Paul talks first head chef role

New oppertunities.

A few weeks in and as predicted (slightly unsettling) it’s going ok which is why I’m nervous. I expected a few niggley issues, nothing I couldn’t work out new menu, new crew, new set up, new restaurant, always gonna have a few, teething problems. Now that they are solved I’m now trying to keep costs under control. 

I’ve done rosters before but never like this, I can’t predict the week. 

Thankfully I have a back up plan, in the form of my own business partner, mentor,friend, and gangster no.1 Chef Noel, I provide a rota he provides critique. 

Overall I’ve been happy with it so far, like everyone I’d love to have done more people as everyone has left extremely happy, even a few of the Croí bookings were happy to join us (no pressure then). As stated extremely happy, now I’m building my own relationships, with my butcher, veg guy fish man etc. 

A thing that has been said an awful lot lately is about slim and healthy options, I consider myself, a low fat kinda chef anyway, in that it dosnt have to be deep fried, it’s nice yeah, necessary no, and I’m willing to cater for that, I’ll roast potatoes for you, no oil/ butter on the veg, no problem. Seasoning yes, dripping in liquid not necessarily. 

I do love however a good burger, or a fish and chips. I’m not gonna preach about health as I don’t have qualification and my own personal experience wouldn’t be worth talking about. My weight has fluctuated over the last year, I’m down a stone right now, I’m stressed and not eating and constantly on the go so there you go, explained. Not diet, not advising doing this either. 

Tangent over, (promise) 

Healthy eating kinda my goal for the year, not looking for canonization for being a saint with food, I want to live, enjoy a greasy takeaway, a fish and chip, a potato gratin, a bacon and cabbage dinner. I also want to eat more healthy stuff, less fatty things, so I’m now devising a menu that I will implement for the slimming conscious people of the world, as well as vegatarian and vegan food as it dosnt have to be boring we can do more with veg than just boil or steam. Check out Vegtopia in July this year for a festival dedicated to vegetables and all things vegetable. 

Find it on Facebook @Vegtopia 

Follow me in Grá bistro @gra_bistrotralee on all social media platforms. See ye soon, 

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Paul talks career

Progression

The past 7 years have a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, from the bottom to head chef, even writing this piece is unnerving me slightly, I suppose in many respects I work hard, and put 100% everyday. I feel lucky and proud of what I’ve done since I 1st stepped into the kitchen, I’m never gonna be considered the best chef, ever and honestly I don’t want to be, I don’t want stars, I’ve no intention of chasing them either, nice to have the accolades it’s something I’ve never really sought out, nor do I intend to. 

Now as I progress to a position I feel I’m not totally ready for, I look back and realise I was never ready for anything in my working career. Yet I’ve done my best grew to the position with steep learning curves, now this isn’t more of a curve I’ve been taking the reigns as a sous over the past 2 years, pushing my own boundaries, I’ve stepped up before why now is it so daunting.

Well, I’m part owner in the restaurant.

Problem I run the risk of not only ruining my own life, I run the risk of taking my business partners with me for part of it. 

Solution. Don’t screw up, do what I’ve always done and try, try, and try again. 

I can cook, I can organise a crew, I can run service, I can do the paperwork, I can keep the place clean. 

Sounds easy enough when I put it like that dosnt it. Well easier said than done.

Aside from this I’ve been thinking about my past and cooking from my childhood to present day. I thank God mother could cook my nan’s could cook and pretty much all the women in my young child life could cook, and the best memories of food is what I know now as simple food well executed 

As always @chefpaulc 

Service , Kevin talks

The click of an amazing service.
Running with the herd is pretty much what it feels like on a busy Saturday night. The key is space, everyone need their space, section, customers and time. The dance of a busy restaurant is a very fine art and in order to be at your best you must respect the job you do. Focus and planning is what it’s all about. Times are the dictator and knowing what your kitchen and restaurant can handle so as not to mess the whole thing up is key. 8pm Saturday night and you fill the beast after already clearing a full first sitting is a bad move. The kitchen build, like it’s a practice run in the first sitting, the head chef voicing with accuracy as the team dance to their own rythem so as everything my come to the same end, service.

That’s us, the team out front that pound it out but on a sweet night it’s very hard to explain and I can only ever say how it feels for me. It feels like a bright white ball of light is in the center of my chest. An energy flows through the body and self awareness goes through the roof because being in control is your job at this point, that sounds very serious I know but you will pay hard earned cash to experience.

Giving is another key I believe one must be, to give the people time, time to arrive, be seated, take in their surroundings if indeed this is their first time. Chilled water is such a gimme these days but in order to provide there is a cost, bread and dips. Giving is also knowing and building a trust between you and your people. We give our story as to wear our hearts on our sleeves because we believe in the ethos, we respect our planet and we respect our guests.

