Derek Reilly

Derek Reilly and Pioneering Irish Cuisine

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Updated on April 28, 2024

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Derek Reilly, an experienced culinary professional with over three decades of expertise, takes us on an exploration of Ireland’s diverse culinary scene.

As the director of Aramark, Derek oversees a wide range of dining experiences across the country, from corporate hospitality to iconic venues like Croke Park. With a focus on innovation and sustainability, Derek shares insights into the evolving trends shaping the industry, from the rise of plant-based cuisine to the importance of sourcing ingredients locally and promoting transparency.

Discover Derek’s dedication to mentoring the next generation of chefs and his commitment to creating unforgettable dining experiences that honour Ireland’s rich culinary heritage.

Derek Reilly: Shaping Ireland’s Culinary Landscape

Derek Reilly, a passionate individual about food, culinary development, and chef training, has spent roughly 30 years in the hospitality industry. Despite his youthful appearance, his experience speaks volumes.

Derek holds the position of Aramark’s sole director for the island of Ireland. Aramark is a global American company that maintains a strong local presence in Ireland. In this role, Derek oversees food and beverage operations across approximately 400 Aramark client sites.

Aramark, while not as publicly visible as restaurants and eateries, plays a significant role in various sectors. Their reach extends from business and industry (BNI), encompassing corporate hospitality for major banks and insurance companies, to sports and entertainment venues like the iconic Croke Park stadium and the Guinness Storehouse, which recently welcomed its 20 millionth visitor.

Additionally, Aramark provides food services in educational institutions across Ireland, healthcare facilities, and even the retail sector.

From B2B Visibility to Global Collaboration

In the world of business-to-business (B2B) operations, navigating the intricacies of commerce can be a formidable challenge. But for Derek Reilly, the journey is not just about overcoming obstacles; it’s about seizing opportunities and making a meaningful impact.

As Derek delves into the nuances of his role within a prominent B2B enterprise, he emphasises the significance of visibility, particularly in the retail sector. While the company may operate behind the scenes, its presence is palpable on the bustling streets of Ireland. From Cork Airport to Dundrum Town Centre, the company leaves its imprint on the retail landscape, ensuring its products and services are within reach of consumers.

Yet, Derek’s professional landscape extends far beyond the Emerald Isle. Working for a multinational corporation grants him access to a wealth of insights and innovations emanating from across the Atlantic. Collaborating with colleagues in the United States, the United Kingdom, and throughout Europe, Derek harnesses the collective expertise of a global team to drive progress and innovation in his field.

With decades of experience under his belt, Derek finds himself at a pivotal juncture in his career—a place of fulfilment and progression. As he reflects on his journey, he’s grateful for the opportunities that have led him to this point and energised by the endless possibilities that lie ahead.

From Uncertain Beginnings to Culinary Calling

Derek Reilly

Many chefs have fond memories of their grandmothers’ apple pies or tales of milking cows, but Derek recalls a different path. Leaving school at a young age, his father urged him to pursue an apprenticeship. Unsure of his passion, Derek contemplated between becoming a mechanic or a chef. Ultimately, he chose the culinary arts and embarked on a journey that began nearly three decades ago.

In those early days, culinary education involved alternating between classroom instruction and gaining practical experience. Derek vividly remembers his first work placement, a month-long stint at a major insurance company’s canteen in Dublin. It was there, amidst the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, that Derek discovered his true calling.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, Derek recalls a vivid memory from around Christmas time. The atmosphere was charged with frenetic energy as chefs dashed about, executing tasks with precision. Amidst the chaos, Derek found himself on his knees, tasked with the demanding chore of gunning soup.

Despite the pressure, sweat, and occasional uncertainty, a moment of clarity struck him. In that hectic scene, he realised with absolute certainty that this was where he belonged, and cooking was what he wanted to dedicate himself to.

Immersed in the traditional hierarchy of the kitchen, Derek found himself drawn to the intricacies of each station—the fish section, sauces, meats, and pastries. Working alongside seasoned professionals, he was captivated by the precision and creativity that defined the culinary world.

In hindsight, Derek was also fascinated by the intensity of the kitchen environment, particularly during busy periods when the pressure was palpable. It was amidst the chaos that he realised his affinity for the camaraderie, mentorship opportunities, and collective spirit that permeated the culinary world. Fuelled by a relentless hunger for knowledge, Derek thrived in an environment where both learning and teaching were embraced.

Years later, as part of his role within Aramark, Derek found himself revisiting familiar territory. In a poignant moment, he returned to the very building where his culinary journey began, this time as a seasoned professional pitching for business in the boardroom. Despite the changes that had occurred over the years—the evolving kitchen dynamics and personnel—one thing remained constant: Derek’s unwavering passion for the culinary craft.

Reflecting on his journey from chopping parsley in the boardroom to leading business initiatives, Derek couldn’t help but marvel at the transformation.

Upon entering the small kitchen adjacent to the boardroom, Derek encountered Bernie, a familiar face from years gone by. With a touch of apprehension, he posed the question: “Do you remember me?” Bernie’s gaze lingered for a moment, a testament to her years of experience in the kitchen. Eventually, recognition dawned upon her, and she nodded in affirmation.

Prompted by Derek’s inquiry, Bernie recalled his youthful enthusiasm and insatiable thirst for knowledge. She reminisced about his diligent note-taking and respectful demeanour, reminiscent of his days as a 16-year-old apprentice navigating the kitchen corridors. Derek couldn’t help but feel a swell of emotions at the recognition of his past self, a testament to the enduring impact of his culinary journey.

From Mentored Chef to Mentor

Derek Reilly

Reflecting on the broader landscape of the culinary industry both within Ireland and beyond, Derek recognises the mounting challenges surrounding labour recruitment and retention. Having traversed his own career path with the guidance and mentorship of seasoned chefs, Derek acknowledges the pivotal role mentorship played in his journey.

Observing the current state of the industry, Derek feels a personal connection to the need for individuals to receive similar opportunities for growth and development. He believes passionately in the importance of providing aspiring chefs with the support and encouragement they need to succeed, a cause that resonates deeply with him on a personal level.

