Local, seasonal produce is the order of the day on menus across the country and this emphasis on championing the best of Irish ingredients is to be welcomed warmly. With a dedicated community of artisan producers working tirelessly to offer world class raw materials, the commitment of Irish chefs to showcasing this produce on their menus is worthy of celebration.
Just Ask, a Bord Bia initiative, ensures that diners can easily identify restaurants committed to this ethos, by shedding a light on the chefs who have embraced championing Irish suppliers and producers and listed them on their menus.
Georgina Campbell has named The Bay Tree Bistro in Waterford as the Just Ask Restaurant of the Year 2018 as Chef Proprietor Keith Boyle has made it his mission to build his menu around Irish produce. “Keith’s cooking has great finesse and his menus are a celebration of the best local and Irish foods, with a focus on artisan producers,” Campbell noted.
Boyle’s menu reads like a who’s who of fine Irish artisans, all utilised in the creation of his accomplished dishes. “Piedmontese beef is supplied to us by John Commins in Tipperary and Crowe’s Farm supply us with their outdoor reared pork. Our Irish chicken is sourced from Oakpark Foods in Carlow and Elda Wild Irish Venison of Dunhill, Co. Waterford supply us with wild game in season. Billy Burke in Co. Waterford supplies us with our fish and shellfish,” he continued.
Dunphy’s in Annestown, Co. Waterford supplies Bay Tree with the majority of their vegetables, with heritage potatoes coming from Ballymakenny Farm in Co. Louth and fruit and berries provided by David Dennison. Mark Murphy of Mooncoin Beetroot supplies the ever popular staple beetroots and Bay Tree also has a dedicated forager, Andrew Malcolm from Lismore.
Each producer Boyle works with is carefully considered, in order to ensure he can get his hands on the very best Irish produce. “I will firstly research the product, then the supplier and then if it’s somebody I haven’t used before I will phone some of my chef friends and ask their opinion and then if I feel it has ticked all the boxes I make the first contact” he says.
Deciding to work with a producer, for Keith, is far more than just signing on the dotted line. “Once first contact is made I try to meet them in person to make a real working relationship with them, to become friends so to speak.”
In fact, Keith and his wife, Bay Tree manager Carmel, are so committed to the pursuit of championing Irish producers that last year they closed the restaurant for a week to undertake an artisan road trip of sorts. The couple travelled the country to meet some of these people on their own farms and in their own workshops “to see for themselves the hard work and passion these people put into their produce.”
Describing his menu as “ingredient or seasonal led”, Keith notes that by cooking this way so and doing his upmost to keeping his supplier list small, local and dedicated, is what ensures the Bay Tree embodies the Just Ask ethos.
Irish Food means everything to me. It’s how we were raised, how we raise our own children, part of our heritage. It’s what we serve on our plates to our customers, what puts a roof over our head and clothes on our back. The more we support Irish food and Irish producers the stronger our little island becomes on the global food platform.”
Having been a chef for many years, Keith started working in kitchens as early as 13, undertook his first college course at 15, followed by a professional cookery course at 17 and return to education at age 31, obtaining his BA in Culinary Arts.
Prior to the runaway success of the Bay Tree, including the award of Best Restaurant in Waterford at the 2017 Restaurant of Ireland Awards and the title of Best Chef in Munster for Keith, the Boyle’s had no plans to open their own restaurant until a chance opportunity arose.
“Three thousand euro, lots of help from family and friends, some credit from local suppliers and three weeks later The Bay Tree Bistro on Ballybricken was alive,” Keith recalls fondly.
Nothing worth doing happens without putting in serious graft, and Keith confirms that getting the Bay Tree off the ground was tough, but worth it. “After lots of hard work, blood, sweat, tears, tantrums, fights and laughs, just 3 years later we are nearly 18 months into our second premises on the main quays of the city. Its been a complete whirlwind.”
As a small local restaurant, I have to wonder how Keith maintains the keen pricing you are known while using the best artisan ingredients and his response is refreshingly honest.
“Some business people will hate this answer, but I hope some will agree with me too. You’ve got to lose some money before you make some. Firstly, I’ve got to remember where we are based. Waterford City doesn’t have the population of the likes of Dublin or Galway. If you charge too much you won’t get them back, and with a lot of restaurants around there is a lot of competition for bums on seats.”
In order to up the chances of repeat customers, the lifeblood of all restaurants and not just those in smaller cities, Keith’s approach is simple but pragmatic. “My plates are pretty small in comparison with other restaurants so just getting people used to that was my first hurdle. So, we have got to cut our cloth to measure, get people enjoying what we do and keep them coming back, and focus on our ethos quality rather than quantity.”
When questioned on his favourite ingredient, Keith is quick to point out that his affection tends to be towards particular producers rather than a specific item. “My friend Maria Flynn from Ballymakenny Farm is constantly adding to her array of fantastic ingredients and I love when she sends me down her new stuff to try out. Whether its her pink or purple potatoes which have taken the country by storm or her purple sprouting broccoli or frivolity – sometimes being a guinea pig is alright!” he laughs.
While the Bay Tree has collected the numerous accolades mentioned above, Keith is most proud of securing the Just Eat title this year as for him, it means “being recognised for what we love most, showcasing people who love what they do as much as we do.”
Sometimes I stand on the stairs and feel in awe and so proud of what we achieved.
Keith is passionate about not only sourcing the finest local ingredients, but also promising young chefs, and fostering a kitchen environment where this ethos is paramount is extremely important to him.
“I would hope that they just see from the initial writing of the menu, to the phone conversations to the producers, to meeting them in the kitchen and seeing how happy they are that we are using their produce, to the feedback from the customers and staff about their product, will make these young chefs realise the important role we as chefs play in the lives of this person that its not only the product we are showcasing but the person or people behind it,” he says.
On sharing the load of running a restaurant working with his wife Carmel, Keith says “If I’m telling the truth I couldn’t have done it without her.”
I really enjoy working with Carmel, I hope she says the same about me! It’s fantastic for me to watch my wife controlling the dining room and being as proud about what we are trying to achieve as I am. Carmel is a very determined woman and a fantastic manager.
Reflecting on how they work together as a fantastic team, sometimes struggling to switch off but loving their lot in life, Keith laughs that “they say behind every good man is a better woman. The Bay Tree is both of ours, I just happen to be the pretty face of it!”
This article is sponsored by Just Ask. For additional information on Just Ask or to find out how to get involved, visit www.bordbia.ie.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about discovering and creating delicious things – I can sometimes be caught in the act on TV3’s Six O’Clock Show or RTE Today. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me on my pursuit of deliciousness.