Now it’s the staff’s turn, firstly there is the start of the shift and let’s just say like a super football club a player can get injured, a sniffley noes and it off home to bed with some Lemsip and hopefully a cuddle. While this causes a ripple effect through a small team like the vibrations of a wave that started 3 hours ago and service hasn’t started yet, We are full. On a sweet night when you sit down at the end of that night, you know you did good you feel better then a lotto winner. Every guest shows on time and every guess leaves blown away because the service was great is an emotional feeling you can’t compare. Sales is a feeling of giving in a different way and generally something that is a service but waiting is a skill given in order to please your need. Sometimes the chef and I at different times stand to listen with closed eyes as we hear the people busy enjoying their time. Cutlery dancing and wine glasses singing, the dance of a service is gold.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in our restaurant and welled up with tears of joy on a night where everything went our way. The team I have support our cause, they see the head chef and the struggle he breaths, with a kitchen no bigger then a standard sitting room but still he makes it work. Regulated the gills, he makes it work. An admirable man and we fight for that cause. We change our wines as to deliver the perfect glass to each individual but keep them on their toes by introducing them to more so the mind can travel. “Oh hello sir, good to see you. Yes, I believe the merlot isn’t it? I see you’ve ordered the steak, try this taster of Malbec too and see how the flavour works with the steak”. “You know, I have an amazing Australian Chardonnay that will go with that, would you like to taste?” Is an art, a dance, a rythem of it own and the pleasure one can feel like there is no other. Feed is a need, dining out is a pleasure. The beauty of what we do has a soul of its own created by all who are involved.

Paul on 2019

Dieting

As 2019 roars into action for Kevin Noel and myself the list of things to do this year, last year’s list was fairly small. As many people know getting a proper 3 meals a day is hard enough, and in the kitchen surrounded by food it’s often hard than you’d think, tasting and seasoning and tasting again keeps hunger pangs at bay a lot of the time. We often go a few days without a proper meal in the kitchen, “Did we eat yesterday??” Is a common question in the kitchen here anyway. We tend to feed everyone but else ourselves, ironic cooks for everyone except himself. 

As a result we eat late and honestly fairly crappy food, snack box, toastie, chocolate, basically all the stuff you shouldn’t be eating. I’m just speaking here from personal experience, across the industry, both front and back. 

When I 1st met my now wife, i was fairly slender, now I’ve what’s called a Dad bod, or beer belly. Whichever you prefer, catching it now seems like a good idea. 

I’ve a fairly hectic life as it stands without the addition of exercise and cooking at home. 

I found last year I had motivation from here to go after my goals for last year so I figure why not do the same here. I don’t want or need a shaped muscular toned beach body, just a healthier body than what I currently hold, I know my BMI is high and I also realise the flaws with it. For me it’s pretty accurate. Just a few stone 2 or 3. 

Now I don’t plan on sticking to a regimental diet of apples and oranges with spinach and kale, that to me seems counter productive, as I know I won’t stick to that at all or anything resembling it. 

To speak frankly I want to do this naturally, good honest food less of t ghe crappy processed food that I currently consume. I want potato with butter, I want bacon, beef, pork, fish and lamb all honest food. As I believe it’s the added sugar salt and chemicals that’s added to food today to cut cost and maximise profit. 

Here goes. 

As always stay tuned, 

@chefpaulc on all social media platforms. 

Kevin on doing events

Building a different Era.
As we step into 2019 it seems we have A lot to do. Events seem to be the best way to fill the town with people from other towns. The rose of Tralee being the extreme of this but if you take a close look at Brian Carr’s Feile na Blath you have a clear line between well organised events and drawing people. At the restaurant Noel, Paul and I work on getting as many events on for the public as possible because it does effect the growth of Croí and also brings people to the town. With 32 events on the calender so far it’s set to be a busy year. The secret is and it’s true to the bone, you can always find time to put on another one. Events are difficult to get over the line and if they aren’t always free events, selling tickets and advertising can be an issue. The trick there is to be persistent and believe in your event, advertising in the right places and tapping into people you know would be interested. When I do up my plans for events I always tick the boxes of who would like this. Before Croí I never ran an event in my life and as we head into year 3 in business and now after being part of 20 plus events, the tactics used to get bums on seats has gained huge experience and the marketing strategy for the events is key. Working with Noel and Paul has given me huge space to work on thing I enjoy and working on events is amazing. Seeing the people’s faces light up as they recieve above and beyond their expectations. Chef Noel always delivering the best he can and watching Paul bend over backwards to knock it out the park is amazing. From demos to themed evenings, charity gigs to wine tastings, finding my love for events has been a true gift from Croí.

What is the purpose for events.
1) You want to increase revenue by giving people things they are genuinely interested in.

