How to Become a Chef with Enda McEvoy
WHO I AM
Enda McEvoy, Head Chef and owner of Loam with my wife Sinead. We opened in 2014 and got our first Michelin Star in 2015. I like to describe our food as progressive regional cuisine. We use Galway ingredients from people we know and trust.
THE NITTY GRITTY
What type of training did you have?
I don’t have any formal training as such. I studied Maths at college, and during the summer I got a job in Germany as a kitchen porter. I loved it so much I stayed a year, doing an apprenticeship. Then I came back and studied Sociology at Maynooth and worked every summer and holidays in kitchens all the way through my degree. After that I moved to Galway and that’s when I met Sinead. I travelled in Spain, Ireland and Australia, cooking in different kitchens.
I eventually moved to Galway in 2004. I was very lucky to meet David Gumbleton at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers where I worked. He was a fantastic chef who has sadly passed away, but he had an amazing influence on me. It was David who made me think of taking up cookery as a professional career. So I stayed at Sheridan’s and was chef at Sheridan’s on The Docks. After that I travelled again for a bit, and spent four months at Noma with Rene Redzepi. I eventually returned to Galway in 2012 working as Head Chef at Aniar. Then I left to open Loam. I always wanted my own place, it was an itch that had to be scratched really.
What were the challenges along the way?
I think every chef creates his or her own challenges. You have to force yourself to work in challenging situations to progress. Opening Loam was a challenge, especially the financial side. But we had great support. My family are business people who know the pitfalls, so they were able to look at the figures and help me out there. The biggest challenge of all was securing a property and dealing with the council etc. I found it all quite frustrating and cumbersome! Our first year was all about surviving and for anyone who opens a business you have to be aware of that and accept it. It was great to get the star so soon after opening.
Were their any major positives or crucial turning points in your career?
Meeting David Gumbleton who was from a fine dining background and had world experience was a real turning point for me. I began to think that this could be a career I actually wanted. With him at Sheridans I just got the feeling that we were doing something right, using local ingredients and ingredients from the West of Ireland. That was the real starting point of my career.
Which people influence your cooking?
Harriett Leander who was the chef at Nimmo’s was a major influence. She is from Finland, a gregarious lady, an artist and a cook. She is also very hospitable, she knew how to greet people and I learned a lot from that. She’s been a great support to us here. She comes to Loam every week to see how we’re getting on! Also Seamus Sheridan and all at Sheridans have been a great support, they encouraged us to stay here from the start and that’s really why I love Galway.
It was the people we know who made the difference. I get my work ethic from my parents. They had a corner shop and post office in Cavan and we had a piggery and grew veggies. We always worked in the fields as kids. They grew cabbages and other veggies which we sold at the market. My mum went to Cahal Brugher Street College to study hotel and catering but then she met my dad and had six kids so she didn’t ever cook for a living.
Which food styles/trends interest you or influence your cooking as a professional chef ?
I am driven by ingredients. I like to keep it simple, with only three hits on a plate. Flavour is the key so I want to keep things tasting delicious, with lightness and freshness. I love to experiment with veggies. I get ours from old friends of mine. They have four acres of land in Galway and they grow for us. We meet three times a year to sit down and have a chat about what they will plant or what will be coming soon and how we will use it. It’s a proper working partnership where we promise to take everything if there is a glut of vegetables in a crop they have planted for us, and we take the hit if there’s a failure. Things can go wrong in the garden, or they can go horribly right and you end up with loads of one thing. Either way, we take what’s there and actually, when we get a lot of one thing I love to experiment with how we can use it differently. Our growers use chemical free methods and also run a box scheme for the public, with a pick up point at Loam. They have a variety of delicious seasonal vegetables.
Why do you love your job as a professional chef?
Cooking is a craft I was always interested in. Every day is a challenge for me and it's far from mundane! I also get the opportunity to get out of the kitchen to go shooting with our game supplier, or meet one of our farmers or producers.
What's the worst thing about your role as a professional chef?
