Pushing the Boundaries of Pub Food – Executive Head Chef Barry Liscombe of Hartes of Kildare
Re-opened in December 2009 by brother’s in-law, Paul Lenehan and Ronan Kinsella, Hartes of Kildare has placed itself firmly on the map due to its carefully sourced, fresh and sustainable food and drinks.
With Executive Head Chef Barry Liscombe at the helm in the kitchen, Hartes of Kildare aims to push the boundaries of “pub food”, offering an extensive quality menu in the Kildare gastro pub.
Chatting to Barry, he described his earliest experiences in the food industry, both good and bad: “I’ve been around restaurants since I was a child as my father is also a chef. I started working in his kitchens from the age of 15 and as a chef, picking fresh basil to make pesto was my first job.”
Noticing the pressure of the kitchen from a young age, Barry added that following his first experiences, he had a “wake-up call to the pressure, seeing a wedding of 450 being served out. There was a lot of screaming back then and that was an eye-opener.”
After working in a number of kitchens, including Rubicon on the site of Hugo’s on Merrion Row, the Moyvalley Hotel, Donatello’s, Maynooth and Bloomfield House Hotel to name a few, Barry found himself joining the team at Hartes of Kildare and the Dew Drop Inn.
Describing his work at Hartes and The Dew Drop Inn, Barry says: “I work in conjunction with our local suppliers to create seasonal menus and to try to push the boundaries of ‘pub food’.”
Speaking about the food on offer, he describes it as “good ingredients treated with respect” and a “straight-forward yet innovative, honest and understated” approach.
Though he struggled to pick a favourite dish on the menu, likening the task to “asking someone their favourite child”, he did admit that “the beef feather blade is something of a signature. We do a lot of braising and slow cooking. Anything from the sea is great too, we love seafood.”
Given the items on the menu, which include a braised blade of beef, monkfish scampi and organic salmon, supporting local producers is incredibly important to Barry and the staff at Hartes and The Dew Drop Inn. They utilise a variety of different suppliers to ensure their food is of the highest quality in terms of flavour:
“We use eight different Irish cheese makers, so if we go that in-depth into cheese, you can imagine the lengths we go to with our other ingredients. To name just a few of our suppliers wouldn’t be fair, but we champion all of our producers.”
Hartes also boasts their own cookery school, which stemmed from their visitors asking about dishes and recipes. A natural progression from the restaurant, classes teach participants to prepare four days worth of meals from the same six ingredients so you can prepare food for yourself and your family days in advance.
Describing the cookery school and his pride in the classes on offer, Barry says: “We do classes every Monday at the moment and hopefully, we will be moving into our newly built school next year. We pride ourselves on showing people how much fun cooking can be and not to rely heavily on photoshopped images and the ‘food porn’ they see on TV. We hope that they just enjoy food.”
When asked what he loves and hates about his job, Barry looked on the positive side of things, saying: “I love the creativity, the intensity, the camaraderie and educating people on food. And what’s not to love! The usual answer would be the anti-social hours, but we make sure our staff get their time off on the weekends. Everyone gets at least one weekend day off, and 45hrs max. This is paramount for long-term success.”
Speaking about some of the struggles he’s faced throughout his career, Barry says: “Back in the mid-2000’s before ‘artisan’ was the buzzword, I was fighting to get Irish dishes and good Irish suppliers on pub menus. It didn’t work out for me with that place and that establishment soon after closed. Now we’re thriving. Also, staff are not knocking the doors down on Irish restaurants nowadays so it can get tough.”
But looking to the positive, Barry highlights some of his career achievements, commenting: “Teaching my staff and bringing younger guys and girls through and showing them how to love food and not have to sacrifice your lifestyle for it is wonderful.”
He adds: “Awards are great and they are recognition for our staff. I’ve had a staff member tell me that working with us changed her outlook on life and that really hits you when you realise how much you can affect a person, beyond just being an employee or employer. It’s seeing them bud into young chefs and good people that I consider the real achievement.”
Recognising that a chef’s lifestyle is notoriously demanding, especially growing up with a father who worked 14-hour days as a chef, Barry was determined to achieve more of a work/life balance with his job, saying:
“Growing up not seeing my father as he was working 14 hour days, I just knew there had to be a better way. We treat our staff well and we get the work done in a respectable roster, something we are all the better for.”
He adds: “Keeping staff happy means they stay with you. If you keep losing them, it means you and the rest of the staff have to pick up the slack. It’s that slack that needs to be avoided to ensure we all find balance.”
With his years of experience, Barry has picked up a few tricks of the trade and also has some important advice for any budding chefs:
“You must love food. The days of the screaming chef are gone. We say please and thank you in our kitchen and if you see anywhere that’s any different, steer clear. You deserve better, just like any other profession. The job is hard work, but how hard is work when you love what you do? The future is bright for our industry so be part of it with us.”
Chatting about the industry and Barry is excited by the work being done by many of Ireland’s chefs, including Keith Boyle, Kevin Aherne and James Sheridan to name a few.
Looking to the future and Barry is focused on cooking and his work with the cookery school – “keep on cooking and keep on educating.”
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.