"We're told it's the biggest St. Patrick's Day celebration in the Pacific Northwest," said Lucille McAleese
, who opened the restaurant with her
husband, Gerard, 14 years ago, and worked as pastry chef at the outset.
The restaurant is one of three the family owns on the West Coast.Gerard McAleese's parents brought their five children to Vancouver, B.C., from war-torn Belfast in the 1970's and launched the flagship Kells at Pike Place Market in Seattle 20 years ago.
Several years ago, another brother opened the third Kells in San Francisco's financial district.All three restaurants sponsor St. Patrick's Day festivities, but the Portland celebration, with some 10,000 attendees, is the largest, said McAleese
"Comfort food is the first thing that comes to people's minds when they think of Irish food," said Lucille McAleese
sat in one of the wooden booths against the brick walls of the historic, high-ceilinged pub, talking about Irish cuisine and several of the menu items, spread on bright green plates before her
"Beyond corned beef and cabbage, I would say people think of stews, and fish and chips, and baked goods," said McAleese
who visits Ireland at least once a year with her
husband and their two teenage sons.
Americans may think corned beef and cabbage is Irish but in the homeland it's not a common food, she
said, adding that the Irish eat a lot of lamb and fish.Both brown and white soda bread are ever-present, she
said. Chef Light, an Illinois native who stepped in as executive chef of Kells the year after he graduated from Western Culinary Institute here in 1998, thinks of Irish food as "back-route cooking, old-school cooking just like grandma used to do." He
learned to cook from his
mother, a chef for nearly four decades in the Midwest.Several years ago, she
retired but occasionally flew to Portland to help on Kells'
catering events.Three years ago, she
and Ethan's father moved to Portland and she
came out of retirement to join him in the kitchen. The young chef said he recently traveled to Ireland, visited the famous Ballymaloe Cooking School in County Cork and "went to every restaurant and pub starting in Dublin and ending in Belfast."
Light learned that Kells'
food was right in line with the country's cuisine, from the bangers (sausage) and Ulster champ to the sausage rolls and McAleese family's Belfast lamb stew.But he
added more oysters to the menu and white pepper at the table (which didn't go over) to reflect Irish customs.
The chef likes to cook with stout to enhance the flavors of his
recipes.Of cooking with the strong, dark beer, he
warns: "Easy does it.