Gareth Mullins is a very proud chef right now. The Brasserie at The Marker Hotel was awarded the Best Hotel Restaurant in Dublin at the Irish Restaurant Awards last month but the accolade is not as important to Gareth as the recognition it gives his team. “It’s nice to win awards, it’s not why we do what we do, but it’s massive for the team and the people that work here because they pour their heart and soul into this place along with me, so to get an accolade like what we got is brilliant.”
It certainly is something to be proud of for Gareth as he has been responsible for the Brasserie since before it opened in 2012. On his first day at The Marker, three months shy of opening, Gareth was handed a hard hat and a high vis jacket to enter what was essentially still a building site.
Gareth had made the decision early on in his career that he would work in premium hotels. His CV includes top quality establishments all over the world like The Merrion Hotel where he learned under Ed Cooney and he says the right training is vital for your career.
I like the challenges that hotels throw at you, I like the diversity of having to work with a big group of people and a lot of different food concepts and different moving parts all the time. I always wanted to be the Executive Chef of a five star hotel in Dublin. I think it’s important in your career to set goals and then go after them.
As Executive Head Chef, Gareth is responsible for the four kitchens throughout the hotel including a small unit on the roof that services the Rooftop Bar & Terrace. In the summer months this kitchen produces small tasting plates but there are plans in place to develop the space further due to its popularity. Most of the awareness about the Rooftop comes from its presence on social media. Guests flock to the lift to emerge above the city for a series of photo opportunities and social points. Gareth recognises the role social media plays as a marketing tool and says it needs to be utilised. “I can see the commercial value in it, I know our guests certainly use it an awful lot. I think it’s the changing part of the chef’s dynamic now, you can either embrace these things or you can choose to stay away from them. So the reason why I’m active on social media is because of the response that it gets.”
Gareth currently has over two thousand followers on Twitter and is frequently posting on Instagram but he reckons he is too old for Snapchat. As a chef, embracing social media can be beneficial to your brand but it can also lead to interesting opportunities as chefs come together to form online communities. “If you go back ten years ago or fifteen years ago, the only way chefs really got to interact was through stages. I think chefs are sharing an awful lot more with each other now and really looking at what other people are doing.”
Social media is also helping to change the perception of Ireland and Irish food abroad. Gareth credits chefs and food ambassadors with ridding Ireland of its manufactured leprechaun and Guinness stereotypes and providing a different image and reputation for Ireland and its food. Ireland is now a place where Gareth is proud of the food offering and he says it’s genuinely hard to find something today that is poor quality.
I think that most chefs now embrace seasonality, embrace simple cooking correctly. Most chefs understand that making your menu too big is just suicide, you have to pare it back and you work with the resources that are in front of you. I think a lot of that is due to the dynamic of our industry and the changing amount that we all travel and educate and really embrace local ingredients.
Finding those talented and educated chefs is becoming the issue of the day as Ireland faces a massive chef shortage. Gareth says it is a problem that exists globally but not one that concerns him as he doesn’t have a high level of staff turnover. “My staff retention has been ok and I put a lot of that down to the fact that people who work here, I’d like to think they get looked after. We try to train and educate them and I will help them get their next job if I can.”
The issue of pay rates comes up and while Gareth believes that it is behind the crisis, it is not something that young chefs in training should be worried about or focusing on. He prefers to see hard work and dedication in his team and he rewards those efforts accordingly, every member of his management team started out at a junior level. “I don’t promote with time served, I never have. I’ve never worked in kitchens where if you stay for two years I’ll give you demi chef or chef de partie, you get promoted on merit. It just keeps hunger in the kitchen because they see if I work hard and I’m dedicated then I move up. If you don’t then you stay still. But they can’t all be sous chefs and I think it’s important that you don’t expect everybody to be superstars.”
The biggest challenge for Gareth in his kitchen is finding great pastry chefs. It is an industry wide issue and one that he puts down to neglect, most kitchens don’t give the section the credit or attention it deserves. For Gareth, pastry is so important because it is generally the last thing his diners will eat so it leaves the lasting impression. Another aspect that falls under that umbrella is breakfast. For hotel guests, their visits can be tainted by substandard breakfast so Gareth puts a lot of emphasis on it. “That is the last thing that people eat as a hotel guest but my sous chef is always looking at me going there he goes about breakfast again. I think it’s a sign of a good hotel if their breakfast is good.”
