What happens when one Waterford native phones another of a Friday morning? Well, in addition to some nostalgia on my part, a great insight into the mind of one of Ireland’s most passionate chefs, especially when it comes to producers.
While there was no talk of delicacies like the famous Waterford Blaa, myself and Chef Keith Boyle of The Bay Tree Bistro did speak about the importance of supporting local Irish producers.
An avid supporter of Irish producers, Keith believes that having a personal connection with producers is key to building an impenetrable relationship for his restaurant:
“When we support local, they support us back. If you’re in trouble and you need something, the local suppliers will be happy to get the business and they’ll go above and beyond to help you out. With the larger companies, we’re just a number or a figure at the end of the day.”
It’s clear that finding the right supplier is paramount for Keith, but do the diners care where their food comes from, or does it make a difference at all?
“We get asked about where our food comes from the whole time. Most recently, someone asked where our scallops were coming from. We would class ourselves as a high-end restaurant and so people do want to know where the stuff comes from. We don’t write the names as such on the dish, but we do have a little sheet at the back of the menu that lists our suppliers.”
Everybody is more food conscious lately and they want to know that the food they’re eating is good and comes from a great producer and that it’s local.
Building a relationship with a supplier is important for Keith and he continues to strive for the best. A testament to this was when he chose to close The Bay Tree Bistro for a week in order to visit a number of Irish producers around the country, hearing their stories and sampling their products:
“Last year we closed the restaurant for a week and we got in the car and drove the length and breath of the country. We had some ideas of some new products that we wanted to put on the menu, so we set off to meet the people on the farms.”
We became very good friends with producers after first speaking on the phone and then visiting the farms. Meeting the people who make the product, you can see how much passion they have.
In what is understandably a very difficult task, I pressed Keith to reveal three producers he simply could not live without. These producers have become more than just his suppliers, but his friends. They are instrumental in many of Keith’s dishes at The Bay Tree Bistro and their passion and hard work is evidenced in the quality of their produce.
“Maria from Ballymakenny Farm is one of my best friends now. We first met after a Twitter conversation about tomatoes. We started chatting about her potatoes and then it turned out that I was the first restaurant to have her potatoes on my menu.”
Describing how their relationship has evolved, Keith says: “We go to see Maria and Maria comes down and stays with us. We phone each other at least three times a week. We laugh, joke and even cry, you know, we’ve just become very good friends.”
Billy Burke Fish & Poultry
Keith has nothing but high praise for his fishmonger Liam, who he credits for his loyalty and support: “I deal with a local fishmonger, Liam Burke, and although we had been approached by one of the larger companies, Liam is just so supportive of us and it proves that if you support local, they support you back.”
“If you’re in trouble and you need something, the local suppliers will be happy to get the business and help you out. He’ll go above and beyond to help you out. Liam drops down extra fish if I need it, eats in the restaurant 4 or 5 times a year and buys vouchers for his customers. At the end of the day, we’re just a number or figure to the larger companies.”
Another product Keith can’t live without is Muldoon Whiskey, which is a key element in many of his desserts: “Tim and Nicola from Muldoon Whiskey are just great. We use the whiskey liquor in our desserts and our coffees.”
Continuing his praise for the Waterford whiskey, Keith says: “It’s the most amazing whiskey in the world and every time I get two minutes, I run around the restaurant with the whiskey so people can taste it, because nobody is a whiskey drinker until they taste this whiskey.
It’s wonderful to hear Keith’s passion for using local produce and that is evident when looking at individual dishes on the menu.
A new addition to the menu, something that was actually going to be served for the first time the day of our interview, is a Brill with Squid Ink, served with tomatoes and sprouting broccoli. In this way, “you get the locally sourced tomatoes, the broccoli from Maria at Ballymakenny and brill from Billy Burke’s all in one dish”.
Referring to the sandwich board outside the restaurant, Keith mentions that one of the dishes on it will usually be comprised of three local products, so that in one sitting, you experience a dish that was “cooked in a local restaurant by a local chef using three local products”.
As a testament to his commitment to using Irish produce, The Bay Tree Bistro was recently awarded the Just Ask Restaurant of the Year Award for 2018. Recalling the win, Keith says:
“It was amazing for the reason being that I’d never done this for any kind of accolade you know. I didn’t even know we were up for it until the lady phoned me to tell me that we needed to be in Dublin on the Monday. It was the same when we won the monthly one. I just never knew. The team were very discreet and they didn’t look like inspectors.’
Our ethos from the very start when we opened was locally sourced food cooked local by a local. And when you go and meet these producers and their eyes open when they talk about their product, that’s what I love. When you talk to someone face to face, you can feel their pride and passion.
So, with his passion for locally sourced produce and a dedication for utilising this produce within his dishes at The Bay Tree Bistro, I couldn’t help wonder what was next for Keith Boyle?
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. It’s a bit quiet down here in Waterford at the moment so all we can do is keep our head down. That’s all we can do really.”
While Keith may just see it as keeping the head down, it’s clear that his support of local producers is great not only for Waterford, but for Irish food as a whole.
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.
Named Best Break Out Travel Writer at the 2018 Travel Media Awards, 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.