How to Become a Chef with Myles O'Brien
Who I am
Myles O’Brien, Head Chef and co owner with my wife of The Tavern Bar and Restaurant in Murrisk, Co. Mayo. Our business is in a beautiful part of Mayo, walking distance to the foot of Croagh Patrick. We serve a casual dining menu with lots of local produce and a big emphasis on fresh seafood from the waters off the Mayo Coast.
THE NITTY GRITTY
What type of training did you have?
Originally I spent two years in GMIT doing a business course, then I did my City and Guilds 706/1 and 706/2 in professional cookery. My training was in classical French cuisine. I’ve done stages all over the world, where you spend a period working with a top chef. I worked with Stephanie Alexander in Australia and that was amazing. I also learned Asian Fusion cooking and travelled to the States to work in a restaurant in Boston, where I learned how to cook top quality seafood. I refresh my knowledge these days by employing younger chefs who are full of ideas and passion. I have a great Sous Chef who is very talented and passionate about the job. The younger guys keep on top of all the new trends and it’s great to work around that energy.
What were the challenges along the way?
When I became a Head Chef for the first time I found it very challenging. I was only out of college two years so it was a bit too early to take on such a major role. I was a bit too young as well. So I stepped back from that and went travelling for six years to expand my knowledge of food and cookery. That experience made me ready to run my own place.
Were their any major positives or crucial turning points in your career?
Marrying my wife! We met twenty years ago. She is a trained hotel manageress and we worked for many years for other people, till one day we felt we had enough expertise between us to do this ourselves. My wife looks after front of house at The Tavern and she’s big on organisation and customer service. I couldn’t do this without her. We are a team.
Which people influence your cooking?
I think Stephanie Alexander has been one of the greatest influences in my life. Other chefs I worked with when I was travelling also influenced my cooking, learning about Asian French Fusion and how to cook great seafood. They were all invaluable experiences with people who could constructively criticise a dish without breaking your heart! That’s a real skill for a chef. Those experiences have taught me never to be afraid to try something new.
Which food styles/trends interest you or influence your cooking as a professional chef?
My young chefs are fantastic for bringing new ideas to the kitchen. I get new young chefs every year. They have worked in other places and they come to me to learn how to do routine and cater at the highest level for numbers, but they bring exciting ideas with them and I always let them experiment. It’s brilliant to encourage that. Also I have a great forager, Ian Williams, who brings us lots of wild ingredients including seaweed. We use nori, dillisk and samphire on the menu here, plus wild mushrooms.
There’s seems to be a big buzz at the moment with my young chefs around trendy grains like quinoa, so we use that for a wild mushroom risotto instead of the tradtiional risotto rice. We serve it with a red pepper and lemon gel, it’s delicious.
I am also part of the Food Committee for the West of Ireland Wild Atlantic Way Seafood Trail, and the wealth of fresh fish and seafood in this part of the country plays a big part in our menu.
Why do you love your job as a professional chef?
I think the words ‘Compliments to the Chef’ probably make me the happiest man on earth! When a customer says that it after a plate of food, it makes all the hard work worthwhile. To get noticed for your efforts really makes a difference. My wife feels the same about front of house. She loves it when the team gets compliements on the service. It’s a really important boost to make you feel you are doing things right and it makes you love your job all the more!
What's the worst thing about your role as a professional chef?
The pressure! Having to drive people in the kitchen is huge responsibility. I have eighteen chefs here and we can do four to five hundred covers a day in the summer months. At those times, you will always reach that point in the evening when everything is full on and you have about an hour or so of complete mayhem! That’s the worst bit of the job, but then it calms down again!
Describe a typical day in the kitchen
In the mornings, I am here to check the staff are in place and check any deliveries. These will have to be put away, and then I have to organise the staff. I have a chef’s briefing where we discuss menus and what’s happening during the day and anything they need to know. After lunch, I try to head off at around 3pm so I can walk the dog, feed the kids etc. Just to put some normality in my day! I go back to work for the evening service, and I usually oversee the pass and make sure every dish goes out perfect. If it’s really busy I will jump in and cook myself.
What are your strong points?
Good leadership and my ability to pass on knowledge to my team.
Would you change anything about your journey so far?
Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have become a Head Chef so early in my career. I should have spent more time just being a chef instead of jumping into that role so fast. But it worked itself out and I think any experience like that helps you develop and get to know what you want.
Who does the cooking at home?
On the night before we got married, my wife’s mother told her that she was marrying a professional chef and she should leave him to do the job of cooking! My wife is a great front of house manageress, but she would burn toast! And she won’t mind me saying that! We have kids, so I like to cook for them every day, just simple fresh family food . I grew up with proper food at home and I like them to have the same. At the weekends I do a late breakfast or brunch at home. We have Kelly’s Gluten Free Black Pudding on the menu which Sean Kelly made specially for me, and we use it in all sorts of ways. But I also cook it at home for a weekend brunch with smoked bacon and poached eggs on top.
Any early cookery disasters?
A few years ago my wife and I did a function for the Japanese Ambassador in the Town Hall in Bray. It was a big function and the menu included a Wild Mushroom and Beef Consomme, which takes about twenty hours to make from scratch. I had made it and it was absolutely perfect. I left the kitchen for a while and came back and I couldn’t find the pan with the consomme in it. I asked the kitchen porter if he had moved it and he said he had thrown it away because he thought it was a pot soaking with dirty water in it! Looking back, I could see his point with the colour of it, but I wasn’t particularly understanding at the time!
Any advice for anyone who wants to become a professional chef?
From my own experiences, I would say take time to learn your trade thoroughly and make sure you travel as much as you can before you settle down. It makes all the difference to learn different aspects of food from different places. I would recommend any chef does at least six months in any kitchen he or she works in to get a good understanding of the food of that particular restaurant. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.
What’s your favourite dish or recipe?
On the menu at the moment we have Pork Belly from Claremorris, and we serve it with a crispy skin and panfried scallops. It comes with a sauce flavoured with a Belgium style beer from the Mescan Brewery in Co Mayo. I make it with the beer and hoisin sauce for the pork, with a hollandaise sauce over the scallops. At this time of year, we also do a Lobster Risotto and Lobster Linguine, both amazing dishes to enjoy while fresh lobster is in season.