Chef Declan Horgan is one of the top chefs on the current season of TV’s reality cooking show, Hell’s Kitchen, but he’s also known as a food wizard in his own right.

Q&A With
Chef Declan

Tell me about the experience of being on Hell’s Kitchen.

Declan: During my career, I’ve worked at high-end, Michelin Star restaurants. A lot of those restaurants were open kitchens, so you were practically always on show. Through that experience, I kept my head down and kept repeating to myself, ‘It’s like a job interview’. So, I made sure to focus on the job at hand – the cooking side of it, the leadership, and team skills side of things.

But, for the TV side of it, I had been on Guy’s Grocery Games twice, though nothing on the scale of Hell’s Kitchen. I keep telling people, ‘I didn’t do anything different. I was literally me being me the whole way through the show.’ I even forgot about the cameras being there. I just focused on it as if I were in a job interview.

I was used to the pressure in the kitchen side of it.

What is Chef Ramsay like?

Declan: I looked up to him my whole career. I understand why people think he’s mean and everything. But he’s not. He’s an actual gentleman, and a scholar outside and inside the kitchen. But putting your name on a place and serving food to people, that’s a lot of pressure.

You could also look at it that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and he doesn’t have time for bullshitters. You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

What do you believe makes a top chef?

Declan: Straight off the bat, learn your trade. Learn from the bottom. Don’t chase money. Learn everything you can, from as many as you can. Learn from the best. Learn from your granny. She might know tricks that aren’t used anymore, but are amazing. Keep learning as much as you can, and the money will come to you.

While you are doing that, learn about people. I’m not going to say, ‘Learn how to control people,’ but learn how to deal with people, how to get the best out of them, how to reprimand people without putting them down.

That’s what I learned. I got a bit of a kick in the ass when I was shoved into a position at about 21. I thought I was going to be this Mad Max of a chef. I thought I was going to be the best in the world. I’d left a Michelin Star restaurant at the age of 20. I’d taken on the world as an Executive Chef at a restaurant in a hotel called The Sidedoor. I was going to pump out the best food I could do. The food was amazing, but I was an absolute See You Next Tuesday [expletive] toward everybody, the staff, my chefs. I was disgusting.

I think I was ego-tripping at the age of twenty. But that got kicked out of me. No one wanted to work with me for a few years, until I rebranded myself. In my mind I reset the wires and launched myself again as nice.

As I matured, that helped. I was able to take into account people’s lives, what the stress of service does to people, and what I can do to help the people get through that stress. That’s what I would do. Take into account what people are going through. You don’t have to be an asshole. Learn your trade as best you can, as long as you can, before you start chasing the money.

Knowledge, humility, and maturity, for sure.

What, if any, cultural barriers did you run into, as a guy from Ireland who came to the United States?

Declan: I felt like people in the American kitchens were almost continuously looking for praise, and were super sensitive compared to back home.

We [Irish] are a bit more blunt, and drop a few more F-bombs at home, and people can be shocked here. It’s not a case of trying to be crude or aggressive. It’s just part of the lingo back in Dublin. I’m not going to say my parents talk like that, because they don’t. But me, growing up on the streets, it’s just part of the lingo.

What have you developed as ‘Chef Declan’s Signature Dish’?

Declan: I hate that Irish food over here is so bad. It’s got such a bad name. It’s disgusting. No offense to anybody… it’s hard to have an Irish restaurant when you don’t have an Irish chef at the helm.

I want to show American people, and anyone who comes to my restaurant, what Irish food is about. What I want to do is modernize Irish food here in America.

One of my pet peeves – I can’t stand it – is called an ‘Irish Egg Roll’. We do not eat that muck. It is disgusting. It’s a Chinese egg roll but it has corned beef and cabbage inside, and maybe a bit of parsley sauce. I can’t. I hate the thing.

Tell me when you might find yourself using a meat grinder.

Declan: I only use the meat grinder, more so, when I want to produce burgers. I will never produce a burger that is prepackaged or pre-made. Anything to do with sausages, I grind my own meat to do that. Sometimes, if I’m making a dish, I’ll put the holy trinity – celery, carrot, and onion – through it. But it disappears if you are making a beef ragout or something. It just depends what I’m doing.

A Swagger Recommended Meat Grinder

You won a Vitamix on Hell’s Kitchen. Can you tell me about using it?

Declan: I’ve used it for pureeing soups, grinding spices, making sauces. At home, I use it to make smoothies. I do cocktails in it when my friends are over. I’ll use it at home, like I do for work. When I was testing my BBQ sauce – it’s on the market, professionally bottled – I used it a lot to finalize my recipe, so it could get testing and FDA approved. I used to grind the spices with it first and get rid of the sediment. That’s why I love the Vitamix.