2) To get people through the door that have never been there before.

3) Hopefully meet like minded people so as that connection may begin and the most important word can start. Story.

We do several free events during the year, we also do events that are special and need to pay and deciding which is which isn’t always easy as the 3 of us can differ but and the end of the day if Noel comes up with an event then he has the final word. If Paul comes up with an event, he has the final word. Respecting each individual and realising that everyone you meet is a potential event is also key. A simple conversation could be a potential goldmine.

Why do I put on events, I don’t care to much for money, I have a firm belief that it has its place in society but to witness the look on someone’s face as they truly enjoy something you’ve put on is one of the greatest gifts in my life. On busy Saturday nights to take a minute to close your eyes and listen to a packed restaurant of chatting, giggling, laughter and more, what else could you want….

Demos by Paul

Demos

Anyone that knows me will tell you that I’ll talk for Ireland, beneath the extrovert exterior lies a fear of public speaking, no problem speaking at mass, Just a ball of nerves at demos so I tend not to talk much there, silence is golden so embrace it. I recently did a demo in Garvey’s super valu in Tralee.
Easy once I got into it and felt comfortable with myself, I had Max from once upon a cheese on my peripheral vision so I knew I was good and if I fell short Max or Kevin would throw a comment in somewhere, to set me off again.
I normally go out and forage, Kevin and Noel go to demos and I’m happy out cooking away in the restaurant, not the case this time around it’s Wednesday Paul your doing the demo.
I’m much happier in the forest or the coast getting smart comments from random strangers. This demo was an exception, we were part of a showcase of kerry producers.

As always follow me on all social media @chefpaulc and the restaurant @croitralee

Paul on preservation

Preservation 2018

At the start of the year I wanted to expand on preservation, that I was doing in 2017. So far I’ve made 2 batches of kraut, cabbage and wild garlic, I’ve made a tonne of pesto, cordials and pickles, I’ve also dehydrated some things, made powders and dried leaves and herbs. All in all one part of my years goals achieved. Seaweeds well I’m working on them, I’ve identified many of the one on the beaches that I forage on, as for use of these well that’s another story. I still havnt picked the courage to say sod this I’m doing it. I know there’s no issue with experimentation in the way I work i dont know is it more a fear of failure, or being pulled yet another direction in my own experiments so far.
I’ve picked up information and I believe it to be key to success in seaweeds as opposed to herbs, way more scope for error with herbs, pesto, salad, powder, dried, etc I’m working on options with seaweed so bear with me.

Dehydration was fun this year between the oven and the dehydrator and the natural dehydration process I’ve seen many different results,good bad and indifferent, nettles were the biggest surprise, nettle powder and paper and no that’s not auto correct. Both were really cool and fun to work on. Wild garlic dried leaves, pesto and powder 2 of these are still in the restaurant (for now).
Mushrooms again not a great year, too dry and what came was depleted in places, I did however dry some and powder a few so yay me.
I’ve a lot of rosehip and Hawthorn preserved in bottles and apples in the freezer until I need them thanks Eileen.

See ye soon guys

Kevin’s wine tasting trip

After returning from a trip I was brought on by one of our suppliers I am left with a feeling of humble pie. Taken by my wine supplier Terra Food & Wine, Juan Calljero has a selection of stunning wines in his catalogue. We met at the gates of the plane in Dublin airport and the seven of us were on a journey. When we arrived in Madrid and got the hotel stuff out of the way, we set off on a guided tour of Madrid as this was Alberto Mendozas back garden. Living in Ireland for 17 years and being part of serious achievements for restaurants, Albert showd us amazing food culture in the Spanish city centre. We went to a food jungle is the only way to describe where we were brought, the Platea. A hall set with the backdrop of a stage with a Dj that later became a band. In the middle there was a gymnastic display and on we went. The next place was the city council building where the rooftop had been turned into a viewing, relaxing lounge area. As the night grew late and the feet got tired, we ended the tour and the centre of Madrid and we took our final photo of the evening, no one could imagine what was to happen in the morning.

