Mike Foley – Culinary Arts Instructor
Mike Foley is an experienced Irish chef and chef instructor with more than 31 in the gastronomic industry. Learn more about his passion for the profession and how he came to his position. Read here.
How did your chef career get started?
My first day in a kitchen was in 1988 in a local restaurant in my local village, it was a summer job where my duties were pot wash and plating of desserts which had been prepared by the pastry chef. Following that I went to college to while working with the same chef Rory Duffin in his new restaurant. During this time I also did a stage in a Michelin restaurant and cookery school just outside Tours in France under Chef Maxime Rochereau. I completed college in 1992 and worked and travelled around Ireland gaining as much experience as possible. I was appointed to my first head chef role at 23 in Tulfarris house hotel in Wicklow and following just under 2 years there I moved to France for again more experience.
I worked mostly as head/sous chef in many establishments both in Paris and the north of Spain before returning to Ireland where within the next few years achieved Michelin Bib gourmands in two restaurants. My career continued in Ireland where I worked in a variety of catering from fine dining to industrial catering. My career path led me unintentionally towards teaching, a direction that has been the best career choice I have ever made. I began delivering City and guilds culinary arts courses for Kerry Education Board which led to me being involved in the writing of the new commis chef apprenticeship here in Ireland. I am at present delivering this apprenticeship and look forward to each new day in the kitchen, with the apprentices keeping me on my toes.
You are an experienced Irish chef and chef instructor with more than 31 in the gastronomic industry. Back to the beginning, how was the chef education 30 years ago in Ireland?
30 years ago Ireland had a very different culinary landscape, we were knee deep in soda bread and crab claws in garlic butter, Marco and the Roux brothers were the demi gods and there was an advert on both our television channels where a celebrity chef, sans glass of wine showed us how to eat a Kiwi. Apparently it can be eaten just like a boiled egg in an egg cup, Thanks for the Inspiration Chef.
Chef Education then was almost, if not entirely French classical with classes in culinary French a must for writing all of our frenglish menus. The training was delivered by a national training body called CERT and was extremely comprehensive. The training took place mainly in what were called Regional Technical Colleges and followed either a day or block release model. The block release which I did ran over 2 years and included 1 block of on the job training in each year. For my block release I was lucky enough to find myself a placement in Adare Manor under Exec Chef Ian Mc Andrew, a Michelin accredited chef who at the time had two books under his belt , A feast of fish and poultry and game. To this day any of the recipes in these books would slot effortlessly into any contemporary menu.
You have just begun to deliver the new National commis chef apprenticeship. Can you share some more information about it with us?
It’s a very exciting time for us here at Kerry Education and Training board. We have just spent the last 3 years developing, designing and validating the new commis chef apprenticeship. It has been a labour of love for all of us involved. The Irish Government are investing heavily in the apprenticeship model in the further education sector and we are delighted here in Kerry to be the first across the line with our apprenticeship which leads to an advanced craft certificate in culinary arts at level 6. The 2 year programme is delivered both on and off the job where apprentices come to us from their approved hotels/restaurants for 2 days a week and spend the other 3 days in industry working alongside their mentors. This changes to 1 day with us and 4 in industry during the busy summer months. Assessment is carried out both on and off the job, giving apprentices the opportunity to learn from both the Instructors in our training kitchens and real life learning in industry.
The commis chef apprenticeship is now running across the whole country and more providers are coming online each week. The beauty of this apprenticeship is that it has been written and designed alongside our industry partners such as Board Failte, The Irish hotel federation and the restaurant association of Ireland, thus making it a programme designed with industry for industry. Another strong advantage of the apprenticeship is that it is an ‘’EARN AND LEARN ‘’ model allowing the apprentice to earn a full wage while training.
Irish Beer and Pubs are well known all over the world; Irish Cuisine; less. How could you describe Irish Cuisine best?
Irish Cuisine is described traditionally as heart-warming potato based wholesome fare, coddle, Irish stew, bacon and cabbage , boxty and colcannon.But to assume that this is the modern norm would be to assume that the food of Spain is paella or that the cuisine of Norway is pickled herring or Fårikål.
All these dishes are instrumental in forming the foundation of all modern cuisine worldwide. In Ireland it has never been a more exciting time for cuisine and home-grown Irish gastronomy. If we are to take the Michelin Guide as a marker, which is no longer as we know the case for many chefs the Island of Ireland holds 12 starred restaurants and 26 bib Gourmand ratings.
