Interview: Chef Derry Clarke of Dublin's L'Ecrivan

'The fact there is no ‘I’ in Team has always been my motto'

The Daily Meal: Why did you decide to become a chef?

Chef Derry Clarke: I got a holiday job when I was 14 as a Kitchen Porter in the Man Friday in Kinsale Co. Cork. I spent two summers in the wash-up and then moved on to prepping, vegetables, desserts etc. When I left school, they offered me a full-time job and I discovered I had a flair for it. My Father was in the Food business and brought in Foie Gras, Froggs Legs, and Blue Cheese to Ireland in the 1960’s and my Mother’s family were Fruit Importers so our house was always full of exotic foods and fruit. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I enjoyed it.

What other back-of-the-house positions have you previously held?

I worked as a Kitchen Porter, Junior Commis Chef, and then rose through the ranks obtaining my First Head Chefs Job at 26 in the Bon Appetite Restaurant in Ballsbridge. I had spent 4 years before hand in Le Coq Hardi only a few yards away. I started at the very bottom and worked my way up.

Did you go to culinary school?

I went to Dublin Institute of Technology for 2 years as a Day release Course completing what was then the 706 1& 2 exams.

What credentials did you earn through your culinary studies?

I obtained the basic Exams because there weren’t any Diploma or Culinary Arts Degrees available in my day. I went to the University of Life in Dublin and did a placement in Paris for three months.

What did you like best about the education experience?

I loved the kitchen and although I learned the theory of what was needed to be a successful chef, I learnt a lot more from the head Chefs I trained under and as a result try to be as informative to the all chefs I have working with me from day one in July 1989 when I opened l’Ecrivain

Where and how were you trained?

As I said earlier, I had my initial training in The Man Friday in Kinsale followed by jobs in the Greyhound & the Spaniard, all in Kinsale. then I moved to Dublin to spend 4 years in the kitchen with John Howard, Chef Patron of Le Coq Hardi where I honed my craft.

What is your management style? What management style do you prefer for your supervisor to use?

I am more of a teacher than a manager. I obviously do manage, but I prefer to explain what I am doing and why so people understand the reasons behind what I am doing and what I ask them to do too. Sallyanne & I had worked for other people before we set up our own restaurant and we never wanted to have too many chiefs and not enough Indians. We are all in this together and everyone is important. There is no ‘I’ in TEAM.

Are you a team player?

ABSOLUTELY. The fact there is no ‘I’ in Team has always been my motto.

Describe your usual role in a team-centered work environment

We have a chat over the ingredients that have arrived in the prep kitchen to decide what the best way to cook and serve it would be. Everyone has the opportunity to voice their ideas. We welcome ideas and feedback from all our team, both kitchen & front of house.

Do you easily assume a leadership role?

Yes - I have been Chef Patron for 29 years and a chef for over 40 years now so I find is second nature.

Do you have a sense of humor?

Absolutely - I love a joke as much as anyone and I have some great one liners.

Tell me about a difficult situation and how you handled it?

We had a customer that sent back their “beef” because as it was not well done enough. It was Lamb that they ordered. I cooked it some more, re-plated it and brought it out to the dining room myself and told them to enjoy. The lady in question told me it was the best beef she had ever tasted?

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