When it comes to motivating aspiring chefs, Derek acknowledges that the landscape has evolved significantly over time. He attributes this shift partly to increased exposure through social media, television programmes featuring chefs, book deals, and the allure of celebrity status. However, he emphasises that such glamour represents only a small fraction of the reality within the culinary world.

Some newcomers to the kitchen may arrive with expectations of immediate recognition and fame, but it is actually all about attitude, particularly among young chefs. While Derek doesn’t downplay the significance of skills development, he underscores the fundamental importance of attitude—the eagerness to learn, to cook, and to savour flavours.

In his view, these elements, when combined, are essential ingredients for cultivating a truly exceptional chef. Therefore, he places a high priority on attitude when assessing potential candidates for the kitchen.

Derek’s Vision for Experiential Chef Training

In Derek’s perspective, the essence of chef training and development transcends the confines of a traditional classroom setting. While he acknowledges the value of classroom-based learning, which imparts knowledge about the science of food, recipes, methods, and creativity, Derek emphasises a holistic approach to training within his expansive team.

Within his role as culinary director, Derek is committed to fostering inspiration and innovation among chefs of all ages and backgrounds. He eschews traditional educational settings in favour of experiential learning opportunities that immerse chefs in the origins of ingredients and the intricacies of food production.

Rather than confining learning to boardrooms or chalkboards, Derek organises hands-on experiences such as fishing trips to source fresh seafood or visits to local farms during harvest season. By reconnecting chefs with the roots of their craft, Derek aims to instil a deeper understanding and appreciation for the ingredients they work with.

For Derek, this approach is deeply personal, reflecting his own journey of learning and discovery in the culinary world. By forging partnerships with suppliers and immersing chefs in the entire food supply chain, Derek believes in cultivating a greater sense of connection and respect for the ingredients that form the foundation of their culinary creations.

Observing a chef behind the counter, content and engaged, discussing the ingredients—whether it’s the asparagus or chicken fillet—Derek finds fulfilment in knowing the origin of those ingredients.

While not everyone may appreciate the journey from abattoir to the plate, Derek recognises the power of storytelling in igniting passion. Through understanding the narrative behind each ingredient, chefs infuse their creations with a depth of passion that is palpable on the plate.

From Fan to Face-to-Face

Once more, Derek finds himself reflecting on his journey, oscillating between past experiences and present aspirations.

Recalling his initial foray into the culinary world, particularly his stint at a large institution serving thousands of people, Derek was bombarded by memories. It was during this time that Derek stumbled upon “White Heat” by Marco Pierre White, a moment he describes as truly awe-inspiring. Immersed in the pages of the book, he marvelled at the genius and audacity of the renowned chef, captivated by the insights into his culinary philosophy.

In his current role overseeing culinary development, Derek spearheads various culinary competitions, such as the Mark Chef of the Year and European Chef of the Year, fostering an environment of healthy competition and camaraderie.

Reflecting on past experiences, Derek recalls training young chefs for competitions at the ODS in Dublin, where results varied. While victories were celebrated, losses were equally instructive, contributing to Derek’s journey as a multi-award-winning chef.

Despite experiencing more losses than victories, Derek takes immense pride in his accomplishments. Recalling a particular moment at the ODS, he remembers eagerly anticipating the results of a competition. A few weeks prior, he had the opportunity to meet one of his idols, Marco Pierre White, during a book signing event at his restaurant. 

Despite his excitement, Derek kept the invitation to himself, hesitant to reveal his admiration to others. As he drove back to the city centre late that evening, Derek couldn’t help but reflect on the significance of the experience.

Derek contemplated the possibility of attending the event despite the challenging Dublin City traffic and a bus strike hindering his usual route. Initially, he entertained the idea of abandoning the endeavour, dismissing it as mere wishful thinking. However, a stroke of luck presented itself when he stumbled upon an unexpected parking space.

Emboldened by this fortunate turn of events, Derek decided to proceed on foot, walking 15 to 20 minutes to the venue, still clad in his chef jacket and carrying his rack of belongings.

Arriving at the restaurant, Derek’s hopes were momentarily dashed when he observed no activity outside. Despite this, he mustered the courage to enter, only to be informed that he had missed the book signing event. Disheartened, Derek began to turn away when suddenly, the unexpected happened. Marco Pierre White himself noticed Derek’s chef attire and approached him.

Surprised by the recognition, Derek found himself in awe of the towering figure before him. However, any apprehension quickly dissipated as Marco warmly welcomed him and extended an invitation to join his table.

Seated together, Derek and Marco engaged in a heartfelt conversation, discussing everything from food to life experiences. This mighty serendipitous encounter left a lasting impression on Derek, serving as a reminder of the power of determination and passion.

Inspired by the experience, he eagerly shared the tale with aspiring chefs, emphasising the importance of perseverance and unwavering commitment to one’s goals.

When faced with obstacles and challenges on the path to achieving one’s goals, Derek believes that unwavering determination is key. Despite the inevitable hurdles encountered in every aspect of life, perseverance and hard work pave the way to success. If one truly desires something and is willing to put in the effort, they will eventually reach their destination.

Derek’s Recipe for Success in the Kitchen

Derek Reilly

Derek acknowledges the allure of the “rock and roll chef” persona, but he firmly believes that hard work is the true path to success.

Drawing inspiration from culinary icons like Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay, Derek emphasises the importance of dedication and perseverance in achieving one’s goals. While luck and opportunities certainly play a role in life, consistently putting in the effort, especially during challenging times, is significant.

Whether it’s preparing a steak to perfection or maintaining the quality of service, consistency is key. Derek finds it disrespectful when the standard of service fluctuates in the absence of the head chef. By ensuring that his team is well-trained and up to his standards, Derek strives to deliver consistent experiences for diners.

Reflecting on his own career, Derek has found that even during rough services or shifts, there’s always a chance to bounce back and make things right the next day. He rejects the notion of unhealthy competition among chefs, choosing instead to foster an environment of collaboration and mentorship.

