Chef To Chef: Tony Carty of Ferrycarrig Hotel
Published on Dec 12 2012 1:08 PM in Food
Tony Carty, Head chef at Wexford’s Ferrycarrig Hotel, speaks to Derry Clarke about the Swiss Alps, rat pack singing and locally sourced vegetables on the back of a bicycle.
Derry: So Tony, to get started, what is your official title?Tony: Head chef for the FerryCarrig Hotel.
Derry: And are you from here in Wexford?Tony: I am. I travelled a little bit early on in my career, but I’m back now.
Derry: Is there a school in Wexford or did you have to move to learn?Tony: No, I started in Kelly’s Hotel in Rosslare, way back in 1986.
Derry: Oh with Jim Aherne? He’s great.Tony: Yea, Jim’s a great chef and a great mentor. On a daily basis alone there were 220-240 for breakfast. The same for lunch and then dinner would be up on that. Massive numbers, and I presume they’re still doing the same numbers now.
Derry: And Jim is retired now is that right?Tony: Yes, he retired a couple of years back. It’s strange; even now when I see him I still call him ‘Chef’. He was my first chef, so the name remains.
Derry: So Kelly’s, you were thrown in the deep end there!Tony: I was really lucky. I had applied for a Cert the previous year and I was put on a waiting list – I was 16 and they thought I was too young to get a college place. So I had a part-time job in Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara.
Derry: With Tim Sullivan?Tony: Yes with Tim Sullivan – he’s still there.
Derry: He’s another great chef. You got off to a good start with chefs so!Tony: I was very lucky. I met Tim a few years ago and I told him about my time there. It was 25 or 26 years ago now so he didn’t really remember me but I remember that place fantastically – 16 year old, away from home, just brilliant. Then the following year I didn’t even get the Cert. I thought it was a sure thing, so I was shook up! The career guidance teacher in school made some calls and got me an interview with Kelly’s and got me an interview in Waterford to study. I got both, a day release course in Waterford and a first year comis chef – five-day-a-week job – in Kelly’s.
Derry: How long did you stay there?Tony: I left after three years, fantastic years. I didn’t really want to leave but I felt I had to move on. So the Conrad Hilton was opening in Dublin at the time, 1989, and I got a job in there as a fourth year comis. I stayed there for a year, then Bill Kelly rang and asked would I go back to Kelly’s – on the acceptance that he would send me to Switzerland that Christmas. So I went back and finished my time there, and went off to Switzerland for two years. He wanted to get me work with a hotel where he knew the general manager, but they wouldn’t take me because I had no French. So they put me in a restaurant beside the hotel – up in the Alps, beautiful. Then for a few years after that a few other staff in Kelly’s got to come out and get the experience.
Derry: Did you learn much out there?Tony: Not culinary-wise. I remember asking Bill should I even go to it, as it wasn’t the place he wanted me to go. He said it will get me experience, good or bad. Now it wasn’t bad at all, but it wasn’t a culinary highlight either. I loved it over there, and I picked up French!
Derry: It was a different culture I guess?Tony: Completely different. It’s funny, I was only over there a couple of days and there was this bar above the restaurant. Now, they served glasses of beer, not pints, and the glasses were about a third of a pint. I think I had three glasses of beer and the bar maid said ‘do you have a drinking problem? This is the second night you have had three glasses of beer.’ I laughed.
Derry: So you came back to Ireland then?Tony: Yes after two years I came home, not knowing what I wanted to do, just to see the family really. I ended up going out to the K Club for a while, but I felt it was in the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t settle at all, so went to Dublin. I got a job in Les Freres Jacques on Dame Street.
Derry: That place is still going strongTony: I loved my time there, but I still wanted to get home to Wexford. Then Ferrycarrig Hotel had a position open up. I didn’t even know if I wanted it. So I rang Jim Aherne and asked him for his advice. I was getting a position as junor sous chef, it was the first time I’d gotten a position like that. Liam Griffin had just taken over and Jim said go for it – I took it, and I’ve been here ever since. Except for one year I went to the Cayman Islands to the Grand Hyatt, which is now destroyed from a hurricane!
Derry: It’s a pretty hotel, a nice location on the estuary.Tony: It’s beautiful. Great location.
Derry: You market yourselves on weekends and food, why is that?Tony: We’ve become a family hotel in recent years, which is great but now we are trying to get couples coming again. We’ve always had an ‘adults only area’ in our bar, which can be a positive and a negative. Because, if the bar is full with diners, bar food would be a huge part of our business, so sometimes there’s room in our ‘adults only’ area but we can’t let families up there.
