ABOUT MATTHEW BROWNIE
Matthew Brownie, from New Zealand, has been a professional chef for 27 years & is the Director/Owner of his own snack company (The Skibbereen Food Company).
Formerly, Matthew was a demonstration Chef for The Simply Better Brand for Dunnes Stores and a Writer for The Southern Star Newspaper in West Cork and for The Irish Foodie (Quince Publishing)
Matthew lives in West Cork, Skibbereen.
THE INDUSTRY I LOVE, LEFT BEHIND
Let’s go back 30 years and here’s a skinny New Zealander that loves cricket, works as a Mig and Gas Welder and is passionate about NZ rugby in his hometown of Whanganui, New Zealand. A quick outdoor life changing 21-day excursion course called Outward Bound at Anakiwa in the South of Ireland, and the following year Matthew was off to Napier Polytechnic in Hawkes Bay where he started his professional chef training and career.
Working 5 years in New Zealand, from Napier to Wellington learning his trade, he flew over to Sydney, Australia where he worked in a cafe down in Bondi Beach. This is where he met his future Irish wife Ann. From Sydney, the next 24 years up to now would be spent in Ireland – 10 in Dublin and the last 14 years in Skibbereen, West Cork, where Matthew lives with Ann and his two children Ava and Aiden.
27 years as a professional chef is a long time, and most of the time hospitality consumes you and you end up living and breathing the industry without knowing any other career that you can turn to. But Matthew made a clear decision to leave the professional chef career behind him which he says was a conscious decision due to factors in his company, family, chef positions he held and personal life which changed his life and the way he thought about what was really important.
The Skibbereen Food Company
A decade ago, Matt enrolled with CIT as a mature student on their Culinary Arts Degree course and was given a piece of course work that would ultimately make a significant impact on his career in the catering and hospitality sector.
The brief Matt was given was two pronged, either to create a product where there was a gap in the Irish market or to improve and develop an existing product. With a keen interest in sport and food, Matt focused on the Irish snack industry and came up with the idea of crunchy, munchy pork bites as the ideal snack on-the-go. Incidentally the project won the best business plan for the CIT Innovation Award in 2013.
Using new product development methods and incorporating British, Irish and a bit of native Kiwi gastronomy, Matt created the tasty snack, pork crackling with an Irish twist. Scratch My Pork and The Skibbereen Food Company were born.
The Management of being a Head Chef and Running the Skibbereen Food Company
Eight years on from starting The Skibbereen Food Co, the company has gone from strength to strength and now has a major listing in Sainsbury’s UK. But Matthew explains it hasn’t been easy.
“I made a conscious decision since I was an outsourcing company that I would never put my family under pressure financially. So, I would run my company on my days off but work as an employee in hospitality to make sure all our weekly and monthly living expenses were covered.
But that also took a toll as I never had time for anything else and especially my family, and the particular establishments that I took a Head Chef role in were demanding with a small team which meant working 12 to 14 hour days, which wasn’t helping the company or my personal life”.
First Step Decision’s made on leaving the Hospitality Industry
In 2016 Matthew took a Head Chef position in his Hometown of Skibbereen at The Eldon Hotel. From employment to getting everything organised to setting up the kitchen on open day. A year of non-stop working 5 to 6 days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, takes its toll along with trying to grow his company.
“The real reason of the first signs of leaving hospitality was when my daughter Ava came up to me around Christmas time 2016 in tears saying that she never sees me anymore and it really hit me in the guts. I thought to myself, do I really want to be a father and husband that is never around, or to be a poor farther figure - basically a bad role model or a bad father?
In February 2017 I left the The Eldon Hotel and went to Bantry for a 40 hour a week job in The Bantry Bay Hotel but one of the worst things was about to happen which was the catalyst for moving on to concentrate on my company and my family.”
The Death of Matthew’s Father
5 weeks into his new position as chef de partie at The Bantry Bay Hotel, Matthew got a call from his sisters and brothers from New Zealand and Australia to say that his father was not well. It turned out that Matthew’s farther had Lung Cancer with a limited time to live so Matthew flew to New Zealand and nursed his father till he passed 5 weeks later 18th July 2017.
“Four days before he died, I said goodbye to him in tears and said I was going to miss him as I looked into his eyes. He came back with the fatherly words and advice that I will never forget. “Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Put your family first”. 4 days later he passed with me by his side. My last words to him were “I’ll see you in Ireland”
I was mentally exhausted, and the funeral was a week later and so upsetting for me. On, the 43 hour journey back home to Ireland I reflected on everything and what my father said. I set my goals high to achieve what I needed to do with the company and for my family.
Today I still wake up 4 years later sometimes in shock at night with the passing of my father. I try and put this to the back of my head but it’s always there and keeps coming back.”
4 years on Today
Matthew took several Monday to Friday jobs as Breakfast Chef and production manager but now works in his local Spar store stocking shelves, ordering and organising the back store 3 days a week.
“I took a job at a fish production factory in Skibbereen that was supposed to be 40 hours and that’s what was decided and agreed. Just like a chef it never is 40 hours but this time the physicality of the job and reparative work and huge hours took a toll on my body and I fell very ill.
So as a young 44 year old my body couldn’t’ cope with the hours anymore and that was the final blow to get out of cooking altogether.
I love the job at the Spar store in Skibbereen and the people I work with, and today this means more to me than any role in a kitchen. A lot of the positions I took in the last 5 years of my professional chef career were just jobs and I wasn’t gaining anything apart from getting a wage. But at the time I was trying to run a business also.
I’m at home a lot more these days, still working but being a dad for the better or worse, and that’s great for me. I do believe it’s very hard for chefs to make that change in job or career unless we have to or are put into a position where we have to look for other types of work.
I really miss the industry, but I wouldn’t go back into it full time as other opportunities have come my way as I move forward. I haven’t lost my passion for food just it’s put into other areas rather than in a professional kitchen or on a plate. Would I change anything? Sure, a few things but what being a chef gave me was a family, organisation, loyalty, friendships all over the world, professionalism and knowing to walk away from a career that wasn’t going to fit into my life anymore.
I like to be grounded and like the small handful of friends I have and enjoy the success of my company with my family and friends and to have a normal life outside work. I still love my cricket and rugby and look to grow my business even further.