Derek believes in sharing knowledge and experiences with the next generation of chefs, dispelling myths and secrets while staying true to the fundamental purpose of their craft: serving customers and creating beautiful food.

Beyond the food itself, the warmth and friendliness of the staff play a crucial role in creating a memorable dining experience. Derek values the Irish tradition of hospitality, from the welcoming greetings to the heartfelt farewells. Going the extra mile for customers is not just a gesture—it’s a philosophy that keeps them coming back for more.

The true charm of a dining experience lies in authenticity, not in pretence. Transparency is key, not just in terms of ingredients and food trends but also in the genuine warmth and satisfaction conveyed by the servers. While quality is paramount, Derek understands that it extends beyond just the food itself. From the cleanliness of the bathrooms to the selection on the wine list, every aspect contributes to the overall experience.

Ultimately, Derek hopes that when patrons leave their restaurant, they remember more than just the food.

Freshness, Community, and Hands-On Learning

Taking a step back from the chef-centric focus, Derek acknowledges the true stars of the culinary world: the produce and the individuals responsible for cultivating or sourcing it. He recognises the pivotal role fresh, seasonal ingredients play in the culinary process, regardless of a chef’s skill level or techniques. Compared to past culinary trends, there is a shift from elaborate presentations to a return to simplicity, with an emphasis on quality ingredients.

For Derek, prioritising local sourcing is not just about ensuring freshness and quality; it’s also about fostering community connections. While investing in local products may incur slightly higher costs, Derek believes it’s a worthwhile investment that benefits both the local economy and the broader community.

Such partnerships are essential for culinary development and training.

Derek finds the hands-on aspect of culinary work to be truly rewarding. He emphasises the importance of tactile learning, recalling his own experiences of gaining knowledge by touching and feeling ingredients rather than simply cooking them. Derek reflects on the impact of unpredictable weather patterns on ingredient availability, noting instances where adverse conditions have affected crop yields and supply chains.

By involving his team in field trips and supplier interactions, Derek ensures they develop a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by producers. This firsthand experience helps them appreciate the complexities of the supply chain and fosters a sense of teamwork among chefs and suppliers alike.

Derek’s Dedication to Gastronomy

Derek Reilly

For Derek, his family—his wife Lisa and their two daughters—are the cornerstone of his life and career. While some may suggest he should pursue hobbies like golf or attend football matches, Derek’s true passion lies in food and culinary exploration.

On Saturdays, instead of engaging in typical leisure activities, he can be found immersing himself in food markets or exploring new culinary ventures. Such an intense passion for his work sometimes blurs the lines between personal and professional life. However, Derek finds fulfilment in mentoring and working alongside individuals who share his enthusiasm for gastronomy.

After all, as Derek sees it, everyone has to eat, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to learn and grow in the culinary world.

Celebrating Diversity

In Derek’s market, prioritising regional and local produce is paramount. With a comprehensive supply chain spanning the entire island of Ireland, they ensure that each region’s specialities are represented.

Whether it’s cheese from Cork or bread from Belfast, Derek’s team makes every effort to source and deliver authentic regional foods to their customers. While food preferences may vary, Derek recognises the importance of celebrating the diversity and openness of the culinary landscape, catering to both traditional tastes and adventurous palates alike.

The Culinary Mirror

In the realm of marketing, Derek believes in the concept of self-promotion as an ongoing process.

Just as individuals assess themselves daily in the mirror, Derek and his team regularly evaluate their performance within their market. They ask themselves whether they meet the standards and how they can enhance their efforts.

Additionally, they consider the rewards they offer to chefs within their organisation, such as career advancement, educational opportunities, and international culinary experiences. Effective marketing is a continual endeavour, requiring constant alignment with objectives and informed by thorough research.

Creating Menus that Resonate

Derek Reilly

In Derek’s approach to developing new culinary concepts, he acknowledges the multitude of trends prevalent in the industry, from veganism to clean eating.

To conceptualise these trends effectively, he prioritises insights, innovation, and impact. This involves delving into global insights and data to understand market demands and consumer preferences. From there, the focus narrows down to specific regions and demographics, considering factors like customer preferences and local influences.

While the culinary process is undoubtedly enjoyable, Derek emphasises the importance of having a clear and logical plan in place. This plan serves as a foundation for innovation, ensuring that the final product meets customers’ needs and expectations. Collaboration between culinary and marketing teams is essential in bringing the concept to fruition.

Ultimately, the success of a new concept is determined by its impact. Whether it’s introducing a vegan option or any other innovation, Derek and his team strive to create offerings that resonate with customers and drive positive change in the market.

In this matter, Derek has closely examined the plant-based movement in his collaboration with the supply chain. For instance, in this year’s Chef of the Year competition, chefs were challenged to craft a three-course plant-based menu. This presented a significant challenge, as it’s often more straightforward to work with meat or fish. However, embracing plant-based cuisine keeps chefs on their toes and encourages creative thinking.

While the plant-based trend is widely discussed in the media and observed in restaurants, according to Derek and based on the data he’s encountered, its growth is still in its early stages and may not align entirely with popular perceptions.

Acknowledging initiatives like Meat-Free Mondays, Derek believes that the trend is leaning more towards flexitarianism, where individuals predominantly follow a vegetarian diet but occasionally consume meat or fish.

Ireland’s Evolving Cuisine

Derek Reilly

Ireland is indeed defining its cuisine, albeit in a more eclectic and flexible manner. While historically lacking a distinct culinary identity compared to nations like France or Italy, Ireland has always boasted exceptional produce, which serves as the foundation of its cuisine.

Derek sees the fusion of traditional Irish dishes with global influences as a testament to the country’s culinary evolution. He particularly values classics like bacon and cabbage while emphasising the importance of showcasing Ireland’s rich produce to define its unique culinary identity.

In his humble opinion, Derek sees the culinary industry progressing positively, with remarkable talent and innovation driving it forward. He notes the enduring trend of coffee’s popularity and observes a shift towards grazing and handheld food options. This contemporary demand for convenience emphasises the importance of freshness and wholesomeness in meeting consumer preferences.

