By JOEY LoMONACO THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Declan Horgan remembers his first dinner service down to the plating.
“I did a rack of lamb, brown sugar and mustard glaze with black pepper,” he recalled. “Sautéed green beans with trimmings off the lamb, made something that resembled Dauphinoise Potatoes.”
Not bad for a 7-year-old.
Horgan’s culinary journey, which began in Dublin, Ireland, more than 30 years ago and has included stops on primetime television, recently reached Fredericksburg. Last month, he joined Rebellion Bourbon Bar + Kitchen as its new culinary director and executive chef.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Chef Horgan to the team,” Rebellion co-owner Joel Griffin said in a statement. “He’s a great match for our vision for Rebellion Bourbon Bar & Kitchen and brings extensive operational and leadership experience.”
Horgan, 45, will split his time between Rebellion’s William Street location and Leesburg, where Rebellion will soon open a three-floor concept with a members-only cigar lounge on the top floor.
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The latter will serve as a laboratory of sorts; Horgan will develop new recipes, which he’ll then photograph and discuss with Rebellion Fredericksburg kitchen manager Matt Matter over the phone.
“The excitement comes from all of the experience he has,” Matter said. “So many people would be starstruck, but he’s just a regular guy who wants to teach us as much as he can.”
Horgan has only been on the job for a month, but he plans to eventually overhaul everything from portion size to the cutlery.
“This menu for me, right now, is very male oriented,” Horgan said. “It’s more big burgers and sandwiches, and it’s not really got a female influence on it. I’m changing that.”
Exhibit A: a beetroot salad with lemon-thyme flavored goat cheese that’s been rolled in panko bread crumbs and deep fried, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and served on a bed of peppery arugula.
Other additions include buffalo cauliflower with a tempura breading, and taco fries, which replace poutine on Rebellion’s happy hour (3–6 pm) menu.
The restaurant, which is named for the 18th-century Whiskey Rebellion, offers 160 varieties of the stuff, and Horgan has plans to use them in everything from sauces and glazes to dry-aged beef.
Horgan traces his earliest inspirations to his maternal grandmother, who would make traditional Irish dishes like grilled lambs hearts and rosti whenever she babysat him.
“There was never a case of ‘I’m not eating that, I don’t like broccoli,’” he said. “I ate everything. My mother had every cookbook under the sun, so I got to try all different types of flavors from a very young age.”
The potato didn’t stray far from the root on that one; much to his girlfriend’s grief, Horgan maintains a collection of more than 400 cookbooks, an impressive feat considering he left behind some 700 volumes when he came to the United States in 2015.
Through his father Denis, an angler on the Irish national team, Horgan learned how to butcher all manner of wild game. Berry-picking trips to the rural Irish County Kerry doubled as a lesson in foraging for flat cap mushrooms.
“Subconsciously, I was always studying food,” he said.
Culinary school, then, was a no-brainer. Horgan excelled during his two years at the DIT School of Culinary Arts and Food Technology in Dublin before working in some of the city’s most esteemed eateries.
In Horgan, Rebellion is getting more than a seasoned, classically-trained chef—they’ve hired a celebrity. His TikTok (chefdeclanhorgan) has more than 24 million views, and he’s amassed legions of followers on Instagram, where he also posts cooking videos.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Horgan was invited to appear on the “Today” show. Wearing a black chef’s smock bearing the Rebellion logo, he showed viewers how to prepare corned beef and cabbage with gnudi gnocchi.
Horgan’s popularity surged as a result of his performance on the television series “Hell’s Kitchen” with Gordon Ramsey. On season 21 of the show, which aired last year, Horgan advanced all the way to the finals, ultimately finishing third in the competition. He was the first Irishman to appear on the show.
Horgan admits that he never expected his star turn, which has reverberated outside of the kitchen.
“Unbelievable,” he says. “Opportunities have fallen in my lap.”
He has an endorsement deal with The Ridge wallet company, and pulled one out of his pocket as proof. Horgan has also secured deals with a kitchen uniform company and Guinness, the company known for its quintessential Irish Stout.
Horgan’s life has changed substantially since those first meals, prepared with humble Irish ingredients. His personality has not.
“I’ve always been this way,” he says. “Even when I’m on TV, I’m the exact same way. People like me, people dig me, people think I’m actually an alright dude.
“And I don’t [mess] around. I tell you it straight, if it’s bad I just tell you straight. I don’t mean offense by it, but I think people like that about me as well.”
Joey LoMonaco: 540/368-5045