Frankie Mallon is the Owner Chef Patron of multi award-winning An Port Mor restaurant in Westport, Co. Mayo, opened in 2009. Originally from Blackwatertown in Co. Armagh, Frankie made his home in Westport twenty years ago. The restaurant is named in Irish after his hometown.
FFT.ie: When and how did your career begin?
Frankie Mallon: I started cooking as a young fella when I used to visit my Grandmother’s house in Ardboe, close to Lough Neagh. We used to go foraging for berries then make jam. We also had local eels from the Lough, so we would get out the frying pan and cook those. Those experiences got me interested in cooking. At 18, I went to Portrush Catering College for two years, to do my City and Guilds 706/1 & 706/2. Then I went to London for a short time. My first real job was with Paul Rankin at Roscoff in Belfast. A year into working there, in 1991, we got the Michelin Star. That was the start of things for me.
Who are your suppliers and why do you deal with them?
My main supplier for meat is Sean Kelly of Newport. He is a fantastic butcher who has his own meats, plus award winning black and white puddings. I have a great relationship with him and his two sons. They eat here all the time. We go back nine or ten years. Local man Joe Kelly supplies me with seasonal veg and salads, whatever he has. Then we get our fish from a generic fish supplier in this area. Our shellfish is sourced from individual small boats which fish in local waters. Quality produce from trusted suppliers is essential.
What are the challenges for today’s chefs?
As a Chef/Owner running a restaurant, there is so much competition. The secret is in staying consistent, keeping standards, keeping up levels of sourcing good produce. For me that’s a serious challenge. We work hard every day to maintain our quality and consistency.
How do you deal with special dietary requirements on the menu?
We cook everything to order so it’s no trouble to adapt a dish. We can add in or take out whatever element is necessary to make it suitable for any diner. We also always have a ‘go to’ cupboard of ingredients and condiments for creating or adapting any dish. So we can do anything anyone wants.
How much does budget impact on your menu choices?
Like any restaurant, you have to be careful with pricing. You want to offer value for money but still offer the best quality of ingredients. From now on, we are guaranteed to be busy through the summer till September, so I almost have a free hand to buy the ingredients I want. I can make the most of the fantastic fish and seasonal shellfish from our local waters. Budget becomes more important in winter, when you know it will be quieter. In those months, I tend to choose slower cooking more economical meat cuts, to do some real hearty cooking. Things like belly pork and featherblade of beef, cooked slowly. That’s the sort of food people love in winter anyway.
What’s your personal ethos and future vision for An Port Mor?
From day one, I have always cooked from the heart and sourced local ingredients. That’s what I have always done and intend to keep on doing. My vision here is to stay consistent and relevant, and still to cook with the passion I’ve always had.
What’s your opinion of awards, Michelin stars, AA Rosettes and the like? Do you see them as an opportunity or a burden?
Winning awards and getting recognition is very important for a new business. When you are trying to build your reputation, build up your clientele and your restaurant, an award can make a massive difference to getting you known and getting your name out there. Maybe the longer you stay in business, the less important awards become. But it’s always good to get a pat on the back for your hard work. No matter how long you’ve been around, it’s good to be recognised in your career. Of course it’s always nice to win an award!
How do you manage your work/life balance?
Difficult! I always put the restaurant first and if my wife Olivia heard me say that she would kill me! But seriously, it’s a wonder we are not divorced! I must say special thanks to Olivia. We’ve been together 20 years and she’s absolutely fantastic. I am lucky to have her supporting me in my career. I couldn’t do this without her.
Which chefs/restaurants do you admire and why?
My first mentor was Paul Rankin. He was my real inspiration to want to make it as a chef. His restaurant, Roscoff, was ahead of its time. The other two restaurants and chefs I admire are Ross Lewis of Chapter One, and Derry Clarke of L’Ecrivain, both in Dublin. Both chefs have been there so long at the top of their games, over so many years. That’s a phenomenal achievement in this business. They’re always consistent and creative in their cooking. I really admire that.
Favourite cookery book?
The first cookery book I ever had was one Paul Rankin told me to buy! George Blanc’s Ma Cuisine Des Saisons. There are no pictures in the book, just words and recipes. I can honestly say I have cooked my way through that book, every recipe. Georges Blanc is one of the classic chefs of his day. Still my favourite book!
Favourite wine or cocktail?
Definitely wine! I really like Rioja. We have a lovely one on the wine list at the moment, Luis Canas Rioja. We actually went there to see how it’s made first hand, and met the grandfather, who is now an old man. It’s a beautiful wine, I love the flavours.
What’s your pet hate in the kitchen?
People not clearing up after themselves. Drives me nuts!
Which piece of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
Fish tweezers, for pulling the bones out of fresh fish fillets.
What are you loving on your menu right now?
Scallops, langoustines and mussels are all good now. We are on a bit of a shellfish buzz at the minute!
If you could eat out at any restaurant in the world, money no object, where would you go?
I’ve always wanted to go to Le Gavroche in London. Opened by Albert and Michel Roux in 1967. It’s a classic, now run by Michel Roux Jnr. If I had a chance, I would really love to go there.
Tell us what dish you love eating at home.
Olivia does the best roast chicken and roast spuds I have ever tasted. I’ve yet to eat better. I still can’t do a better roast spud than her, and she won’t tell me how she does it!