Remaining informed and adaptable is crucial in today’s culinary landscape. With the abundance of information available through smartphones and the internet, staying updated on industry trends and developments has become more accessible than ever. 

Maintaining a hunger for knowledge within the culinary field is important, as well as advocating for continuous learning and awareness of evolving practices and innovations.

The future of Irish cuisine is also about people having the knowledge to pick up something and not feeling guilty about it. It’s about healthy choices that fuel the body, especially as people lead increasingly busy lives. Innovators in the food industry have a responsibility to ensure that such options are readily available, whether it’s at a local convenience store, petrol station, or elsewhere. That’s Derek’s perspective on the matter.

Video Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:03)
Hi, I’m Derek Reilly from Aramark Ireland. I’m here to talk everything about food.

Speaker 2 (00:10)
So welcome to Amazing Food and Drink. Today we’re with Derek Reilly, who is Colony Director of Aramark in Northern Europe, and he’s also a multi-award-winning chef. So welcome to Belfast, Derek.

Speaker 1 (00:21)
Thank you, Colm. Great to be here.

Speaker 2 (00:23)
Brilliant to have you. Tell us a bit about yourself and your company.

Speaker 1 (00:26)
Yeah. So I’m Derek Reilly. My big passion in life is is food and culinary development, chef training. Absolutely. Very close to my heart to what I do. I suppose I’m in this hospitality business about 30 years. I know I don’t look old enough. You don’t look old enough, Doug. Probably touching on 30 years. I started very, very young. So I’m I’m the only director for Aramark. Aramark are an American global company, but very much local in Ireland. So I’m responsible for the food and beverage across our business in the island of Ireland, which is probably about 400 client sites that we work in. I suppose we’re a little It’s a bit stealth in the sense that you don’t see Aramark everywhere around the place and restaurants here and there, but we play in a lot of different sectors. From BNI, we call it business and industry. That would be the corporate world, corporate hospitality, big banks and insurance companies, sports and entertainment, the likes of our iconic stadium, Crow Park, The Guinness Storehouse, who actually just welcomed our 20th million customer, visitor, last Saturday. We also look after education, the across different universities across the island of Ireland, healthcare, retail.

Speaker 1 (01:34)
So really, we touch every part of the hospitality industry across Ireland.

Speaker 2 (01:38)
I didn’t realise you’re in so many sectors?

Speaker 1 (01:40)
Yes, absolutely. We’re a B2B business. It’s probably because your business is the business. Yeah, business is more difficult. But we do like to get a profile out there, especially in the retail side of it, where you will see us on the high street. You’ll see us in Cork Airport, you’ll see us in Dundrum town centre. So we do have a strong presence, but I’m lucky enough to work for a really big company. And with that, obviously, comes the insights and the innovation that we can reach across the Atlantic to the likes of our American colleagues, to our UK, to our Northern Europe or continental Europe. So lots going on. Really, really. I suppose at this stage of my career, I’m really where I want to be. It’s really progressive.

Speaker 2 (02:14)
Brilliant. Really I tell you, you’re very passionate about this.

Speaker 1 (02:17)
Thank you. I’ve been told that once or twice.

Speaker 2 (02:19)
So it’s a bit of a cliché question, but what ever started you on your journey in the world of food?

Speaker 1 (02:26)
Well, I suppose a lot of chefs tell me that maybe their grandmother cooked beautiful apple pie or they were milking cows. I heard that once or twice. But I suppose I’m going to book the trend and say, to be quite honest with you, when I left school quite young, at about 16, my father said, You got to get an apprenticeship. You got to do a job. So I hadn’t got a big passion for food at that time. Was it going to be a mechanic or a chef? So I took a course in culinary arts. And as it was then, probably 28 years ago, you went on block release or you went out to get work experience. And I remember I remember my first work experience, I think it was a month’s stint in a big insurance company in Dublin. So the big, as they call it in them days, the canteen, but they’re far away from that now. But I suppose I found my calling there. That whole party system, as we call Chef de Party, where they had the fish section, the sauce, the calvary, the pastry. I got a chance to witness work with really good people around that.

Speaker 1 (03:24)
And what comes to mind in that kitchen was, I remember it was around Christmas time, really Really, really busy. Lots of chefs running around. Probably haven’t got a clue what I was doing. But I was on my knees, believe it or not, with a gunning soup. And with the pressure and the sweat and everything else, I just said to myself, This is what I actually want to do. This is where I want to be.

Speaker 2 (03:44)
As opposed to saying, This is not where I want to be.

Speaker 1 (03:46)
You actually thought this is great. When you’re really in your neck, that’s where I wanted to be. I love the camaraderie. I love the mentoring side of it. I love the togetherness, all for one and one for all, the buzz, the passion, that tempo, tempo, all the time. And I was hungry to learn. And everybody in that kitchen was willing to learn me. And funny enough, within my business or the Airmark business, part of my role would be to win new business, retain business, tenders and that. And a couple of short months ago, I was back in that same building where I started off in the boardroom, pitching for business to retain business that we had. And this site, I call it a site, is probably three or four thousand people on the site. Oh my God. And I went down to the kitchen, I had to look around and it was like a sound check to me. It’s it to say, yes, it was right what I felt. The kitchen had changed, obviously. The people had changed. But one person who hadn’t changed, I went up to the ninth floor where the boardroom was.

Speaker 1 (04:41)
And my first time in the boardroom, like an executive lunch, I remember my job being chop parsley on the plate. So when it came out, chop parsley. And to me, that was like- Such a difference now.

Speaker 2 (04:50)
The pinnacle. Oh, you made it?

Speaker 1 (04:51)
I was so nervous. Couldn’t sleep the night before, but that was my job, the head chef said. But there was a lady there called Bernie, and I walked in, and she was in the small little kitchen off the boardroom and I said, Do you remember me? And she looked at me for a couple of minutes. She’s there that long. And she said, Yeah. Prompted her a little bit. She said, Yeah, I do. You’re still as wide-eyed and hungry for knowledge, and you still have that… I remember you going around the kitchen, 16, with a little book taking notes all the time. And yes, chef, no, chef. And it’s just really, really…

Speaker 2 (05:21)
Well, it’s studio in good state. Emotional. Oh, I’ll cry. I’m an emotional rag. You go back to the start and say, 30 years later, nearly 30 years later. So just on that, I think you’ve got some apprentice chefs coming.