Up and a’tem early Saturday morning and with the sat nav on, we headed off to the vineyard. 3 hours out the road and we arrived at a discrete location, with stunning gardens, doors, fountains and grape fields as far as the eye could see. Welcomed by Manuel who introduced us to his wine maker Pedro, the tour of this amazing vineyard began. A beautiful tour at the fields in a horse drawn carriage, we got to see all the grape varieties your merlot’s to Syrah’s and the mapping and planning that goes in. They keet stallions, ducks and also host weddings. After the tour of the grounds we were brought through the wine making process and first shown maps of the land and all they harvest. Almonds, olives for oil, pistachios and of course several different types of grapes from reds to whites and rose. Brought through the great halls where the wine is stored in giant 1.5million litre worth of tanks, it was incredibly impressive. After seeing unfiltered chardonnay that had the resemblance of cloudy beer to beautiful blends of stunning fermented grape juice. We had a break then for a couple of hours where food and wine was consistently represented. It seems the culture is built around food and the enjoyment of company and spending time. After a midday siesta Manuel brought us to his private cellar where he showd us some amazing personal possession. Wines from the years his kids were born, wines served at his sister’s wedding and the first wine produce by Manuel. A 15 year old bottle of priceless wine. With very little left and it not being sold you could see the passion in Manuel’s face. Manuel wanted to show us a local village called Chinchilla so we headed there after for an evening meal. At the table we ate some traditional Spanish pinchos and tapas and Manuel had brought a few bottles of wine to taste which included one from the first batch. The liquid inside the bottle hadn’t seen the world in 15 years and as Manuel decanted the beauty I began to feel this amazing feeling of community and enjoyment. The conversation was flying the food was so tasty, no frills no spills just really nice local food. The place was packed, it wasn’t a huge place but it was full. An early night after the long day around 2.30am and I can honestly say one of the best days ever. Breakfast the following morning and a short tour of another part of Madrid where the palace is, we found ourselves in another huge market where every type of person hangs out. From young to old the culture seems to be, I’d rather live with my people then live without my people and the whole thing revolves around food and spending time together. A lot can be learned from cultures like that and being able to visit such places is an honour and a privalage. Trying to make the feeling of being at home is something I want people to feel in our restaurant I guess from spending time abroad in Spain the answer

The answer a Spanish person would give you is “well, what kind of a relationship do you have with yourself, what kind of relationship do you have with your people?” and at the end, they would say, “eating with your people is the only way to be”. When around restaurants and food in Spain you can’t help but feel like you belong or apart of, a beautiful community spirit full of soul, depth and history.

Paul at food on the edge

Food on the edge and a bank holiday weekend

As I sit here in the back room after service I have a chance to reflect on the week that it’s been for me personal and professional. Starting last Sunday the journey to Galway begins. Drive to Galway check in and time for beer. Monday bright and early off to NUIG for food on the edge, a few familiar faces appear a few new ones to acquaint with. For the most part I was alone, i.e. not with my group of Kevin Noel Dale and Dave. Rubbing shoulders with some of the best that the world has to offer and then there’s us. I really enjoyed the whole experience I met several icons for me including Neven mcguire (absolute gent). From there some of Ireland’s producers.

I’ve shorten the above from an essay to a paragraph as I believe nobody wants to read the rant of irrelevant nonsense. If your interested in Food from behind the pass or growing in the field or making cheese this is the place for you. Changed me personally and professionally.

Came back to a steak night provided by one of my old school friends, thank you that steak was amazing, thanks Dad for your input too, much too modest a man to take credit for what he’d deem to he his job and to tell the honest truth a dying art form true butchery skills pulling meat from bones on a carcass to a plate near you.

As always follow the page on Facebook and myself directly @chefpaulc on all social media platforms

Chefs why we do it

Why do we do it……..

Family and friends will never understand
We work every weekend, holiday and special day
Mother’s day, fathers day, birthdays you name it we work it
Unless you have worked as a chef you could never understand the…Why….
For reasons you won’t understand…. not that’s it’s personal well it is but, beyond mosts to really understand ,
Our shortest days are longer than your longest
15 plus hours in a sweat box of heat under pressure from the moment we start till long after you go to bed
While you put on the pjs and brush your teeth we are scrubbing down writing orders filling out paper work only to start early again the next day
And for what…..!!!!!
To express ourselves through food , to tell our story
Lost on most
Boiling pots, sizzling pans , sharp knifes, in a tight space with everybody running around shouting behind , passing,
We cut ourselves, enough to send you to the doctor , we just use duck the or glue and carry on , pain …… we have no time for it …. No place for it ,
Burns that will blister , you don’t stop because of it

The order fly in the pressure mounts but it’s not just physical but mental it will test you and break you nightly
Phyiscally mentally and emotionally every night
For what ……. the few who get it …!!!!
Or care to ..
Well yes ,
We believe or hope that we make a difference to somebody sometime even onetime
Cause that makes it worth while
All the shit,the pain,the missing family
Yes it is worth it
That one moment
Makes it worth while
That one moment that one comment
The best meal ive had
You have made our night special
Yes it easier way the shit the pain the missing
For everybody …..No not even close.
Artist who’s art is never again seen
Poets who’s words are heard once
Painters who’s art is edible
Story.tellers …. but not our story…theirs the producers the grows the farmers
Their stories
We tell theirs not ours
We are the teller.of stories not the story ,

Does it make sense…. not even to us