The hours aren’t great, but then you accept that as a chef. I have a small family so it means I don’t see much of them when I am working. I see them first thing in the morning before I go to work and I am home when they’ve gone to bed. But I close Loam every Sunday and Monday so we all get two days off. As well as giving us all a rest and me getting chance to see my family, I have found the closure helps with consistency at the restaurant. We all come back refreshed and it's the same team every day, there’s no confusion with different staff getting different days off etc. It works for very well for us.
Describe a typical day in the kitchen
The kids are up and go to school at 8.30am. When they’ve gone I usually potter around at home for a bit, think about the day ahead and the orders I might need. I go into the kitchen about 10.30am or 11am. Over the summer we had stagiaires working with us, that’s chefs who come and spend time in your kitchen from other kitchens. It’s quite enjoyable and gave us an opportunity to do different things. I was going in early to make the bread with them which I love doing. My chef Cian now makes the bread and gets it on and I start the butchery.
We have one or two different meats to prepare usually and we buy whole animals and use everything. We are getting a lot of game at the moment. We also prepare our fish. Then I go through the garnishes with Christine who works on that section, we talk about what will go with what. I have a guy called Conor on pastry, so we have a chat about that. It’s just about doling out the jobs to the team really! We all know what we are doing then and we crack on till about 4pm when we all sit down and have a family meal together, usually made by Cian. Something hearty and wholesome with a salad, no dessert, but loads of coffee!
Then we clean down and get the kitchen spotless ready for service. When customers arrive at Loam, they are greeted and seated then one of the chefs will come out and bring them a little snack. Then they will order and get bread to the table and it goes from there, with the chefs bringing out dishes in turn. We finish about 10pm and clean down ready for the morning. I usually prepare the orders then for the next day and I will be out the door by about 11.30pm to get home about 11.45pm. I relax by watching episodes of The Great British Bake Off!
What are your strong points?
I like to think things through from inception to when the diner puts the food into their mouths, and what experience they will get. I am very logical and even tempered. I have a cool head. The way we run Loam, the guest is key, so you have to second guess what anyone who comes in the door will want or need. I am really good at reading people that way so I can almost tell what they will want. I like to try to make my customers feel at ease, make them feel that Loam is not about having challenging food experience. It’s meant to be enjoyable and relaxing to come and enjoy a meal here.
Would you change anything about your journey so far?
Well I never think there’s much point in analysing and I think you should always learn from your mistakes. So I don’t have regrets and there’s nothing I would change. But I would love to have travelled more, and perhaps I will again. I would love to go back to Japan and cook and learn about the cuisine there.
Who does the cooking at home?
Sinead does it all as she spends more time with the kids than I do. In fact, if I try to cook at home she usually tells me to stop! I generally prefer to burn things on a fire outside the house! I also love the kids cooking and helping them and we do things like baking cookies together. My oldest one is quite good at it actually.
Any early cookery disasters?
Nothing ever went dreadfully wrong! Just small things that you can rectify. It’s normally on outside catering jobs I’ve worked on where things go wrong. Like turning up and finding out there are no pans, or the party is on the roof and the kitchen is in the basement!
Any advice for anyone who wants to become a professional chef?
Work hard and challenge yourself by working in environments that push you to progress. You have to do that to learn. This job is not gonna land in your lap. You have to work for it and learn.
What’s your favourite dish or recipe?
I am always working on new dishes. We always have a lot of vegetable dishes and meat is only really a small part of what we do. I like to work on dishes based on one vegetable. At the moment we are working on a pumpkin dish which has charred pumpkin which is frozen and defrosted first so it makes it nice and juicy, and we are using seaweed and barley and cep oil in the dish, which makes it very earthy and perfect for this time of year. I really like using seaweed to add flavour. I also love cooking oysters, which I poach in the shell very briefly to plump them up and it makes them really juicy to eat. I serve them cold with various vegetable accompaniments. I like to put them with a cabbage sauerkraut we make, where the acidity gives the oysters a lift. It’s game season at the moment as well so I am enjoying cooking with wild game from our supplier.