Speaker 1 (05:35)
Yeah. I suppose when I look at the industry across the island of Ireland and further afield, there is a lot of pressure on labour. There’s a lot of pressure to recruit, retain. And to be honest with you, because I’ve been lucky enough to navigate my career, what I’ve done, that’s all been through the help and mentoring of chefs, people that took me under my wing when I started off. And when I look at it now, people need a break, people need a chance to do that. And so that is really, really personally close to my heart of what I do.

Speaker 2 (06:04)
And do you find that the young apprentice is coming through have got the same verb and va, va, boom, for want of an expression that you have?

Speaker 1 (06:10)
How do you motivate them? It has changed. It absolutely has changed. And I think that’s the exposure, maybe to social media, TV programmes of chefs on TV, book deals, celebrity status and all that good stuff that goes with it. But that’s a very small percentage of what happens. So some of the guys that get in the kitchen, they really want to know where’s the TV on camera. I’m here, I’ve arrived. But you know what I look at first in chefs, young chefs, especially, is attitudes. It’s really attitude. If I’m doing an interview or talking to chefs as they’re walking in the room with the shoulders up, the focus, the attention to detail, you know you can mould anybody. I don’t mean flippant about this. It’s easy because it’s repetitive. And then your knowledge and your innovation, your mind takes you. But if you can get the basics right, and that’s the attitude, the want to learn, the want to cook, the want to taste the flavour. If you can taste all them things together make a really good chef. So attitude, I would say, would definitely be high on the agenda.

Speaker 2 (07:09)
And on that then, what’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Speaker 1 (07:14)
Well, I suppose when I say about the chef training and development, and when I look at that training, to me, it’s not about a classroom. And there is absolutely a place for classroom training, classroom-based training, where you get to know the science behind food, You get to know the recipes, the methods, and all that stuff that comes along with it and creativity. But when I train chefs or when we, within our market, it’s a very, very big team that I work inside, from development chefs to dietitians to the marketing department to sustainability. And all that comes together to form one really brilliant innovative food offer. But when we bring young chefs on or train chefs, it doesn’t have to be actually young, you can be a chef at any age. I’ve seen a lot of people over the years change career from financial services to catering. It’s all about that inspiration piece. So when I set out to be culinary director on my role, when I looked at it, I promised myself that it wouldn’t be about classroom, it wouldn’t be about boardrooms, it wouldn’t be about chalkboards. It’d be running courses or inspirational events So if we want to talk about the fish this month, we’ll bring our guys out on the trawler.

Speaker 1 (08:18)
We’ll catch the fish. We’ll bring it. We’ll land the fish. We’ll cook it on the pier. If we want to look at the classic one was a couple of weeks ago, Asparagus is in season. We’ll bring our guys to the farm in North County, Dublin, and see the Asparagus. So really going back to really where it started. And why I do that is because that’s where I learned. That’s how I learned. Because in this day and age, you look at chicken fillets or mince beef. It comes in in a vac pack. The guys take it out. They make wonderful creations with it. But if we take a little bit a step back, they will get the understanding of the food, the actual understanding where it came from. And that whole, I suppose we talk about a partnership with supply chain and the suppliers.

Speaker 2 (08:56)
Yeah, I’m going to talk about problem sustainability. It’s brilliant.

Speaker 1 (08:59)
Take a step to go forward, but has to be out of inspiration. And you said, what’s the most rewarding bit? When I go into one of our kitchens or one of our restaurants or cafe or whatever it may be, and I see the chef behind the counter and he’s happy and he’s talking about that aspargis that’s there or that chicken fillet, I’ve seen where that came from. I was at the Abattoir looking at that beef being slaughtered. Now, that’s not for everybody, but he has a story, and with that story, it brings the passion, and you can see him in the plate.

Speaker 2 (09:25)
Brilliant. And increasingly, we as consumers are interested in the story, aren’t we? Absolutely.

Speaker 1 (09:29)
Really, transparency. It’s a given. It has to be. That’s where we’re at. We should be so proud to do that and talk about that. Superb.

Speaker 2 (09:37)
And you mentioned the word there that’s led me on this question very well, inspiration. I know we chatted about Marco Pierre White.

Speaker 1 (09:43)
So tell me about that. Yeah, I suppose. Again, I’m going a lot back and forth, but after that first stint that I had in that big institution, Feeding the 3,000 or 4,000 People, I remember my first book that I picked up was White Heat by Marco Pierre White, and I was astound. I was That class of French, I just thought, wow, this is amazing. To get inside the mind of someone so brilliantly genius with a craziness into it as well. And I said about my role of culinary development. We do an awful lot of culinary competitions. We do our Mark Chef of the Year. We’ve just come back from London where we did a European Chef of the Year. All that competition, I suppose between each other builds confidence, builds that I’m going to beat you. I love it. I like it. Around that. But I remember being in the ODS in Dublin when we were running a Chef of the Year and other competitions and training the young lads to do it. And we had a mixed bag of results. We won a little bit, we lost a little bit. And to be honest with you, because you introduced me as multi-award wing.

Speaker 1 (10:43)
I have lost more than I’ve ever won. But I’m very proud to win. But I remember being- Don’t be too honest. I remember being in the ODS and we were waiting for the results to come out. And prior to that, a couple of weeks before that, as I said, I’m a big fan of Mark or Pierre White. I’m a grown man, but I still have heroes. And he was doing a book signing in his restaurant in Dorston Street. And we got an email or something like that and said, wow, it was the 25th anniversary of Why Heath, the book, and it was a new edition and he was going to sign it and all this good stuff. I said, wow, I’d love to bring my old one in and get the new one and get him to sign it. Didn’t say anything anybody else. I’d say, Grown man, I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I was supposed to be the leader and the inspiration behind everything. Anyway, we finished up late in the already, yes. And I don’t know, say it was on at six o’clock, I think it was the time. And I got into the car and I drove back into city centre and I I said, you know what?

