Thursday, November 16, 2006

Working with Conrad

Raised so far 20.76

The name Conrad Gallagher will be famous among Irish readers both for his cooking and for his notoriety. I first met him when i was fresh out of cooking college and walked in the back door of his Peacock Alley Restaurant on St William Street. At the time he was a walking legend and had a feared reputation. Chefs waited months for a job and were handed picked, i took a gamble and went to the back door. Luckily i met the man himself and told him i was keen and would do anything to learn about food. He told me to be back in an hour with my knives and that there were 4 bags of potatoes needing peeling. We have talked about it since and he said it was the northern accent and having the balls to walk in that got me the job!

People remember Conrad for the wrond reasons in Ireland, what they forget are all the good things. before he started cooking in Ireland the food was dreadful, really really dreadful! He was perfect with his timing with the Celtic tiger just starting to purr. People in Ireland had never heard of things like black truffle risotto or honey glazed fois gras. He was a sensation overnight!

I worked hard with him and learnt so much about food in 2 years, and watched as he built his empire to 6 restaurants. After just turning 21 he approached me one day and asked me to become head chef in his bistro LLoyds. It was a huge challenge because of my age but one that i enjoyed hugely. Highlights were cooking for Robbie Williams and his band before his Slane concert gig and getting drunk with the Corrs one night after dinner service!

I helped Conrad with his book "One Pot Wonders" which gave me an appetite for developping my own book one day and i guess this blog is the first form of that!

No matter what people say about Conrad i have only ever know his warmth and have to this day never worked with a better chef. He is an inspiration to all Irish chefs and should be held in the highest regard for dragging Ireland out of the middle ages in a gourmet sense.

He did of course court controversy during his career in Ireland with plenty of financial difficulties and several other issues. One of the funniest stories was one day in the restaurant a rather large tough looking guy came in to collect a debt for one of the suppliers. Now this was when Conrad was at the height of his fame and in every newspaper, magazine and on TV. The guy was obviously not a big food fan and walk up to Conrad
"sorry mate I'm looking for Conrad Gallagher to collect some money"
Conrad pauses and thinks for a split second before looking over to me and says
"Niall, have you see Conrad today?"
I shake my head.
"No i think he's out for the day"says Conrad.
The tough guy looking annoyed and ready for action isn't gonna give up.
"why don't i get you a nice coffee and a biscuit and you can sit there and wait for him"says Conrad
Conrad personally makes a beautiful coffee and delivers a few biscuits over to the man.
"I'll go and call Conrad now and get him here asap for you."Says Conrad
"My name is Johny if there is anything else you want, tea, coffee, anything, just give me a shout, I'll be over there" says Conrad.
He walks around the corner as if going to the phone, gets into the lift and down to his car which he drives off in and isn't seen again for 3 days!
Classic Conrad!

He also had a caring side, making sure I always went home with him and the family for Xmas dinner and looking after his friends like no other! I just wouldn't want to be doing business with him!