This much I know: Paul Flynn, chef

Paul Flynn

I love the creative side of cooking. It is what keeps me doing it.

A recipe is a just a guideline.

The big achievement is when you don’t need one. The rebel in me takes great pleasure in tinkering around, adding a little bit more of something I like to the pot. But that takes courage.

As a teenager, a career in food was not on my mind. I was a spot factory. An acne farm.

I grew up in Dungarvan and was completely spoilt. My father and mother had a pharmacy and I was the youngest of eight.

Five boys and three girls. I got away with murder.

I can’t say I enjoyed school. At one point I mitched for an entire week and got in big trouble.

When I left school I got a job in a restaurant, with Paul McCluskey, in Waterford. That was my epiphany. I felt at home instantly.

I went to London the day I turned 18. That’s when I discovered ambition. By the time I was 23 I was head chef in a city restaurant.

My idea of misery is going to the gym, although I know it has to be done. Fitness has become important. But, if anything, I prefer to do a bit a walking.

Home is sacred. I love walking the local beaches with my 9- and 10- year-old daughters and then cooking something nice for the family. It’s not like work at all.

At work, I have a team and am more like a conductor than the lead violinist.

My biggest challenge has been running a business during the last eight years. We made mistakes, as so many people did. 

We worked hard to get to a place where we could broaden our horizons and then we came crashing down. But we are still here and our business is good now. We also have a cookery school.

I’m not religious or anything. I don’t believe in an afterlife. The only meditating I do is over a pint.

I believe that you make your own fate. You have to try and be a good person and to deal with what life throws at you.

I met my wife Máire in Dublin when she was living up there, though she was a local girl, from my area. My brother knew her.

She was lined up to show me around Dublin, a city I didn’t know at all. We got married in 1993.

I’m a terrible man for staying up late. I work hard and have to wind down afterwards so cannot go straight to bed.

It would be like asking someone who leaves the office at 5pm to go to sleep by 6pm.

So far I have learnt that life goes by really fast. I have come to admire the simple things. You don’t need two houses. Less can be more.

My advice to anyone who wants to work in restaurants is to know that it is hard work.

But, once you have a grounding, it is a wonderful skill to have and one and that allows you to travel, should you so wish.

My break in television happened by accident after I was asked to write a piece for The Irish Times and ended up being their food writer for four years. That got me profile — which led to television.

My greatest fear is not being relevant. Not that working with food is finding a cure for cancer, but food is an important thing in our life.

Our attitudes to food in Ireland have improved. I see it as a life skill. That is why I set up the cookery school.

I’m a good cook. I don’t say ‘chef’. I’m a terrible technical chef.

If I could be someone else for a day, I’d like to be someone who is really, great. A game changer. Like Heston Blumenthal or René Redzepi of Noma.

* Paul Flynn’s The Tannery continues as a cornerstone of the West Waterford Festival of Food, celebrating The Changing Kitchen. www.westwaterfordfestivaloffood.com 

This year it welcomes Dublin-born chef Robin Gill for a pop-up on April 16.

Mickael Viljanen, Graham Neville and Keiran Glennon will join Paul to host Sunday lunch on the April 17.


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