Speaker 1 (11:31)
I might just make that. It was about half five, Dublin City traffic. When I got in, there was a bus strike on. So I couldn’t get down the street that I wanted to get out. And I said, you know what? Start terrain. This is just a thing. I’ll give it a miss. I’ll give it a miss. This is just pie in the sky stuff. I’ll turn around. And whatever possessed me, someone pulled out and there was a car park space and I pulled into it. And I said, you know what? I’ll go the whole hog and I’ll walk. So remember, chef competition, jacket still on, chef jacket and a rack on top of me. 15, 20 minute walk, tired. I looked at it, it was probably half six. I said, This is totally- I’ll be away. I passed the restaurant and outside’s like an eating area, like a bushes around or whatever. I walked past, see no activity in the restaurant. That’s gone. Walked past it again. I said, You know what? I’ll just try. I walked in, walked straight to the front door in the major was standing there. And I said, I take it, the signing of Marco Pierre Whites over.

Speaker 1 (12:20)
And he said, Yeah, you missed it. It’s over. Van Fair is done. Okay, he said, But he’s actually just sitting there. So when I looked around, and as I looked around, Marco had seen this conversation, seeing the chef jacket, got up and walked over. Hello, Derek. I said, How does he know my name? I know I had my Jack. I was so in aura, this big six foot plus guy coming over to me. Subsequently, we shook hands. We sat down. He was dining with some of his friends or whoever it may be. He put up another table, put a glass of wine, said, What do you want to eat, Derek? Tell me all about that competition you’ve just done. We engaged for about 40 minutes, talked, chatted, laughed, talked about everything, food and country like that. I suppose the moral of the story is if you really, really want something and you really, really have a passion, good things happen. And that inspired me for weeks and days later. And I was telling all the young chefs about that. If you really, really want something. For years later, you’re talking about it now. For years, yeah.

Speaker 1 (13:14)
If you really, really want something and you really, really go for it. And there’s obstacles in your way and there’s challenges, which we have in every walk of life. We have challenges. But you know what? You will get there. If you work hard enough, you will get there.

Speaker 2 (13:25)
Do you know the other thing is sometimes you meet your heroes, you’re disappointed. You’re not disappointed. Absolutely not.

Speaker 1 (13:29)
Absolutely not disappointed. And you’re correct in that. Sometimes you do. Sometimes you do. But I was inspired from it.

Speaker 2 (13:35)
Do you think with the likes of Marco Pierrette and all the fanfare and all the programmes that you’ve spoken about earlier, have young chefs expectations actually changed? Do they now expect to have that camera? Do they actually?

Speaker 1 (13:46)
Yeah, I think there is a little bit of that. Definitely a little bit of that. The rock and roll chef and I can make it really good. But I find in my experience, it’s to work hard. And the likes of Marco and Gordon Ramsey and people of that stature worked really eat really hard to get where they are. You do need breaks and look in life and things like that. But sometimes when you’re having a bad service or a bad shift or whatever, there’s always a chance the next day to rectify it. There’s always a chance to come in and do it again. And I found in my career, and what I try and put out there is There is good chefs, there is good people listening. I’m not going to give you my recipe. I’m jealous of that or that unhealthy competition, I call it. It’s not there. We as head chefs have to embrace the next generation coming up and spell all those myths and secrets and share it and enjoy it and bring them along. But keep it real. Keep it within the reality of what we do. Because we are there to serve customers, cook beautiful food.

Speaker 2 (14:39)
That’s what we do. You’re nearly answering my next question. I was going to say, is there a secret to actually deliver in five-star award-winning service and plates of food every time.

Speaker 1 (14:49)
I actually don’t think there’s a secret in it. I mean, it is about the- I think you answered it, hard work. It is about that. But you got to do that consistency. If someone comes and has a steak every night in this restaurant. That’s the way he likes it. It’s the consistency that you do that. Sometimes when a head chef is away, the service might change a little bit. I find that quite disrespectful. If you train your team well and up to the standard that you are, you will get that consistency. It’s the friendliness. That’s what makes you come back. It’s the Irish talk. It’s how we greet people. It’s how we send people off. Go on the extra mile.

Speaker 2 (15:20)
And again, it is a cliché, but it’s so true. We are a completely different animal. You go around the world, and I’ve been in loads of countries, and people are there. And what we offers. It is true.

Speaker 1 (15:31)
It’s a charm. It’s not lies. No, it is. And it’s that transparency. Yes, we talk about our ingredients and food trends and everything, but it’s actually that smile off that girl or guy that serves that table, the satisfaction in that. I mean, it is about quality. It’s quality. The bathrooms that you use, the wine list that’s there. To me, if someone walks out of our restaurant, what I would like them to remember is, apart from the food, which I suppose is number one, is the experience.

Speaker 2 (15:54)
Brilliant. What was your experience? Not just the food, but the holistic approach.

Speaker 1 (15:59)
The whole holistic, everything Everything wrapped up in one. So it was the experience in that. Could they read the menu? Was it good value? Was everything accessible? Dietary requirements. It’s a whole experience. I trained classically at the very, very start for the first eight years, I think, in restaurants. So there was that Gordon Ramsey here. It was quite tough and hard.

Speaker 2 (16:19)
People throwing pots and pans at you.

Speaker 1 (16:21)
There was a little bit of that. And that doesn’t and shouldn’t go on in the kitchen. And we’re more open and yet we’re diverse in what we do. But that does teach you things. It does ground you, and it’s back to that basics of what you do. So it is, to me, the whole Michelin and the whole fine dining, the romance, and that absolutely pulls my heart’s strings. I absolutely love that. But I also have an appreciation because I know what I know, that it takes 15 chefs to run a shift to feed 20 or 35 people or whatever it may be. The hard work that goes in, the planning, the long hours, everything that’s put together to make a service makes the experience.

Speaker 2 (16:58)
Brilliant. And you touched on produce. There. So I know that is very important as well as the experience. So how important are things like provenance and sustainability and maybe even organic food? Do you and your business?

