Chef To Chef: Gareth Mullins Of The Marker Hotel
Published on Apr 10 2013 10:08 AM in Food
Derry Clarke speaks to Gareth Mullins, executive chef at the 5-Star Marker Hotel in Grand Canal Dock, Dublin, which opened this year.
Derry: Ok Gareth, what is your title here?
Gareth: Executive Chef at the Marker Hotel in Grand Canal Dock.
Derry: It’s very impressive here. Very modern.
Gareth: Yes, we are very happy with the place.
Derry: Why did u become a chef? Where did this all start?
Gareth: Well I originally started out in UCD, in O’Reilly Hall. My brother was the banquet manager for Ronayn Catering back in 1996. So I started as a kitchen steward when I was round 14. I saw the chefs going around, doing what they do, and I loved it; I’ve always loved food.
Derry: And is anyone else in the family in the industry?
Gareth: Well my father was a fully trained waiter for years. He started off as a waiter in the Intercontinental in Dublin. He went to Irish Ferries and was the equivalent of the food and beverage manager. He was there for 30-odd years.
Derry: So plenty of free travel?
Gareth: Haha, yea a lot of trips to Holyhead. So I was with Eddie Ronayn and he told me that I needed to get into a top hotel to move on. The Merrion was there and open about six months so I went to see Ed Cooney there. I worked as a comis chef for two years with him, then moved up to demi chef.
Derry: You were in Australia for a spell too, yes?
Gareth: Yes, after working in the Merrion I lived in Sydney for 6 years. I was in the Radisson over there for three years, where I eventually moved up to junior sous chef. Then I moved to Starwood W Hotels for 3 years, where I became head chef. I came home in 2006 and went back to Ed at the Merrion and he hired me as a senior sous chef.
Derry: Ah back to Ed. He’s got a tremendous work ethic
Gareth: He knows the job to the core and I have great respect for him – he makes everyone work to his standards. I’ve learned an awful lot from him. I was then head chef in the cellar at the Merrion for six years before I came here. Actually, Ed taught me a lot about kitchen managemtne in that time. Running costs, ordering, stock control, all that side of the trade.
Derry: So you are now at the Marker. Charlie Sheil is the manager, was it he who hired you?
Gareth: Yeah, Charlie called me for an interview and he offered me the job at the end of last year. I resigned from the Merrion and started here in January.
Derry: This is the first start-up for you?
Gareth: Yes. I have 187 bedrooms and five food outlets. The Brasserie, The Bar Lounge, The Rooftop Bar - which is not open yet – Conferencing & Events and Room Service.
Derry: So you hadn’t had long to turn this around, only two months. What was it like when you came here in January?
GARETH: It was a building site…on my first day I was handed a hard hat. It has been like a project manager job rather than a chef job for the last three months – dealing with architects, electricians etc. The hotel was originally built in 2006 so the kitchens were here and they were the first thing I got to look at. In the Brasserie the kitchen was all wrong. The equipment was dated, there was equipment that didn’t need to be there, so I got a company in to redesign the pass for me.
Derry: So where was the central kitchen?
Gareth: Downstairs in the basement, that’s where we have the main kitchen. In the Brasserie kitchen now, half the equipment is induction. When I started it was all induction, no gas, which I was unsure of…
Derry: Induction can be very good. Ross Lewis uses it a lot at Chapter One I believe.
Gareth: Oh right. Well now I have one 4-ring burner in there. It’s good to have both, and the induction at the pass is very helpful.
Derry: And were you given a budget?
Gareth: I was but it wasn’t realistic. There was no crockery, nothing. I spent €50k on pots and pans and that - a huge cost.
Derry: For those who don’t know the area, it’s a lovely place. The Liffey is behind, Grand Canal Dock in front, and the Bord Gais Theatre to the side.
Gareth: That is where our key custom will come from. Pre-theatre, dinner, etc. The sales team will be drawing up packages for rooms and food. We’re not even a ten minute walk from town and it’s a nice walk.
Derry: So what star are you going for?
Gareth: 5 star. We are striving for that, the restaurant will be aiming for a very high standard.
Derry: So a lot of pressure, in a good way. A lot to manage. Was getting the team together difficult?
Gareth: Unbelievably difficult to get them from scratch.
Derry: So what was the first thing you went for?
Gareth: A number two. Actually, the man who I hired was the man who told me about the job. He has worked with me before, Stephen Sullivan. He worked in Chapter One for a while. He’s a good chef, he understands me and what I want to do. He understands how important quality ingredients are to what we are doing here. If your ingredients are poor, your food is poor. Everything is sourced in detail. We have Irish-sourced food, where we can, even in the smaller areas. We have Irish craft beer, Keogh’s crisps – little things like that. Then we have Glenilen butter at breakfast time, which people love, and Killowen yoghurts.
Derry: I love Glenilen butter, it’s very low in salt.
GARETH: I already have people asking where we get it. I have a butcher in Kells called Tommy Doherty making my pudding and my sausages. He enters a lot of competitions, in France he won a gold medal for his pudding. To be honest, a lot of the ethos I have is stuff I learned at the Merrion – they sourced the best quality produce as well.
Derry: Where do you get your fish?
Gareth: I have Hanlon’s for fish, and also Glenmar, who used to be Beaumont. Then for vegetables I have Gold City Produce and Keelings. And all these guys can get you whatever you want. Keelings grows its own stuff so it’s good for getting Irish produce. But I buy a selection of artisan products from France and Italy too.
Derry: Will the 5-star structure rule you out of certain customers who would steer clear of it because of the price range?
Gareth: It can, but I have looked at my price points with that in mind. For example, my club sandwich at €15 is priced at lower than you would expect in a 5 star restaurant.
Derry: You were telling me about your Rooftop restaurant. How do you mean it will be a taste menu?
Gareth: It is like tapas, but I didn’t want to call it that because then people expect certain things which I won’t be doing – patatas bravas or chorizo for example. Basically I will have some smaller offerings at around €7-10. So if someone wants a meal, the Lounge Bar is here, a little more upmarket then the Brasserie and if it’s just a bit of wine and some small bits of food then up to the Rooftop. The lift comes out in a glass box up there. There are 60 seats covered and 60 outside. A 360 degree view of the City, there’s no place quite like it.
Derry: Are you married?
Gareth: I am, and I have two children. Zach is five and a half and Georgia May is two and a half.
Derry: Have they seen you at all in the last few weeks?
Gareth: Yes I brought them here last night and they stayed over, had a swim, breakfast and dinner. It’s important as a chef to sit down and see what customers experience. And I spotted problems immediately that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t sat down. But you’re always going to find little problems.
Derry: Especially at the start
Gareth: Yes, but thankfully on the whole I was very happy with the place.