of home clung thick about his feet, some 35yrs later he’s still there. Though not with the original girl, nor in the original ‘there’.
His life in America has not been still. Not been rooted. It’s run like leaves in autumnal winds, and blown him from California to Alaska, New England, South Carolina, New Mexico, and North Carolina. Yet for all the paths he’s trod, one constant has remained. Cooking. For this dyed in the wool Yorkshire-man has taken his knives and whites on every twist and turn of his journey. And while his flowering has reached it’s greatest expression in the US, the catering seed was planted in the somewhat less exotic locale of his boys Domestic Science class in High School, and later as an apprentice chef at local restaurant, Kershaw House, close to his hometown of Halifax.
Fortunately these humble homegrown talents have served him well, and seen him work as an Executive Chef in some of the most prestigious restaurants, hotels and private clubs in the States. He’s personally cooked for 3 American Presidents – Bush, Nixon and Clinton, one British Prime Minister, James Callaghan, been presented the New Mexico State Seal Award for Hospitality, and won the Fire On The Rock Championship. And yet he’s never let ego run ahead of talent. He’s no Gordon Ramsey. Perhaps this stroke of luck is because he’s one of seven siblings. And the only boy.
His easy going manner, and heritage, furnished him with an easy ‘in’ to US life, “I was extremely welcomed when I came, American folk always seem to want to identify with their ancestry, and in some ways I was just that, a piece of the Old Country. Of course it also helped that I had some ability as a chef.”
Whilst in New Mexico, overseeing the world of fine dining, Dom opened a sideline that would become his every-line. Four & Twenty Blackbirds was a small catering venture with his wife Meryle, which served up home made pies and sandwiches, “It was hard going but it gave me a taste of being independent”. It also proved very popular, and when they moved from the area, it set Dom on a course of discovery. He taught himself to make cured hams, salamis and sausages, “My Dad, Frank, who was a butcher, gave me a taste of his profession while making sausages for him at his shop, and the cured meats are a natural extension of this. A big learning experience, but fun.”
Having arrived as Executive Chef at the exclusive, but improbably named, Hound Ears Club, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, there was a brief hiatus before Dom and Meryle set-up Eat Crow – and the door from dependence to independence inched wider. “Deciding to run Eat Crow full time has been a breath of fresh air, I’m my own boss…..well there is Meryle, if you get my drift. But so far so good. I should’ve done this 20 years ago.”
The change has allowed him to introduce a raft of British working class ‘delicacies’ to a receptive audience – from sausage rolls to Cornish pasties, pork pies, and even the unassuming Eccles cake. Yet perhaps it’s the regular, and oversubscribed, Fish & Chip nights that have been his crowning glory. And though he clings tight to his flat-vowelled origins, he has a great love and respect for what America’s done for him.
“I’m a very proud Englishman and Yorkshire native, it’s my identity, and always will be. But I feel America’s given me the chance to be the best I can be, as well as experience a multi-cultural society, both with people, and food. For which I’m very grateful. It’s a magnificent country, one that changes from state to state, a blessed place in many ways, and yet at times problematic, as I’m sure it is in every country. All these attributes I’ve experienced in the Britain, it’s just a smaller country with a big population, which limits opportunity, so when in America you’d better make the best of it.”
Perhaps, in the final reckoning, that is all anyone can ask of a place. A chance to give a little, a chance to take a little, and a chance to be the best you can be.