We couldn’t think of a better guest editor for our last special summer issue than Paul Flynn, chef and owner of The Tannery Restaurant, Townhouse and Cookery School in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford; he is a true barbecue believer, using his barbecue all year round to cook up anything from hamburgers to the Christmas turkey (yes, really!).
Paul’s focus is on providing delicious, wholesome meals for his family, and he wants to pass on the importance of appreciating food and eating home-cooked meals to his two young daughters. He believes good food doesn’t have to mean fancy dishes – it’s all about maximising flavour using simple ingredients to make dishes you know the family will want to enjoy together.
Paul began training at the age of 17 at a local Dungarvan restaurant, where the head chef inspired him to further pursue cooking as a career. On his 18th birthday, he moved to London and was the head chef of Chez Nico, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, by the age of 23. At The Tannery, Paul is known for modern Irish cooking with bold, fresh flavours. Three of the best cookbooks he has released so fare are: An Irish Adventure with Food, Second Helpings. Also, Paul has teamed up with Lidl to create even more crowd-pleasing recipes in Paul Flynn’s Family Food.
What is your cooking philosophy?
For me, it’s all about flavour. I’m not the best technically, and I think I’m totally useless in modern styles of cooking! In the restaurant, I try to make good, simple food more elegant with strong flavours and top-quality ingredients. At home, I like to cook simple dishes that I know my family will love using some of my favourite go-to ingredients to really pack in the flavour.
How important is cooking at home to you?
I think it’s so important to have an appreciation of food. This doesn’t mean fancy ingredients or high-end cooking, but rather just making the most of wholesome, simple food. It’s my responsibility to provide my children with nutritious food and I like to cook for my family any night that I’m not at work. I find it too demanding to tell a busy homecook to only buy organic ingredients and the like, but we also can’t only provide takeaways and “brown food” to our families. My family is on the go a lot of the time, but we still try to make the most of mealtimes and sit down to eat together whenever possible.
What can families do to make mealtimes more of a priority?
It can be difficult with everyone’s schedules to sit down for dinner every night, but it’s all about making it a habit from day one. Once you start eating dinner in front of the television or relying on takeaways, it just becomes mindless eating. I know myself that you need that every once in a while, but we parents must set a good example by preparing nutritious meals and steering clear of rubbish food when buying groceries.
What are some tips for families looking to cook on a budget?
The great thing about cooking yourself is that it’s way cheaper than going for takeaways. I’m a big fan of lesser-used cuts of meat, like chicken thighs or pork shanks; these have loads of flavour and are usually much cheaper. Also, we’ve been conditioned to think that meat needs to be in every meal, which isn’t the case. Or, when it is, there’s no reason for it to be in a big chunk. Pasta with bits of bacon or a rice salad with some torn chicken is filling and delicious, and you can bulk it up with cupboard staples and wholesome seasonal vegetables.
Does your cooking routine vary much?
I don’t experiment much at home; my family and I have our favourites and we go back to those time and time again. I love a good steak with gratin potatoes and salad at the weekend, but we also try to eat more healthily. My wife and I love eggs in purgatory – a tomato sauce flavoured with garic and chilli, then simmered with a cracked egg on top. It’s so tasty, cheap to make and uses all natural ingredients.
What advice would you offer to someone who is just learning how to cook?
Just remember that simplicity is key – don’t over-exert yourself when you’re starting off. A recipe that is too complicated might scare you off, so go for the simple dishes that you know you’ll enjoy. There’s no need to be a martyr in the kitchen; you can be proud of yourself for making any dish, no matter how easy or complex. I think if you cook things simply and successfully, you’ll be more likely to cook more often.
How were you first inspired to start cooking?
When I was 14 years old, I went with the scouts on a trip to France and still remember my first meal there – chicken and tarragon sauce with pilaf rice. I had never had anything like it and I then became obsessed with food. I’m one of eight children, and the cooking at home was famously terrible. I think we were subject to every processed food in the country! There are a lot of memories of steak and kidney pies out of a tin. I started with a FÁS scheme after taking my leaving cert and trained with a local chef in Dungarvan. He was a great teacher and really inspired me to pursue this as a career. I then moved to London and eventually became the head chef at a two-Michelin-starred restaurant.
What ingredients do you always have to hand in your kitchen?
Parmesan, chorizo and eggs. They’re all so simple but can really transform any dish. I love big, bold flavours, and Parmesan and chorizo are just that. You can have nothing in your press besides pasta, but just add a bit of butter and Parmesan and you’re in for a treat.
What is the worst cooking disaster you’ve ever had?
Well this story will prove things don’t necessarily get better with age! I was doing a cooking demo the other week and sliced my finger with a sharp knife in front of the crowd. My kitchen assistant then came up to help with a plaster; we should have probably stepped aside and done this away from the group, but we were rushing and my finger was pumping blood. I went to trim the bandage with my knife and, in doing so, I swiped too close to her and cut her hand too! So now I’m bleeding, she’s bleeding… it was such a spectacle. Absolutely mortified. Luckily no one needed stitches and we carried on with the demo. I’ll be enrolling in a health and safety course immediately!
For information on The Tannery Restaurant, Townhouse or Cookery School, visit www.tannery.ie.
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