How to Become a Chef with Pat Ryan
Tue, 20th Sep 16
Who I Am
Pat Ryan, Executive Chef of The Castle Hotel Macroom, Co. Cork. I have been here 16 years. The hotel is a longstanding family run hotel situated in a market town. It’s very well known and has a good regular clientele, plus international visitors to the area.
THE NITTY GRITTY
What type of training did you have?
I started working in the industry at a hotel in Blarney Co. Cork when I was 15. I worked part time when I was in school. After school I went on to do what was then the three month CERT course in Culinary Skills, before going to Cork Institute of Technology to do a Professional Cookery Course over three years. During that time, I attended college one day a week and worked full time in the hotel in Blarney the rest of the week, which is a traditional chef’s apprenticeship. They are tough years when you do an apprenticeship, because you are trying to balance college with work, but it’s a hands on great way to learn. I am still upskilling even as a Head Chef, by doing new hygiene and HACCP courses recently, and generally keeping an eye on new food skills and techniques. You can never stop learning in this job.
What were the challenges along the way?
The work/life balance is always a challenge for any chef because you miss out on so many family occasions. My wife is also a chef so she understands, and that has helped enourmously with trying to balance things. We have three kids and she is also still cooking in a senior role, so we have to work hard to balance our work and home lives.
Professionally, one of the biggest challenges was when I went to London after college. I became Junior Sous Chef quite quick, and was made Head Chef after 18 months. I wanted the role, but I didn’t expect it to be such an eye opener! Having to manage kitchen staff, rotas and budgets at just 23 years old! That was a major challenge!
Were their any major positives or crucial turning points in your career?
Being a Head Chef so young in London was a major turning point for my career. The other big positive was that I met my wife in London as well, she was a chef in a big hotel and we worked together for a bit.
Which people influence your cooking?
My mother first and foremost. I have three brothers and none of them wanted to help at home, so I always ended up giving a hand in the kitchen. I learned a lot from my mum about cooking simple foods. After that, every chef you ever work with along the way influences your cooking in some way. You always learn something new from them. When I was in London I loved Marco Pierre White at the Criterion and we got all his menus.
Which food styles/trends interest you or influence your cooking as a professional chef?
Local food is my main influence in the kitchen. Macroom is a market town and we have a farmer’s market on our doorstep every Tuesday, with a great wealth of local produce. I often pop out to see who is doing what and pick up a few bits and pieces. Also we have heaps of local farms and producers around the Macroom area and we’d be run out of town if we didn’t support them! The hotel is a showcase for the produce of this area and we are very proud of it.
Why do you love your job as a professional chef?
I love cooking. I also love organising and being organised. I love to be in control of the kitchen, and that feeling at the at the end of the day that you have worked hard with your team. There is no great chef without a great team.
What's the worst thing about your role as a professional chef?
When something goes wrong! It happens occasionally, for example if a wedding group or private party of people is late being seated. That drives me mad and I think that’s probably the control freak in me coming out!
Describe a typical day in the kitchen
My wife works mornings so I look after the kids and get them to school. Then I come in to work and meet the duty chefs and breakfast chefs and get their handover reports. I also get the Duty Manager’s handover report. Then I get round to the daily ordering and briefing my chefs for the day. I am a hands on chef who likes to be involved in every aspect of the kitchen, so I also help with prepping of ingredients we need for the service and for the carvery.
We serve all day, from breakfast to lunch and carvery till 3pm, then into the evening service. People often ask me how I’ve managed to stay so long in one job, and I tell them there is always something different happening and I never get bored. I love really love what I do and where I work.
What are your strong points?
I am organised, calm and level headed. I don’t fly off the handle!
Would you change anything about your journey so far?
Maybe I would have liked to have travelled more. I was very young working in London, and I had to eventually come home for family reasons. Otherwise I may have gone on to other places round the world. I think that’s important for any chef.
Who does the cooking at home?
Who does the cooking at home depends on which one of us is home first! Whoever is there first usually gets on with it. And when we are both there we cook together. We have kids who have different tastes. One really loves seafood, another loves meat, so it’s quite a challenge to please everyone.
Any advice for anyone who wants to become a professional chef?
Travel as much as possible and work in as many places as you can. Also get feedback from your fellow chefs that you work with about how you are doing in the kitchen. If you are in college full time doing a culinary course, I’d recommend getting a part time job in a kitchen so you have some hands on experience under your belt. Hands on experience is invaluable and helps you learn the theory side of things.
What’s your favourite dish or recipe?
I love fish and always think the simpler the better when it comes to cooking. We have a set menu and specials which include fish, especially on Fridays when everyone wants fish. We do up to ten different fish dishes. One could be a Dingle Crab Crumble in season, with a fresh herb crust. It’s absolutly gorgeous. We also do crispy calamari with a sweet chilli dressing which is really popular. I like to serve fresh firm fleshed fish with a simple classic Beurre Blanc Sauce. That’s a butter emulsion flavoured with lemon juice and it works perfectly with grilled or panfried fish.