Speaker 1 (17:09)
Yeah, I suppose really, when I take a step back from what we do in the chefs, and I’m always there to promote chefs, but the real star of the show is the produce and the people that grow it or feed it or whatever is they doing it. Any touch point before it comes, because if we haven’t got fresh seasonal ingredients, there’s not much we can do with it. No matter what type of chef you are, how good you are, you can mask it with a sauce, you can do whatever you do. But I went through the different phases of cooking in, I suppose, the late ’80s, early ’90s about stacking food up and stuff like that. People just pushing it away. It was all about the croquery. But we’ve gone back to where we started. Three or four simple ingredients on the plate. But those ingredients have to be the best of the best. And it makes our job really, really easy. So local providence is number one. It’s a given. And people expect that. It’s more than that. It’s community to me. So if we’re buying local and we’re buying off our cheese is local or We might pay a little bit more expensive, a little bit more dear, a couple more pennies that’s on it.

Speaker 1 (18:05)
But look what we’re getting for it. We’re employing people. We’re giving them back as well. We’re giving them back. To me, it’s all about partnerships. And even with craft development and the training piece, I can’t do that or my team can’t do that without the input of the supplier. So if a supplier is launching a new cheese, it’s not us just buying the cheese. It’s that cheese monger coming to our restaurant, talking to the guys, doing a master class, or, which is better for the guys, is a food safari that we go out and we turn around and we look at it. And again, back to that inspiration, that knowledge that’s there, that they will grab it with both arms and run with it.

Speaker 2 (18:37)
That sounds amazing. I have to say, I haven’t heard too many people speaking with the same passion and enthusiasm as you, but also that’s very innovative. Going on doing those things, showing the trawler, bringing them to the cheese manufacturer.

Speaker 1 (18:49)
It’s brilliant. Yeah, it is. But it’s in a way, it’s getting down and dirty, what you do. And I repeat myself when I say it’s a knowledge in it, but that’s how I learned. It was a knowledge to touch it and feel it, not just cook it, but understand where it comes from. And I mean, we’ve had- Sticks in your mind. Yeah. You look at the weather. We’ve had crazy weather over the last couple of years and stuff that from storms to rain. And sometimes when the chef is screaming for the carrots at the back door and the supplier is not coming, But now when I bring the guys out or we go, they understand, you know what? The crop wasn’t great this year. We have to pay a little bit more expensive because it rained and it was flooded or whatever it may be. And it gives that understanding to supply chain and the suppliers. Our chefs… It’s teamwork. We’re all in together.

Speaker 2 (19:30)
But that’s brilliant. It does. And the whole chain is in it together.

Speaker 1 (19:34)
What I’m trying to do, I suppose, is link that chain up. It’s really to join the dots together.

Speaker 2 (19:38)
You really are living, eating, and breathing provenance and dealing with local communities and local businesses in it.

Speaker 1 (19:46)
To me, yeah. No, absolutely. Brilliant, actually. To my default, sometimes people have things outside. My wife Lisa and my two girls are the lighting of my life and what I do. But some people say, Derek, you should play golf, or you should. I go to a football match, wherever it may be like that. On a Saturday, I’m around the food markets or looking at different. Yeah, I suppose. So it’s to my detriment. Sometimes I can… I blur the lines with the passion that I have. But there’s so many good people out there. There’s so many really people that want to learn, want to… So we all have eaten. Everybody can eat.

Speaker 2 (20:19)
Absolutely. Everybody can eat. Some more than others.

Speaker 1 (20:20)
Yeah, I know the feeling. But it is.

Speaker 2 (20:23)
So are you’s produce is pivotal to everything that you do? Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 1 (20:27)
And I suppose within our market, that is our number one. We We have a fantastic, robust and diverse supply chain. When you think of we cover the whole island of Ireland. So we got different regions, whether it be in Cork or Belfast, where something is local to that area. It could be a cheese, it could be a bread or whatever it may be like that. We will do our utmost to make sure that’s what we deliver, that regional food. Food is diverse and it’s very open. But there’s some people that like, I don’t know, Dublin, they’re Irish Cuddle or wherever it may be.

Speaker 2 (20:55)
Soda bread, potato bread, Belfast. Exactly.

Speaker 1 (20:57)
So you have to give the consumer what they not what we think they want. You’ve got to compromise on that.

Speaker 2 (21:04)
I think you read my questions here. Sorry. Because I’m going to say about marketing stories. You’re talking about marketing there because the key is putting the customer at the centre.

Speaker 1 (21:13)
It is, absolutely.

Speaker 2 (21:14)
What strategy do you employ to…

Speaker 1 (21:16)
Go ahead, actually. I suppose when you look at marketing, you market yourself every day or you put yourself on show every day. You look in the mirror, we try and look in the mirror within our market and say, Are we good enough? Was that good enough? And how do we improve that? Or do you know what? As well, we say by chefs, what’s the reward in that as well? So is it the career path that we give them? Is it putting them through college? Is it giving them opportunities to cook in different countries or whatever it may be? So to market it is, I suppose, to be on song or on the button all the time because- And do you have research?

Speaker 2 (21:48)
Do you carry it research?

Speaker 1 (21:49)
Yeah, absolutely. So every concept that we look at, there is a lot of trends out there, whether it be vegan, healthy food, clean food. Something is a fad, something is a trend. And how we conceptualise a trend is always insights first. Insights, innovation, impact, and all of us in that way. So there is science and there is data behind what we do, because as much as we love just messing around the kitchen and making something nice, we got to sell it. People got to be happy. So it is broadly looking all the global insights of what’s happening, bringing it down to the regions, what’s happening, micro right down to exactly what the customer wants in that particular restaurant, that particular area, the influences around that, the demographics. We all talk about millennials, all that stuff. So there’s a lot of considerations and a lot of science. There’s a lot of fun to cooking, but you got to have a plan. You got to have a very clear plan. It has to be logical. It has to be logical, accessible. There’s a lot of boxes to tick. Once you identify what it is, then the innovation comes with the culinary teams and the marketing teams and everything else that locks that together.