Derry: Are you strict on that?Tony: We are. Because it’s nice to have an area where kids aren’t all running around. And it works to our advantage, but some customers can get annoyed about it. We also have an ‘adult only area’ in our restaurant. We used to have two restaurants – one was Tides, it was a two-AA Rosette restaurant: we won it eight-years-in-a-row. But when the tiger stopped roaring, people didn’t have the money to spend. It all became about how much people were charging.
Derry: So you think it became very price-driven?Tony: Oh yes and, in Wexford, it’s extremely difficult to get good prices. So we let go of Tide. We had a bistro beside it as well, so we just made a restaurant out of the two.
Derry: And what about weddings, are they a big part of your business?Tony: It’s a huge part of our business. We do 90 weddings a year, it’s down from the peak, which was 120, but it’s still a huge part and it’s doing well. We have a good reputation for them, too.
Derry: And in your role, are you office based?Tony: I’m both, I have to be. I’m on the floor when I have to be. The office work is massive now though.
Derry: And you have a few other venues, is that correct?Tony: We also have the Skyview café in the Wexford opera house. We run the food out of there, that’s fantastic during the opera festival. We do fantastic covers for dinner out of nothing of a kitchen really. The logistics need to be spot on but it’s gone really well now, it’s four years there now and this year we did fantastic business. The festival brings massive business to Wexford. Monart would do well out of the festival too, that’s a sister business in the Griffin group, along with Hotel Kilkenny.
Derry: Do you move chefs between the three?Tony: No. Although, three chefs that have worked with me are now head chef, sous chef and junior sous chef over in Monart. Kilkenny is a bit farther away so we don’t really do that.
Derry: Does the buying power of being in a group help?Tony: Massively.
Derry: Do you use the same suppliers?Tony: Most of them would be. Some local suppliers, too, of course. Pat O’Neill Dry Cure Bacon, his black pudding is absolutely fantastic. Our local butcher is Richie Doyle in Wexford. Meylers Fishmongers in Wexford do great smoked haddock, smoked salmon, smoked cod, and Atlantic Seafood is near, too. They’re local, and that’s very important to our customers.
Derry: Has that changed in the last few years, using local suppliers? That didn’t used to be important did it?Tony: Well Kelly’s Hotel taught me a lot. It was different. Kelly’s is unique, you learn more there than anywhere else, I think, because they have their own vegetable house, where you prep in-house. It has its own larder that butchers sides of beef or lamb. Everything comes in in its raw state and you break it down appropriately. There was even a guy that used to cycle up the road in Rosslare with his veg on a trailer behind his bike. It was stuff he grew himself, carrots, herbs, leaves and that. And Jim Aherne would buy it. That was great.
Derry: Do you get many overseas visitors into the hotel?Tony: We get quite a few English visitors, but not many Americans or Europeans.
Derry: The southeast doesn’t get that, really…Tony: Yea, there is a push for that at the moment, but most of our business is from Leinster. A lot from Dublin, and midweek we get a lot of commercial trade.
Derry: That sums up the region really.Tony: Yes, but the ‘sunny south east’ is a great catch phrase when it works out. We had a food festival and, the previous year was a wash out, it was a disaster. But, this year it was the best ever. It was glorious, the place was packed, the town was packed, we were all out showing off a bit and everyone was loving it, but it’s all down to the weather.
Derry: And what about hobbies outside of work. Do you do anything to keep you occupied?Tony: Entertaining. I do a lot of singing.
Derry: Really?Tony: Yes I’ve been off work this week because I had my own concert last weekend in Wexford Arts Centre.
Derry: Wow. What do you play?Tony: Yea, we had two nights sold out. We play as a band, rat pack music.
Derry: When did this start?Tony: Well I sang a bit when I was younger, fell out with it, then I came back to Wexford and it’s a very arty area, so I got back into it. I won a few national awards, which was nice.
Derry: Were you ever tempted to go on any of the talent shows on TV?Tony: God no. Publicly slated? No no!
Derry: What do you think of these kinds of shows?Tony: I don’t think much of them. In fairness, I saw The Voice last year and there were some really good singers, but it’s just manipulation really.
Derry: Do you sing in the kitchen?Tony: No, we have a laugh about it though.
Derry: And you’re married yes?Tony: Yes, to Paula, a photographer. We have four kids, one boy and three girls. So it’s a busy household, it’s great.
Derry: I’d say so. And it’s such a nice lifestyle in Wexford..Tony: Yes, we work hard, sure you have to, but there’s plenty of things to do down here.