When and how did your career begin?
My early life experiences shaped my career. Growing up in West Cork, I went fishing with my dad for mackerel. We’d take them to Sally Barnes’s Woodcock Smokery in Castletownshend for smoking. My grandparents had an orchard and grew their own veg and my dad kept bees. I remember going to a local milking parlour with the bucket for raw milk.
At 13, I started working part time at the hotel in Glandore, just collecting glasses and washing up. Aged 15, I went to work with Adela Nugent at The Rectory in Glandore, one of the best restaurants in Ireland at the time. She taught me about good service and looking after customers. I worked back of house as well, learning about ingredients like scallops and how to cook steak blue. After that I got a job at Kickshaws in Leap, West Cork. I’d been there a month when the chef left and the owner Hugh asked if anyone would be interested. I volunteered and stayed about 18 months. Then Ciaran Woods of The Boatman in Union Hall, who was then Sous Chef at Barberstown House in Kildare, asked me to go there with him. I did day release at Cathal Brugha Street catering college while working. My early jobs taught me to make the connect between what goes on front and back of house and how that affects the total customer experience.
Who are your suppliers and why do you deal with them?
We have 40 suppliers, all extremely committed. It’s a relationship of mutual respect. My growers will grow whatever I want, but they have to be guaranteed I will take the produce when it’s ready - the same way I have to be guaranteed they will supply me. You have to have an open line of communication with all your suppliers, so you know what’s coming and work around it.
What are the challenges for today’s chefs?
Getting young people into this business is a real challenge. The industry has a reputation no longer deserved. Working in a kitchen is a very positive environment. Hours are not as long as they once were and bullying doesn’t exist anymore, except in the small minority of kitchens grabbing the headlines. A lot of really good chefs say they fell into this profession by accident, but you also want to attract passionate committed young people who know they want this as a career. One thing that could help is doing something about work permits for young chefs who want to come in from other countries. It costs a fortune and takes a long time to get a work permit. The process could be made more cost efficient and easier to get through.
How often do you decide on menu choices?
We make small changes constantly. We wouldn’t necessarily change a whole dish, but we might change components of it, depending on what’s available. For example, we had venison with black cabbage on in winter, but the season for both finished at the same time. So we are doing the same dish with Irish Rose Veal and Wild Garlic. Our approach makes for consistency in cooking, because my chefs don’t have to learn a new dish from scratch, but it also creates enough change to keep things interesting.
How do you deal with special dietary requirements on the menu?
Most of our dishes are adaptable for any diet. If there is a gluten element in a dish we swap it for something else. We make vegetarian dishes vegan. We are currently working on a vegetarian/vegan menu, but we try make most dishes adaptable so diners feel they are all sharing the same experience, rather than being singled out as ‘special diet’.
How much does budget impact on your menu choices?
We spend a lot of money on top quality ingredients because they are the backbone of our menus. However, we don’t waste money. I won’t use truffles from Italy or France, they are too expensive, but if Mark Cribben of Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms in North Cork gets truffles, we’ll use those. Same with Madagascan vanilla which costs a fortune to import. We swap it for wild Woodruff. It has a distinct aromatic flavour which makes the dish unique.
What’s your ethos and vision for Bao Boi?
Bao Boi is a faster, more casual dining experience, using quality ingredients. I use the same butchers for meat and the same fishmonger we have in Greene’s. I also use local seasonal veg. We pickle and dehydrate ingredients in season. The only imported ingredients are Asian products. I fully believe if we support our local suppliers and they support us, it’s the way forward to good local economy. We try to keep revenue in the Cork food community, an essential part of our ethos.
Which chefs do you admire and why?
At home, Ross Lewis of Chapter One, for building one of the most credible restaurants in Ireland and always staying relevant and consistent. To do that over the period he has been operating is a huge achievement. Abroad, Virgilio Martinez of Central in Lima, Peru. He uses the same ingredients grown at different altitudes, to get the difference in taste. He is descended from the Incas, who used these practices. His episode on Chef’s Table on Netflix is one of the best in the series.
What’s your opinion of awards like Michelin Stars, AA Rosettes and the like? Do you see them as an opportunity or a burden?
We’d love a Michelin Star at Greene’s! But we are not going after it at the expense of staff and restaurant. We could cut down our menu, to allow us to focus on the tiny details of each dish. But that could compromise financial stability and livelihoods of staff and suppliers. It’s difficult for restaurants to get stars in Ireland because there is no Michelin inspector resident in the country, so they don’t get to hear on the grapevine who is doing what or visit restaurants regularly. But if there was one here, the country is so small we would probably all know who it was!
How do you manage your work/life balance?
An area I need to address! I work crazy hours, because I choose to do so. I probably don’t have the most healthy lifestyle, with too much caffeine and alcohol and not enough exercise. But I do make time to spend with my wife and kids. I am nearly forty, so I’m beginning to think I should get healthier!
Favourite cookery book?
A toss up between Too Many Chiefs, Only One Indian, by Sat Baines, or Central by Virgilio Martinez.
Favourite wine or cocktail?
I like crisp white wines like Austrian Gruner Veltliner or the Californian Riesling we have on the wine list at Greene’s. For a red I love Amarone. We had a great cocktail on the menu at Cask when we opened - gorse and smoked seaweed syrup with peaty Connemara Whiskey. Amazing.
What’s your pet hate in the kitchen?
Untidy uniforms get me. I like uniforms to be clean and ironed.
Which piece of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
What are you loving on your menu at Greene’s right now?
Kilkenny Rose Veal served as pink rump with a veal sausage Wellington, with rich veal jus and carrot. Really good.
If you could eat out at any restaurant in the world, money no object, where would you go?
Central in Lima, Peru, for Virgilio Martinez’s wonderful food.
Tell us what dish you love eating at home
My wife makes us a fry for dinner once a week. Good bacon, sausages and black pudding. Runny eggs with soft yolks . The works. Who doesn’t love a good fry now and then?!