The Tannery in Dungarvan, County Waterford, has gained a reputation as one of Ireland’s finest restaurants. With Chef Proprietor Paul Flynn at the helm alongside his wife Máire, The Tannery has been welcoming diners since 1997 and Paul has earned a following as one of the country’s best loved chefs.
Looking back over his career, from his years as Head Chef at then two Michelin starred Chez Nico in London to Dublin’s La Stampa before returning home to open the highly acclaimed Tannery, Paul chatted with us about the six dishes that made his career.
“This is really the first thing that I cooked. It doesn’t sound challenging at all, but the secret of this is the poached eggs. The story of why I am a chef is that I was definitely undiligent at school; I used to go to every disco that was available to me. I had a Honda 50, which at that time was not really cool, but it was practical and myself and three friends would go down in two Honda 50s to a disco in a village called Kill in Waterford.
Every kid would go to the Kill disco just to try to get off with each other… Nearly always unsuccessfully! The lads used to come back to my house. I was kind of allowed to roam wild at home, to a certain degree, so the lads would come in soaking wet from the bikes and I’d cook up a fry with poached eggs. They loved it and we’d discuss the night as we sat eating it. After time, we all used to look forward to that. Of course we had school the next day… we’d be going in raggedy!”
“I had a little bit of an interest in food and cooking growing up, but I didn’t know anything about anything, so the spark hadn’t really ignited in me yet… that was to come with gratin dauphinois. I got my first job in a pub called Merry’s in Dungarvan. At the time there was a really good chef there – Paul McCluskey – and they served beautiful food; I think it was the best restaurant in the county at the time. Paul had trained with Paul Bocuse – believe it or not – for a long time, so he was a really talented classical cook.
I was 17 years old, just after my Leaving Certificate, and the moment I went into his kitchen that was it. He was a huge influence to me; you’d go into the bar and there would be people having Moules Marnière and crab claws. He was my first real exposure to really good food. I loved the whole atmosphere in the kitchen, even the warmth! I’m not joking… I’m not an outdoorsy guy at all; I was the fella walking around the pitch at school! In the kitchen I loved the energy, speed and commitment and, above all, the food.
My first job was making Dauphinoise. From then on, I remember being invited to parties just for them. My older sister would have parties and she’d say, ‘Why don’t you come along and you can make us those Dauphinoise potatoes?” That got the lads and me into a lot of parties! Just because of that one skill, a limited skill that I had, but it was useful in many ways. I still love this dish.”
“It’s really slow cooking that I’m talking about here, more than anything else. It symbolises the way I love to cook, but also the way I was actually forced to cook. When I came from London, which was all about foie gras, morels, lobster… really expensive ingredients, I was head hunted to run La Stampa and I was under onerous conditions there.
If I got my margins, if I got my wage bill, you’d be reimbursed for it, but if you didn’t, you wouldn’t. What I learned there was about business and food. The food I learned there was lamb shanks, ox cheeks, pork belly, pork cheeks, beef ribs… all of this slow cooking. I had to do it back then because it was cheap, but I discovered I love ‘daubish’ food. I love the time that it took and the craft to make it; the ease of eating and the pleasure that it gave.
What it helped me do was become Irish, to make my food Irish.
We have the pig portrayed all over The Tannery because it symbolises Irish food in many ways. I went on the slow cooking path then and I never came off it. Cooking in the way that I used to, in terms of a high-end French restaurant – you’ve got pans all over the place, amazing sauces for sure, but the work involved is incredible. Whereas the building up of flavour, momentum and deliciousness in one-pot cooking is something that will always be a trademark of mine, I hope.”
“This reflects being by the sea and also seasonality, which is really important to me. We’re open 21 years now and ironically fresh fish was really hard to get down here then, despite the fact that you could throw a stone and you’d hit the sea! At the time, all that fish suppliers were supplying was farmed salmon and frozen cod into hotels and restaurants. It took me years of buying fresh fish, from Castletownbere and places like that, to get a steady supply.
It has become much more accessible now, of course. The other about this dish is the seasonality of it and that’s all about wild garlic. I look forward to new ingredients coming out; the whole progression of seasons dictates my menu and I will never change from that, I love that. I’m very restless, I get tired of things quite easily. If I only wrote down the recipes to 21 years of cooking I’d have about 10 cookbooks, but I didn’t. As well as seasonality, the weather dictates what you eat.
“This is going to be on my headstone, I had to put it down. This came from, at the very beginning of the restaurant, I think for the first six months, I was just reading and I came across of this potted crab dish. I lightened it up and added garlic and ginger and changed around to make my own. It has been on the menu since; it’s the only thing that has stayed on the menu. As restless as I am I’ve also learned that people who come to you over and over again as people do to us, they look forward to certain dishes.
As I do, when I used to go down to Fishy Fishy, I crave Martin’s prawns in lemon butter sauce. As soon as I know I’m going down there, I want them. People are similar to us in that way and you need to find a measure of consistency and familiarity that people are comfortable with. In many ways, the crab crème brulée is a very simple dish, but it’s not.
I show people this dish in the cookery school and for me is shows the nuances of cooking in a huge way. The subtlety of flavour, the subtlety of texture… Someday the eggs will take longer to cook than others – who knows why? It is a real example of getting a feel for food. It’s an example of how particular I am. I have maybe a bit of a free-and-easy persona, but actually I don’t, when it comes to the kitchen I’m very particular and this crab symbolizes that.”
“I haven’t lost my roots. This is still my death row dish. I just love it. Every now and again I just crave it. It’s a reflection on how much I love pork aswell. I would do bacon and cabbage in the restaurant; I do a bacon and cabbage risotto and make it with a good cider or ravioli with bacon and cabbage in cider cream sauce. I love taking techniques from France, Italy or Spain and giving them an Irishness. That’s something that I enjoy.
Bacon and cabbage can be many things and what I enjoy is… I mean I’m not an innovator, I’m a good cook, but what I do enjoy is turning things on their heads and bacon and cabbage are national staples, so why couldn’t they be served in many different ways? I’ve always been a curious cook, which I still am, I’m not jaded in that way yet.
Dee likes to describe herself as a professional eater! Taught to cook by her father and sisters at a young age, starting a life-long passion for cooking and the enjoyment of food. Soon after qualifying as a journalist, she began a career writing about food and travel.
Her passion for Irish food and the people behind it – those who grow, produce and cook – has only been amplified over the years and led her to many roles in the industry including; member of Irish Food Writers’ Guild, chair of Slow Food Dublin, organiser of Slow in the City food festival, curator of Food on Board at Body&Soul Festival, and a judge of Blas na hEireann and Food&Wine Magazine Restaurant Awards.