Speaker 1 (22:52)
And then it’s the impact. So we’ve done a new vegan concept.

Speaker 2 (22:56)
You’re doing it again. I was going to say, is this a father of trend, veganism?

Speaker 1 (22:59)
Tell me Well, I mean, we’ve worked really closely with our supply chain on looking at plant-based. And the competition that we did our Chef of the Year this year, the competition was a challenge to our chefs was create a three-course menu plant-based. And the guys go, God, that’s a challenge. Yeah, it is a challenge because it’s very easy to get a bit of steak or a bit of fish and cook. It’s not easy, but it’s more familiar to do that. But when you say it has to be plant-based, it puts a few challenges there. We’ve done a lot of concepts. Keeps you on your toes. Keep showing your toes. Keeps you thinking. You got to keep thinking. I suppose, yes, it is absolutely a trend. It is happening. It’s talked about a lot in the media. I see in the restaurants. If I was perfectly honest with you, the data that I see, and it is only growing, it’s in infancy now, is not flown true. Okay. The way it is.

Speaker 2 (23:45)
It’s not fully blown yet or anything yet.

Speaker 1 (23:47)
No, I agree with Meath Free Mondays and stuff like that. But would people completely convert? I don’t think so. More flexitarians, is what they call it. Flexitarians, absolutely. I think that’s where it’s trending at the moment.

Speaker 2 (23:57)
I’m just going to ask you in terms of, also as Irish Do you think are we not trendsetters? Because we never used to be in terms of food. Yeah. Maybe you could tell me about that better than I’m saying.

Speaker 1 (24:07)
I suppose I think we are. I suppose for many years, in my opinion, Ireland was without its defined cuisine, I suppose. If you look at the French, it was all about the peasant food and that really strong flavour, the Italian type of food. So everybody had their calling and everybody had what they do. And we were just a little bit fusion to a certain extent, taking bits of this. With some classic dishes here, one of my favourite meals, bacon and cabbage, that stuff. But I suppose really how I define that is we always had the cuisine because Ireland is the chef’s larder. It was always about our produce. And I was just pulling all that together to show these beautiful produce. This is our cuisine. We’re open and more flexible.

Speaker 2 (24:48)
And it’s brilliant. And in fairness, I think that we really do have a great cuisine. And I think that as consumers as well, we’re much more knowledgeable about food now, which we never were. Maybe I’m just speaking personally, but now with the programmes and Nevan Maguiars, et cetera, I think it’s amazing.

Speaker 1 (25:05)
Yeah, it’s so accessible and people are so knowledgeable from travel and people have been away in different countries. They want to come back from Spain and have a paella. But it has to be authentic of what we do. And that keeps us chefs on our toes that we need to travel.

Speaker 2 (25:17)
Using Dublin Bay Prawns. Using Dublin Bay, of course.

Speaker 1 (25:20)
But we need to be knowledgeable of what’s happening out there as well. It’s so accessible now to just go on your phone and go on the internet and see what’s happening, listen to what’s talking, the hunger for knowledge what we do continuously.

Speaker 2 (25:31)
And this is going to be one of those programmes you’ll be watching on the internet. Very good. So tell me, in your opinion, Dike, what is the future of the Irish food industry?

Speaker 1 (25:41)
I mean, it’s a big question. It’s a big question. My humble opinion of it, it’s We’re going from strength to strength. We’ve got some fantastic talent out there. We’ve got fantastic innovation out there. I don’t think we’re stopping. I mean, coffee is a massive trend, and it just keeps going and growing. You look at the food offer beside the coffees. I think food is going in the zone of grazing and handheld food. So people are time poor, so everything has to be, I want it now and on that demand. But I think it’s got to be fresh, wholesome.

Speaker 2 (26:09)
I was going to say it. It is that convenience, but now, not Mcraved anymore.

Speaker 1 (26:14)
Yeah. And it’s not about the pastries or the sausage roll, although you can get a great sausage roll. But it is the knowledge of people that can pick something up and I have to think, Oh, God, I shouldn’t be really eating this. It is healthy. It’s fueling the body. People are looking for fuel because they’re on the go continuously. And And it’s up to us innovators around food to make sure that’s accessible, whether that’s going to your local convenience store or petrol station, wherever it may be, that that food is fit for purpose. That’s how I see it.

Speaker 2 (26:42)
But your knowledge is actually amazing. So on that point, Where can I contact you? If our viewers want to see where Derek is available, where can we get you?

Speaker 1 (26:50)
Well, I suppose my email address, riley-derick@e. Ie.

Speaker 2 (26:54)
Okay, and we’ll put that underneath. And I actually found you on LinkedIn. So you’re obviously on LinkedIn as well. So you can see Derek on LinkedIn too.

Speaker 1 (27:01)
Yeah, absolutely. I like to share nice stories on LinkedIn.

Speaker 2 (27:02)
And what about any social media?

Speaker 1 (27:04)
No, I suppose those two are the ones that you’d really catch me on.

Speaker 2 (27:07)
Okay, so they’ll be on underneath the video in the description box. That’s brilliant. And lastly, Derek, this has been amazing, but what advice would you have for a young, aspiring chef or someone who wants to go into the industry? Is it something you should go into? Do you need to have the passion? Can the passion grow on you?

Speaker 1 (27:25)
Yeah. No, absolutely. I mean, all is welcome. I sometimes describe it as a foreign lesion. We We welcome everybody in from all diverse sectors. I mean, that’s what we do. To me, just in my experience, it’s about learning. Learning is king. And when you learn, you can grow, but have a plan of what you want to do.

Speaker 2 (27:42)
Okay. And a goal. And should that goal be to be market peer It’s there.

Speaker 1 (27:46)
It’s there for everybody. We’re all getting older. We need a new crop to come in and do it. That’s exactly it. But learn, soak up that knowledge. Make it be infectious. Make it part of your life, I suppose.

Speaker 2 (27:57)
But, Derry, that was absolutely amazing. Thank you very much for having me. So thank you so much. You will be inspired by Derry Grelle from Aramark. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you again soon on Amazing Food and Drink TV.

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