This week is the first in a series of interviews with several head chefs of Galway’s restaurants. There are very few well known chefs in Ireland, but very often the person responsible for all the creativity in the kitchen is a behind the scenes person. So to find out a little more, Kevin and I chatted for a couple of hours over a coffee.
How did you start in this business?
I started out working in the Shelbourne Hotel at the age of 14. In those days we had to cook meals for the office staff, and a different meal for the floor staff, and this was where you started. After that you progressed through the ranks until eventually you were preparing food for the famous Saddle Room.
Do you ever go back to the Shelbourne Hotel?
Yes, it is my favourite place to go for a meal. Part of the pleasure of having a meal there is looking back to when I started, and remembering that the possibility of even dreaming about coming in the front door and being a customer at the Shelbourne was unthinkable, let alone dining in the Saddle Room.
What was the Shelbourne Hotel like 30 plus years ago?
It was a place where every staff member knew his job inside out, where a senior chef might be 30 years in the Shelbourne. It was a place where you had singing bell boys walking around with placards and calling out “paging Mr or Mrs Smith”, or whoever there was a call for at reception.
Have you ever worked abroad and if so is it important to do so?
Yes, I worked in London, Switzerland, and Germany, and yes it is very important to gain experience of other countries’ cuisine.
Would you recommend your children to become chefs?
Only if they had a flair for it. My 14-year-old daughter is an excellent pastry chef and my son likes working front of house. It is a tough life but very rewarding.
What is a typical day in your kitchen?
I visit my suppliers in the morning, checking what fish and vegetables are available and checking the quality. It makes a big difference to look and see rather than place an order over the phone. Some of the other chefs will have been in since 10am prepping, baking, and the myriad things that need to be done. About 3pm, I get the menu organised and start cooking before the evening’s orders start coming in. Approximately 90 per cent of our business is pre-booked so we have a good idea how many will arrive. Weekends are often booked out two weeks in advance and Valentine’s night is booked out by Christmas. Finishing time for me is about 10.30pm/11pm.
How would you describe your menu?
It is a traditional classic menu with items like beef Wellington, lobster thermidor, pea soup, and beef consommé, all prepared with the very best of raw ingredients. An example of the care we take is that our hollandaise sauce is made every day by whisking up 16 to 30 eggs, depending on the number of bookings.
What is the most popular item on your menu?
Our roast duck, and has been for 19 years.
Describe what it is like to be a head chef at The White Gables.
It’s a lifestyle — it’s not just a job — it is our way of life. It is a busy and rewarding way of life. When I cook something I like to do it the best way that I can and that itself is rewarding. We live upstairs over the restaurant so if I want a break it is easy to relax.
Now for some quick fire questions and answers:
Best meal ever: Peacock Alley in Dublin, owned by Conrad Gallagher, dinner was foie gras followed by fillet of beef.
Favourite wine: Cahors from the south of France.
Chef you admire: Marco Pierre White.
Who cooks dinner on Christmas Day? Me.
Favourite places to holiday: Omey Island in Connemara and south of France:
Favourite cookbook: Hering’s Dictionary of Classical and Modern Cookery.
Best advice for the home cook: Keep it simple.
Famous people you have cooked for: Bertie Ahern, Charlie Haughey, The Rolling Stones, Bob Hope, plus many more.
How will we get out of this recession? Spend only what you earn.
White Gables is introducing a special offer from now until the end of May. On each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday you can choose any starter plus any main course for €35. Bear in mind that could be foie gras and lobster, so it could be a chance for you to sample the very top end of the menu. There is also a reward card scheme in place where you get a bottle of wine to the value of €30 on your fifth visit, and €75 off your bill on your 10th visit. To view the menu check out www.whitegables.com