A Day In The Life of Niall Murphy Of Donnybrook Fair Cookery School

Niall Murphy Donnybrook Fair Cookery School

Niall Murphy is the Executive Chef and Head Tutor at Donnybrook Fair’s Cookery School in Dublin. He’s a busy man with a mission to educate adults and kids on how to feed themselves well and healthily. Here he talks about how he does it, and what helps him relax when he’s not spreading the word on good food.

When and How Do You Begin Your Working Day?
I start early in the mornings because I have to drive to work from where I live and I can’t abide traffic! So I get up about 6am and leave about 6.45am, to be at the school by 7.30am. Once I am there I can have breakfast. I am conscious of what I eat, so I normally have some Granola with bread and tea. That sets me up for the morning, which is usually spent catching up on communications, then we decide on concepts for classes. I make my plan for the day dependent on what’s happening. Monday is a particularly busy day for planning. We do a lot of private events which are tailored to requirements. There’s also food education classes, cookery demos, hands-on classes and children’s classes, which is a big passion for me. During mid-term we are running a kids cookery camp for 9 to 13 year olds. It’s aimed at getting them interested in cooking their own food. I find kids of this age are so ready to learn. They ask so many questions and they are ready to understand.

How Did Your Passion For The Hospitality Industry Begin?
Well my food interest started with my mum. But when I left school I went into the motor industry, as my father and grandfather had done before me. I was working in that profession for 27 years, till the recession hit. They were saying it would be about 25 years before a recovery, and I thought,  I will be 70 by then, its just too long to wait! So I quit my job. I worked with a career coach, but I knew I wanted to be in the food industry in some way. I attended the Failte Ireland training centre to do a hospitality course there. It was an absolutely fantastic course, and when it was finished they asked me to stay on for two weeks in the kitchen, which I did. After that I wanted to get some formal cookery qualifications so I went to IT Tallaght and got a culinary degree. Around that time I met Joe Doyle, the MD of Donnybrook Fair. He was fascinated by my story. One day he rang me to say they were thinking of opening a cookery school and wanted someone who had a passion for food to take it on. So I am here six years now and in food for ten years altogether. It’s an absolutely amazing career. I love it.

What Gives You The Most Satisfaction From Your Job?
I love the teaching aspect of my job, and the environment and people I meet. Some people come genuinely believing they can’t cook, so just to see their faces when they produce some good food is very satisfying. Kids are amazing to work with. Some kids come because their parents want them to come and they don’t really want to be here. But after a couple of days they are totally  settled and enjoying it. What’s really good is when I get parents saying that their son or daughter is now eating things they would never have eaten before the classes. Or that they will now try things,  because they know where they have come from. That’s brilliant.

Which Part Of Your Job Do You Like The Least?
I am a creative person. I hate the nitty gritty stuff! The financial side is part of what I do in managing the school, and it's what I like the least. When you have career coaching, you learn to focus on doing what you are good at and to get someone else to do the other stuff. So I now have someone who takes an hour to do the kind of jobs it would take me a whole day to do!

What Advice Would You Give Someone Looking To Get Involved In The Industry?
I think a formal culinary education is a must. Even if you only ever want to make cupcakes, you need to understand what it is you are doing and how to do it the best you can. For me, changing careers in later life, I couldn’t do all full time education so I had to do part time courses. But it was worth it because I do believe with food you really need to be qualified and understand the process.

If You Weren't Doing Your Current Job, What Else Would You Like To Be?
In the motor business I got to travel a lot. I used to go to America for big conferences and it's amazing how many in the industry had come from different career paths. You’d get people saying ‘I was a dentist’!  American culture is different, they believe there or four or five different careers are in all of us. I am still developing in this career. My first book, The D|F Cookery School Cookbook was published last month, which was very exciting. It’s not cutting edge, just good basic recipes. If I wasn’t doing this job, the only other thing I would like to be doing is actually getting my hands dirty growing the food.

Are You A Technophile Or Technophobe?
Without a doubt a technophobe! If I am at my computer and it doesn’t ‘boot up’ when it’s supposed to, I don’t understand what’s happening! Even when my phone won’t turn on, I just look at it bewildered. The one thing I know most about is connecting with people face to face, how important that contact is. So whilst social media has its place, we send out ezines and print brochures for the school, and it's amazing how many people love the brochures. They like to go home and read them at leisure and then come in and discuss what courses they are thinking of doing. Personal contact is huge for us.

What Are The Daily Challenges Of Your Job?
Time management is a big issue for me. I am now fronting the school so I have become known as ‘the man in the cookery school’. Some people just want to talk to me, maybe to discuss a class, which is absolutely great, our business relies on it.  But it means I am then not doing something else that needs to be done! It’s amazing how much time you need to put in for a class. People think it’s just the two and a half hours you are teaching them, but they don’t realise you have to do all the preparation beforehand and clearing up afterwards. Also you have to be able to manage all expectations in a class. Some people come into the class totally intimidated by food. Some want to learn everything they can. You have to be able to identify and manage all those needs within the group.

How Do You Manage The Work/Life Balance
I’m fortunate that this is not a seven days a week, 24/7 cookery school,  because if it was, I would be here as many hours as it takes!  We have days when we are not doing stuff and I can take a day off. It’s a bit erratic, but I do seem to be able to balance having a great career with having a life.

How Do You Relax When You Get Time Off?
Time out for me is cooking. I know that sounds boring! But I love it, I find it really relaxing and I enjoy cooking for family and friends. I also like to walk and play golf. When I travel, I visit food markets and I am an avid collector of cookery books.

What Is Your Guilty Pleasure?
Chocolate from Belgium. They are purists who make good dark chocolate.

What’s Your Favourite Good Food Ireland Place To Visit?
I like simplicity in food. I have an eclectic mix of favourite places. I like to go to Howth for a walk so I sometimes go to Aqua restaurant. I took people there a couple of weeks ago and they loved it. They wanted to go somewhere where the sea would be lapping up as they ate. They didn’t believe me when I said I knew a place where it will feel as if the sea is coming up to the table as you eat!

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