Ireland’s chefs have embraced new philosophies surrounding our responsibilities, our duty of care when it comes to sustainability, air miles and food waste while continually using our islands’ indigenous products to produce a modern contemporary cuisine which mirrors our lush pastures and abundant seas. Modern Irish Cuisine is a true mix of old and new while using classical and traditional methods. In my opinion it holds its own and in many cases sets the standard of traditional, modernist and contemporary cuisine on a global stage. Irish chefs such as JP Mc Mahon with his brainchild Food on the edge have given Ireland a global audience with regards accessible quality food in the country. The two-day Food Symposium in Galway city on the Wild Atlantic Way takes place over two days every year in October. It is a not-for-profit conference seeking to make good food accessible for everyone. Food Festivals are huge here in Ireland , The Dingle food festival is going from strength to strength and our own food festival here in Tralee will run this year from 3rd-8th May
Irish chefs have never been as involved in the discussion of both our food culture and our responsibilities in particular when it comes to the formation of and education of our young chefs. A new initiative has started here in Kerry by chef Chad Byrne from Killarney called ‘’CHEF COLLAB’’, where young chefs come together under the watchful eye of excellent chef mentors to create a dining experience in different pop up restaurants. The young chefs produce the meal experience at cost price for the public while gaining incredible experience in the process.
You observed many trends in the market. What do you think about fusion kitchen?
Food Trends are nothing new and in particular the fusion kitchen, is in my opinion more an adopted term for what has been common place in kitchen the world over since the discovery of fire.
If we look at what we call the classics such as crème brulee, this was an adapted crema catlana from Spain, the salmon en croute can be linked to the Russian Coulibiac and as for pasta I think the Chinese still have intellectual property of the three ingredient staple. In essence the first protagonists of fusion cuisine were historically the 100 chef kitchens of the large houses, chateaux and castles of the European conquering empires whose ships brought spices, recipes and techniques from far flung lands.
Nordic Cuisine has become very popular. What is the magic for you behind Nordic Cuisine?
Nordic Cuisine or ‘’Det Nye nordiske køkken’’ as we know was propelled into common culinary language by entrepreneur and food activist Claus Meyer in the Early noughties. Its main focus is to promote local, natural and seasonal produce as a basis for new dishes while remembering traditional recipes. The common mistake which many chefs are making is trying to reproduce the dishes associated with this vibrant and exciting ethos.
If we take the ethos in itself and think about it is by definition a cuisine which can only be reproduces in Scandinavian countries. In Ireland we have always had this ethos and the idea of local, natural and seasonal produce and thankfully the advent of Nordic cuisine has underpinned the need for this ethos on a global level.
The advent of farmers markets, certified organic produce and awareness of traceability in Ireland as well as hotels and restaurants cultivating their own vegetables and herbs is a natural progression from this ethos here, and it is becoming less surprising to see a bee hive on a restaurant roof top or in their back gardens.
The use of regional products/ cooperation with regional producers is mostly practiced by smaller restaurants. Large hotel… have this topic on their paper/ protocol; but do not practice it widely. How can these larger restaurant operations be involved stronger in this approach?
We are very lucky in Ireland in due to the fact that most of our large hotels here cater for both volume and smaller restaurant outlets. Traditionally hotels cater for large functions such as weddings and coach tours while maintaining a more bespoke restaurant on the high street. Executive and head chefs in Ireland generally work as in most hotels worldwide on a gross profit margin.
Regional products from smaller local producers and artisans are generally more expensive, and availability of produce can be limited for volume catering. This can be seen as a hindrance. However because of the volume covered in most large hotels here a financially savvy chef can use these large functions to absorb the additional costs associated in their restaurants while maintaining an acceptable gross profit margin.
Less young people want to become a chef. What can/ needs to be done to make this great job more attractive again?
It’s true that less young people are entering the profession worldwide. There are many factors to which this can be attributed ,not least the impact of a common misconception which unfortunately portrays the life of a chef as having, long hours , bad pay and poor working conditions. The one way forward in my opinion is Education and increased awareness regarding the benefits, and personal and professional satisfaction the career can bring. I and a group of my fellow chef contemporaries are at present developing workshops to engage with young students which are aimed at dispelling the negative image associated with the industry. This we feel is a good first step.
If we as chefs can use ourselves as case studies and explain to potential culinary apprentices that we are not masochists that thrive on poor work conditions, without negating the fact that it will never be the easiest career path, we can hopefully attract more youth into the kitchens. Parents also need to change their perception of the industry and allow their children follow their passions and not push them towards the perceived good academic careers. We have to remember that the global travel and tourism industry generates on average €6.6 trillion (10.2% of global GDP) per annum.
Thank you so much Mike!