If food is a reflection of the chef you won’t be surprised to learn that Jenny Flynn, Head Chef at Faithlegg House Hotel, is a Wexford woman true and true. While her menus reflect the best of local Waterford produce, her native Wexford makes several appearances in the seafood and dessert sections.
Embracing the surrounding region and offerings from neighbouring Kilkenny, Jenny recently created a bespoke tasting menu, inspired by the Three Sisters, to promote and support the region’s bid to become Ireland’s European Capital of Culture 2020. Having lost out to Galway, the Three Sisters menu still proved to be a great advertisement for the food culture in the region and Jenny says she is proud to have been able to support the bid. “There’s a lot of work been done about the Three Sisters and I just thought it would be Faithlegg’s way of promoting it and another way for me to get my suppliers out there.”
In doing her bit to promote the region, Jenny decided to sing the praises of her favourite local suppliers who she says are a credit to the area. It is something she has always been passionate about, having learned her craft from some of the South East’s best chefs and taken her lead from those advocates of local produce. Jenny feels the producers should be recognised, she wants to give them a face.
They work so hard and I know it’s their business but I do think they need a certain amount of passion for what they do too. I think that shows in some of my food, I try and show people that. Like there’s Denis who does our ducks and he’s so passionate about what he does. He goes out and it’s miserable in the lashing rain, when the ducks are after getting out and eating half his courgettes. It’s just his passion and I really feed off it.
Jenny’s treatment of that produce is also something she picked up from a previous mentor, Mrs. Younge, whom Jenny worked for as a teenager in Horetown. Mrs. Younge was an advocate of traditional methods and using every piece of produce that she could to avoid waste. Jenny is carrying on her legacy by experimenting with different traditional methods such as salt baking. “It’s always about looking at what we can do next and what we can bring forward. There’s so much stuff out there that I haven’t even touched on yet but I’m really into old cookery methods. At the minute I’m only salt baking potatoes but I am looking at trying other bits and pieces to see how we could introduce it into our menus.”
The old fashioned methods inevitably create more traditional dishes that reflect the history of food in Ireland. Jenny says these dishes are right at home in the gorgeous Roseville Rooms Restaurant in Faithlegg House. “You wouldn’t expect a modern plate in such an old and elegant room and I think that does impact on the type of food that I do and I like doing. You know I’m all about tradition, the history and the origins of the food and I think that all ties in with the Roseville Rooms itself so I suppose you kind of have to match your food to your restaurant.”
The restaurant consists of two magnificent 18th century drawing rooms which were lovingly refurbished in January last year. As part of the improvement effort, Jenny and her team went after their second AA Rosette which they were awarded with in August. In order to relieve the pressure on the kitchen team so they could focus on quality and consistency, the decision was made to host tours and large group meals in the hotel’s function rooms. “We spoke about it and I was going we can’t be doing 120 in the restaurant and expecting to get two rosettes. We needed to really refocus what we were going to do. We have the lovely Boardroom and the Minaun room so we try and do most of our tours and big dinners in those rooms and keep the restaurant as intimate as possible.”
It seems the inspiration in the kitchen was infectious indeed as Jenny went on to win the inaugural AA Delicious Dish of the Year for her ‘Scallops with Black Pudding, apple and locally brewed Cider’ at the annual AA Hospitality Awards in September. Jenny puts the success of the dish down to its clean, simple flavours and is justifiably proud of the accolade.
It was great, it was really brilliant. We were thrilled that it wasn’t just the AA that picked it, people rang in and voted for us, they went online. It was great to say it’s not just one person picking it, that the public picked it so you know it’s good. After a hard summer it was like ‘OK, we are doing something nice’.
Having the support of the public and them getting behind her has a clear effect on Jenny. Throughout her career, it has been the support and encouragement of the people around her that has driven her success. One of these was Eric Théze, who used to be in Faithlegg and now runs La Bohéme in Waterford City. He told Jenny not to let anything stop her. “He pulled me aside, I’ll never forget it, we were at a Christmas party. Now a lot of wine had been consumed but he was there, ‘you can do, you can be whatever you want to be. Don’t let people walk on you. Don’t let people put you in a box, you’re way better than that’. So I probably took a bit from that you know.”
She believes Eric was referring to her gender and the attitude that generates. “Even now that I’m the Head Chef I still struggle with it sometimes. Suppliers, reps for different companies they’d come in and say ‘can I speak to the head chef’ and I’m there ‘I’m the head chef’ and he’d kind of look over my shoulder or something like that.” She certainly paid some heed to Eric’s words though as Jenny doesn’t let it affect her. “It wouldn’t really bother me, I just put them back in their box” she says, totally capable of handling negativity. “If you were to get bogged down in stuff like that you’d never get to the food you want to be doing.”
Jenny has nothing to worry about in relation to her team who have a great attitude and have been with her for a long time. “I think it’s important to have a good team. I think the guys are great, Derek and Ken, Noel, Zoë, Sarah, they’re all passionate about food which is great because they’re not just clocking in and clocking out, they’re on the same page so we can bounce stuff off each other all the time.”
While Jenny is happy to delegate to Sous Chef Derek Bradley and others, she is always present, lending a hand or overseeing prep for breakfasts, lunch and weddings. Derek runs the pass for dinner service so Jenny is usually busy hopping from one section to another, constantly striving for that award winning excellence. She does rely on her team and is full of praise for their skills and commitment. “I have a great guy called Ken Ryan, he’s from Tipperary so we won’t talk so much about that but he’s my Junior Sous, he’s with me a long time now.” Jenny explains how Ken came up through the ranks of her kitchen, occasionally going off to get different experience but always returning to the fold. “He’s left two or three times and he keeps coming back. He goes and works in another place but he’s like a bird that always finds his way home.”
The loyalty shown by her team is important to Jenny, particularly in the current climate where restaurants are suffering to find and keep good chefs. Jenny reveals that her chefs are in constant demand with regular calls coming in trying to poach them. She says that is just part and parcel for the industry. “We’re a busy kitchen but we try and have the craic with people, you need to have the craic. You could be killing each other one minute and laughing and getting on to each other the next. People always think the grass is greener but they always find their way back.”
On top of creating a good working environment, Jenny makes sure her up and coming chefs are getting a strong base in basic skills. She currently has three commis from WIT and DIT in the kitchen and Jenny says it is so important that they get practical experience in a working kitchen.
You have to earn, you have to work, you have to know what you’re talking about. They think they should be running a section at a chef de partie level but you have to learn the basics first. I’m very strong on that. You need to know why you do different things. It’s not because I say so, there’s a reason behind it. I think sometimes the commis look at MasterChef and think they can just walk into these positions. It’s not always the way.
Due to the chef shortage, Jenny admits that there sometimes isn’t enough time to invest in these young chefs, they have to learn fast and are usually ‘thrown in at the deep end’. “It’s kind of sink or swim time but the good will always rise to the top, people that really want to be chefs and they will learn and take it all on. It’s a hard industry to be in and I think you have to have a passion for it, you really do.”
That passion is evident in her dedicated team of chefs but it also spreads to the rest of the staff at Faithlegg who are all equally passionate about food, drink and hospitality. Jenny works with her restaurant manager Joe Barnes to ensure the wine selection and food pairings are top quality. He passes his knowledge and passion for wine to Jenny and she in turn passes hers on to her team of chefs. Passion, it seems, is the key to success at Faithlegg.
Book a table in the Roseville Rooms Restaurant 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