It has been a busy year for award winning chef Stefan Matz. After almost thirty years working in Connemara, Stefan took over the Executive Chef role at Delphi Resort, bringing a new vision to the food offering and a whole new concept restaurant, The Chef’s Table by Stefan Matz.
With just 34 seats and seasonal opening hours, the dining experience in The Chef’s Table by Stefan Matz is totally unique as the kitchen is completely exposed to encourage interaction and engagement between the chefs and guests. Stefan says it takes a while for guests to get comfortable with it. “Surprisingly most people are almost a little bit intimidated by it, there’s always a little bit of a barrier in the beginning. They will hardly make eye contact and then they’ll go into accepting that they are close to the kitchen and they might engage then.”
The immediate proximity of an award winning chef might be off putting to diners who have not had a chef’s table experience before but the engagement with his guests is what drove Stefan to create his concept. It is ideal for the room as the limited space means all guests get a great view of Stefan and his team creating their menus. Conversely, Stefan gets to keep an eye on proceedings in the dining room which speaks to his perfectionism.
The restaurant was created to fit 34 covers partly due to architectural constraints but also because Stefan likes to maintain control over the number of diners he can expect to be serving on any given night. “If you expect more guests then you have to be organised to work that number. So say you have 60 seats, you need to be always ready for 60 and that makes it more difficult and also it makes more expenses. I prefer to be busy consistently, it makes more sense from a business point of view.”
In an effort to keep busy during the year Stefan has taken on a series of food and drink events which take place monthly. The Delphi Resort Food and Drink Event Series are dedicated evenings focusing on a local producer or a type of cuisine. Stefan joins forces with producers, importers and other chefs to create a bespoke experience that celebrates the best of local food and drink. He says it is a nice way to strengthen his relationship with his suppliers. “It’s something I’ve been doing over the years. I’ll visit them to see what they doing, I would bring chefs to the suppliers so it’s the next step to bring the guests to the suppliers and the suppliers to the guests. That way everybody learns a bit from each other.”
It is also important for Stefan that he keeps offering new and exciting experiences to his guests. “The guests in Delphi may have traditionally been coming for the adventure, for the location. They are now coming more and more for the taste and have developed a sense for food, and local food, so it’s also nice to bring them along in the journey. It’s just to offer something more and different and unique to our guests.”
Stefan is no stranger to looking after the various needs of resort guests having spent years at the helm of award winning establishments like Ashford Castle. He recognises the need to cater to a whole range of desires and requirements and maintains that it is their responsibility as chefs to ensure guests are satisfied with the available food offering.
It’s different in cities where you can open a restaurant, even within a hotel, and just do what you like and a huge market will come to you. Here, primarily we need to look after our guests. If they are not looked after, they won’t come back. So we need to offer this huge selection of offerings to make sure there is something for everybody’s tastes.
Guests at the Delphi Resort can choose to dine in The Chef’s Table by Stefan Matz, his fine dining, interactive concept restaurant; The 814 Restaurant which is a more casual, relaxed atmosphere serving honest comfort food for families; the Wild Atlantic Café serving cakes and light snacks and a bar food menu is available too.
Head chef in The 814 Restaurant Sinéad Quinn worked alongside Stefan for many years so they have a close working relationship and Stefan trusts her implicitly. He says she is ‘very much in charge’ of the 814 operation and together they have a defined idea of what they are both creating. This is very important as Stefan says it is jarring for guests if your offering is in any way ambiguous. “Sometimes caterers try to do too much in one place and that’s very difficult and very confusing for the guests, it’s confusing for the whole operation so it’s important to have a very clear defined line of what are we offering in this outlet, what are we offering in the other one. To be honest I think it’s a mistake people make, they are opening the doors and trying to please everyone in one restaurant and it doesn’t work.”
Whether you are dining in The Chef’s Table by Stefan Matz or The 814 Restaurant, one thing you can be sure of finding is an abundance of fresh local produce. Along with singing the praises of local producers through his food series Stefan ensures that, whenever possible, he is using local ingredients. This is something he has always promoted in every kitchen he has worked in. “I couldn’t do it any other way. Why would I buy a product from outside of Ireland if I can get a very good product here, it just doesn’t make sense to me. I’m always trying to source local produce first and if I can’t get something then of course I’ll have to go further afield but locally would always be primarily the source for me.”
At the moment Stefan is enjoying the incoming Connemara lamb. This is a little local anomaly as the climate in the area means that lambing season is later than in other parts of the country so the lamb is available later in the year. He is also a big fan of the local scallops and like everything, he serves them the way he prefers them, minus the roe.
I’m very fussy about food, always have been, and that reflects somehow in the offering of course. So unless it is really really good I wouldn’t like to serve it. For example I like scallops but I don’t like the roe so I always remove it and I’m asked why do I take the roe off and I simply say I don’t like it. What I don’t like, I don’t serve. It might be a little bit selfish but it’s just a principle I use.
This adherence to his own preferences has created a signature style for Stefan, something he has been developing since moving to Ireland in the late 80s. Stefan had always wanted to work alongside his siblings so when the opportunity arose to buy Erriseask House. “We always wanted to do something as a family, the three of us grew up very closely together. My brother was in the hotel industry already and we had an opportunity in a village where my parents had a cottage to buy the local hotel and we just bought it.”
The move to Ireland proved very successful for Stefan as he received a Michelin Star in 2000 and retained it in 2001. Stefan says he always strives to do the best he can and he aims for a level of perfection. “Ireland was a different place so I kind of grew into that or we all grew together in Ireland in this food culture in the 90s. I worked trying to offer the best I can to our guests and it just happened then over a number of years that it was recognised by the Michelin guide.”
Stefan believes in honest recognition, awards that are independent and objective. He notes that the industry now seems saturated with awards and that reduces their credibility. “Sometimes awards are given away I suppose as part of a PR campaign so there’s a little bit of saturation in the market. They don’t mean as much to me anymore as they used to. I don’t want to be critical about it but I would like to see more awards that really mean something to the recipients and the companies who give them away. An award should really be something special for a person or a company who really has been doing well, who really strive to do better and better in the interest of the guest and even of the industry.”
Working in the interest of the industry, this year Stefan will be getting involved in tackling the chef shortage, something he says is a real problem right now. He is afraid that if the shortage continues, traditional Irish hospitality will disappear. He is going to be looking at ways in which the industry can improve working environments in kitchens and service in the hope that these improvements will entice more young people to get involved in the industry. “I think it’s very important that we all create an environment where everybody enjoys working and we need to find a way of getting more and more people back in the industry. That’s something I mean to work on, how we can all kind of work together to maintain what we have in Ireland. It needs to become an enjoyment, working in a kitchen, not just because you’re working with food and making something nice but also the whole environment of working needs to change. And that’s difficult, it’s a slow process.”
In the meantime, Stefan believes a short term solution could be attracting people from outside Ireland to come and work here. If we can find more like Stefan Matz, the future of Irish food will be in safe hands.
To book your table at The Chef’s Table by Stefan Matz click 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