Although continually focused on certain areas of the hotel, Gareth is also always on the look out for the next trend in food. When The Marker first opened it was one of the only places in Dublin that you could get a cronut. The surrounding hype gave them the kind of marketing you simply cannot buy, the viral kind.
In the lead up to Christmas 2014 Gareth saw an opportunity for a convenient, clean eating option and he created the NutriBox. This healthy meal was a great alternative for their massive corporate clientele who were looking for something different to the classic bar options. “I planned to put that on the menu for the month of January as a little bit of a marketing gimmicky thing and it’s never come off the menu because a lot of people come in for it and ask for it.”
The success of the NutriBox grew into a whole concept which is called The Marker Equilibrium. It aims to show people that living a balanced life is the best way to wellness. It provides healthy, balanced menu options in the Bar and Brasserie with access to the gym, spa and wellness areas of the hotel for exercise and relaxation.
Balance is the key aspect for Gareth as he feels some people in the food world can take clean eating and free from regimes to the extreme. “In the kitchen you were getting a lot of people saying they’re coeliac and this and that. A lot of the time they’re not and they don’t really understand what coeliac disease is, it’s a very serious thing if you are gluten intolerant. But they’re only eating it because media pages are telling them that flour bloats you and all this. It’s pure drivel, it’s untrue.”
Instead of an extreme diet, Gareth advocates everything in moderation, something he has embraced in his own life. With the obvious hazards that come with the job like the long, antisocial hours, Gareth made the decision to start actively looking after his own wellness. “I made quite a conscious decision about two years ago that I needed to address it for my own sanity and the sanity of the people around me because you can turn into somebody that you don’t want to be.” Now Gareth works out several times a week, makes time to sit down for balanced meals and spends at least two or three mornings a week with his kids, Georgia May and Zach, catching up on his ‘dad responsibilities’.
To provide that balance to his guests, Gareth has created equilibrium options for the bar like the NutriBurger with fermented cabbage and avocado, a tracker bar, paleo protein balls and his take on Reese’s Pieces. There are options on the Brasserie and room service menus and Gareth’s team can even stock your minibar with balanced meals if required.
You have somebody here that understands that eating that way can be difficult for people and I certainly don’t want any guest in this hotel feeling that they can’t do what they want to do. That’s my main thing with the equilibrium menu, if you’re on some type of a clean eating or a certain diet, you can feel a little bit funny as a diner or as a guest ’cause there’s nothing there for you and you end up ordering a green salad. So if you are in a hotel and you want to eat something but you don’t want to eat a scone or a pastry or whatever, there is an option there for you.
The next focus area for Gareth is the award winning Brasserie itself. Not content with being the Best Hotel Restaurant in Dublin, he and the team are already looking at areas they can change and improve. He is driven by the other restaurants that are doing well in Dublin and around the country. He praises the team at Luna for their guest focused forward thinking and maintains that Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud is ‘by far the best restaurant in the country’. “I think it’s nice to go out and eat in other restaurants and enjoy what other people are doing. I think it’s very important in our industry to be out, constantly questioning what you’re doing, always just trying to move forward. Don’t let it go stagnant, keep changing it every day. As I say to my sous chefs, let’s pick something every day that we can make better.”
The guest experience is at the centre of Gareth’s vision for moving forward which will see some aesthetic changes and some alterations to aspects of service. He wants to bring in new uniforms for the staff and tasting menus. Whatever changes are made, with Gareth and his team behind them you can rest assured it will remain an award winning experience.
Book your table in The Brasserie at The Marker Hotel here.
Alison has been writing since she could hold a pen, which came in handy for her degree in English, Media and Cultural Studies. She has been working in media since graduating and is the latest features writer for TheTaste.
Writing for TheTaste allows her to combine her passion for the written word with her love of food and drink. Find her on Twitter @AliDalyo