Meet the chefs & teams of Ireland’s professional kitchens, with Chef Network
The Chef Network community brings together chefs at all levels from all sectors across Ireland. In a Hotel & Restaurant Times regular column we meet some members and hear from them what inspires and motivates them, their career challenges and opportunities, and how they believe we can improve the industry.
In this edition, we meet Paddy Gorman, Chef at Tinnypark Nursing Home in Co. Kilkenny
Why did you become a chef?
My first memory of cooking is probably from when I was about 4 or 5 years old, making porridge for my father. I had to pull a chair over to the stove to reach. Somehow, I managed to read the instructions wrong and ended up adding 3 tablespoons of water to 3 cups of oats. My father ate it and said it was lovely. My mother was more practical, she took me back downstairs and showed me how to make the porridge the right way.
I’ll never forget that lesson, it isn’t wrong to make a mistake as long as you learn from it.
I always loved to try something different. So, when I would read a recipe, if we didn’t have all the ingredients, I would try something else instead. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I’m much the same today, except I have a bit more experience. I still love to change recipes to see if something else will work.
What was your path to where you are today?
Back in the mid-1980s during the recession, I moved to London seeking work to support my family in Cork. I worked as a Kitchen Porter in a hotel during the morning & evening and in an office block canteen at lunchtime. Every day I walked past this restaurant with a sign in the window looking for a chef. After about 3 weeks I decided to go in and enquire about the job. As soon as I said I had no experience, the chef who was interviewing me got up to leave. I pointed out that the sign was in the window for over 3 weeks and proposed that I would work for a week. If I couldn’t do the job by then I would shake hands and walk away, free of charge. However, if I were up to the task, they would give me the job and pay me for the week. I got the job. When I planned on returning home, the area manager offered me a company flat, car and a position looking after the running of the kitchens in their 5 branches of the restaurant in London.
I decided to return to Cork to be with my family instead. On my first day back, I walked into every restaurant and bar that served food asking for work and was successful. I got a job.
Some years later I had to stop cheffing, the money wasn’t in it and myself and my wife at the time had separated. I ended up doing a multitude of jobs to make ends meet. During these years I always took my holidays to match with the chef’s holidays in a friend’s pub and covered the lunch service there.
Many years later while living in Kilkenny, I was running my own business. Next thing, I lost my biggest contract with an American client. I ended up doing part-time bar work and part-time work in a fine dining restaurant as a storeman. During busy lunch service, I “fell in” to give a hand. That was the new beginning of my career.
The Head Chef I was working with pestered me to apply for a course in Waterford IT. At the start of every shift, he would ask “Did you apply yet?”. I was 54 years old; I didn’t think that any college would consider me, but I applied just to be able to end the daily questioning. To my surprise, I was invited to an interview and ended up moving onto the course in Culinary Skills in WIT.
I have worked as part of a team travelling to kitchens in 4-star hotels, upgrading menus and training staff in several parts of the country. I’m not getting any younger and driving more than 2 hours a day on top of an 8-hour shift encourage me to make the decision and look for work closer to home.
I was very lucky to get a position in the Pembroke Hotel here in Kilkenny, where I worked with an excellent team of chefs up until Covid-19 struck.
Now we have to backtrack a little. During the college course in WIT, we were given an assignment, each student was to choose an area outside their expertise and do a project on it. I made the choice to take a closer look at nursing homes. Rather than complete the project from a theoretical point of view I applied to some nursing homes and asked if I could gain practical experience. It was due to this practical experience that I received a call from the Director of Nursing in a local nursing home on 2nd April 2020, and my career changed again.
“A mistake is only a mistake if you make it twice”
What’s the most important ingredient in your success to date?
No single ingredient makes a dish, likewise, no single ingredient makes a success.
I have been blessed to work with great chefs who are happy to share their knowledge and encourage me.
I believe in always being early for my shift, who knows what could happen when you walk into a kitchen, you may end up with a task that demands your attention for 20 minutes. If you’re early you’re more prepared to take that on without stress.
A mistake is only a mistake if you make it twice.
Fresh produce may take some time to prepare, but you produce better meals.
Never be afraid to experiment!
Tell us about the team you work with
In Tinnypark Nursing Home, under the Covid-19 restrictions, we work one chef on/ one chef off. This helps maintain social distancing in the kitchen. So, while we do not have personal contact, we work to support each other.
Each chef on duty has the responsibility for the lunch service where we offer a choice of two mains and evening service. We also prepare soups, desserts, scones, bread, and something sweet for after the evening meal for all our residents. We also take responsibility for the ordering of all foods. We operate a three-week cycle menu so that it’s possible to plan ahead. Our menus aren’t set in stone either, changes can and are made, often depending on the availability of produce, special offers etc.
An essential part of our kitchen staff are the kitchen assistants. They perform multi-functions. Covid-19 has not been an easy experience for them. Our Kitchen Assistants set up trays for room service for both lunch and evening meals, they also collect, wash, and dry the crockery after service. This is in addition to serving tea rounds, clearing, cleaning, and resetting the dining room and assisting the chef on duty. The kitchen would not function without them!
“No single ingredient makes a dish, likewise no single ingredient makes a success”
Have you seen a negative side of the industry in your experience?
I prefer to look on the positive side. In the places that I have worked, I see that there is a greater appreciation of what a chef does. If a chef is positive in their attitude, their preparation, their cooking, their menu, their plating, given time this will be reflected and come back to them.
“Learn from every chef you work with, take on their good practices and discard the bad”
What’s the most important lesson you have learned about being a leader in the kitchen?
There have been several lessons that I’ve learned over the years.
For example, clean your work station, if you burn a pot wash it if you have a spill clean it up when another team member is under pressure help them out and never ask anyone to do a job you haven’t done yourself.
BEING A CHEF….
What I love most is… Using fresh local produce to make wholesome, nutritious meals.
The biggest challenge is… Being mindful of each resident’s individual requirements when preparing their daily meals.
What makes me most proud is… Seeing empty dishes after a meal service.
The most rewarding thing I’ve done is…. Going back to college at 54 to get my chef’s papers.
I have learned that… No matter what today’s problems are, asking will they be important in 5 years’ time?
The key skills or traits to have in this job are… A positive interest in food, a willingness to learn, being able to put in the effort, experimenting and learning from your mistakes.
We can create a better workplace by… Talking to each other, resolving any problems that may arise before they become mountains. Compromise.
My advice to chefs starting out is… Learn from every chef you work with, take on their good practices and discard the bad.
My advice to chefs trying to progress their career is… Look for the door of opportunity and do not be afraid to enter, it is often right there in front of you, in the kitchen you are working in.
My greatest mentor has been… There have been so many over the years. Gino who employed me in London when I had no experience but went with his gut. Frank McGuire who pestered me until I applied for the college course. Noel Ronan who ran the two-year college course in WIT. John McAssey who tutored me during a college project on Nursing Homes. Damien Finnegan who encouraged me to try new things, to experiment, and gave honest opinions of everything I cooked.
My biggest inspiration is… My partner, she gives me that space after working a long day, for me to finish work in my head and she cooks for me too.
My favourite place to eat... I love to eat anywhere as long as what’s served is fresh. My best two memories are - in a little fishing village on the south coast of Malta where the waiter went down to the boats and they presented the fresh fish to us before taking them into the restaurant to be prepared and 4th Avenue New York City, a Moroccan restaurant that served the best lamb shank I have ever had.
My favourite dish on our menu… It has to be a mixed seafood pie. It’s a favourite with both residents and staff of Tinnypark Nursing Home.
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