Chef Declan Horgan Uses Vitamix

Tell me about Jack’s Ranch, your restaurant opening in June.

Declan: It’s in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

It is a new-type concept. We are going to have two styles of pizza ovens. It will be two restaurants in one. One side will be a BBQ restaurant, that is under the name Texas Jack’s Ranch. They’ve won best BBQ in DC. On the other side, Jack’s Ranch, we are going to have a hand-built Italian oven, for Neapolitan pizzas.

We are going to have a huge, open kitchen. Right now, I’m studying everything about pizza and pasta. I have taken many holidays in Italy. I’ve done a lot of Italian cooking in my years of cooking. But now, I’m going to take some Italian classics and modernize them, just to bring it back to what it could be – everything fresh, from scratch and with the best produce.

A young chef asks, ‘What’s my first big step to start my journey?’ You would say…?

Declan: Get into a place that is the top of its game, straight out. Beg, barter, start from the bottom. If they want you to just take out the trash – get in there. Go up the ladder slowly. Don’t chase the money. Learn your trade. As you get older, and know all the basics, get into a place that is the top of its game and go from there.

What do you like to make for comfort at home?

Declan: If I could get away with it, I would make homemade burgers, lasagna, moussaka, fried chicken, if I was allowed…

Why aren’t you allowed?

Declan: Because I’d turn into a slob again. I’d just get huge and be unhealthy. I’d probably end up as a land mammal if I did that again. So, now, I try to make sure I have three meals a day and my portions are smaller, small carbs, salads with protein.

Talk to me about your new BBQ sauce!

Declan: I’ve been working on it for about four years in America, from experimenting at home to making batches for the farmer's market. Without planning it, Chef Ramsay called me ‘Big D’ on the show and my name on the sauce became ‘Big D’.

I knew that I had to get it out there, because it is different than American BBQ sauce. Mine is gluten free. It had 15 calories per portion. Most are up there in the 80s, 90s, to 100 calories per portion. It has two grams of sugar, really low in sugar. It has superfoods in it, like ginger.

The sauce itself is inspired from the first time I experienced BBQ sauce. It wasn’t in American food; it was back home in Ireland with Chinese take away – BBQ spare ribs. It was my favourite thing ever, and I always tried to replicate it. They all have the same theme and taste. I said no. I’m going to take sweetness, the savory, and I’m going to do it differently.

We’re in Hell’s Kitchen right now, and Chef Ramsay gives you a 1LB package of bubble gum and lobster. Go!

Declan: I’d cook the lobsters so that they were gently poached in butter. If the bubble gum was somewhat fruity, I would macerate it to turn it into a sheet. Once it was in a sheet, I would dehydrate it so that it was bubble gum glace, with the fruity flavor and the sugar, slice the lobster thin to make sure it went well with the texture of the bubble gum glace.

Swagger final thoughts: Chef Declan Horgan is a Renaissance Man, of sorts.

He’s fearlessly taken on eclectic multi-cultural culinary challenges – and the challenges of reality cooking shows – and excelled at each turn, and done so with gusto and elan. Those who get to know what he makes and who he is aren’t just impressed. They also know his work leaves a lasting impression.

Follow Declan on Instagram: @Declan76

Chef Big D’s BBQ Pork Ribs


1 Rack of Pork ribs (depending of how many people)
3 Bit knots fresh ginger peeled and sliced thick
5 Star anise
5 Garlic cloves
1 Tablespoon Coriander seeds
1 12oz bottle Big D’s BBQ sauce
1 Tablespoon dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
1 Litre water
1 Tablespoon Chicken bouillon powder


Roasting tray
Backing rack that fits the roasting tray or Spoons


This is a technique I use when I don’t have a smoker handy but get the craving for ribs. Prepare a pan of seasoned salted water or apple juice with aromats of ginger, star anise, garlic, coriander seeds, dried chilli flake and place the ribs on a rack above them. You can improvise a rack with a row of celery or large soup spoons or aluminum foil bunched up into balls in the bottom of the pan.

I also blend the aromats in my Vitamix to create a paste to rub the ribs in. Ensure that the ribs don't touch the liquid. Start the ribs at 350 F and decrease the temperature to 225 F after 15 minutes, baking for about an hour. Once the ribs are cooked and you're able to push a skewer through them with ease or if the bones slip when you turn them you turn the oven to broil.

At this time smother the ribs in Big D’s BBQ sauce and start to broil them. Turn the ribs every few minutes and apply more sauce till bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes then enjoy!


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