Tom Comerford, Head Executive Chef of Kilkenny’s Ormonde Hotel cooked up a scrumptious meal for the Donohoes this week. I can still taste every bit, it was that good. After spoiling us in Hoban Restaurant of the Kilkenny’s Ormonde Hotel, I sat down to have a chat to Tom about running a successful restaurant in Covid times.
Tom is a Kilkenny native, originally from the Deerpark in Castlecomer. He is married to Luiza, who is also a chef. Tom has two daughters, Judy (3), baby Mia (1) and son Calvin (12).
Tom started his chef’s career at Newpark Hotel under the guidance of Tom Phelan at the age of 16. From there he went on to work for Pierre Koffman at the 3 Michelin Star La Tante Claire for two years. Before moving on to work with numerous Michelin Star chefs and award winning restaurants in London.
Tom also worked with Daniel Clifford at Midsummer House in the world renowned 2 Michelin starred restaurant. He is one hungry chef for learning and after working his way up in the chef’s world in the UK, Tom returned home to Ireland to gain further experience. We are now lucky to have him back in Kilkenny as an award winning Executive Head Chef of the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel. His talent and experience has not gain unrecognised, as recently the Good Eating Guide Ireland bestowed Tom with a rising star chef award, as well as a casual dining award for Leinster.
Here is a glimpse into Tom’s world…
What’s the typical day like for you running a kitchen with Covid restrictions?
Morning – usually start at 8.30am to check deliveries, help the breakfast chef, attend our morning operations team meeting at 11 to check what is booked and any special requirements for the day, before returning to the kitchen to set up for lunch for the chefs coming in at 12.
Lunch – lunch between 12 and 3, served in The Castle Lounge, and followed by afternoon teas. Once the busy part of daytime service is done, I’ll do my orders for the following day, then go for a break before evening service
Evenings – I’m usually back in the Kitchen at 17.30, check to see chefs are all ok for the night ahead, and then move into dinner service until 9pm, making sure everything runs smoothly. Then before heading home. I check if there are any special requirements for anybody staying for the breakfast the following morning.
You have worked with an impressive line-up of chefs. Who impressed you most?
I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the best chefs of my generation - John Burton Race at his 2 Michelin star in the Landmark Hotel in London, Jean Christophe Novelli as sous chef at Auberge du Lac; where I worked with Executive Chef Phil Thompson to earn a Michelin star the Auberge’s fine dining restaurant.
Following my stint there, I took on the senior role of Resort Head Chef at Brocket Hall where I earned 2AA Rosettes and 6/10 in the Good Food Guide in my first two years, adding a third AA Rosette in my final year there.
They all have great qualities, but the most naturally gifted and most determined I’ve ever seen is Daniel Clifford of Midsummer House in Cambridge. His touch is everywhere in his restaurant and hopefully will get his 3rd Michelin star, as there is no doubt he deserves it for the quality of his cooking and the level of consistency he works at. As the sign in his kitchen says…‘the goal is 3 stars’.
Your wife is a chef too, so who does most of the cooking at home?
I would have to say that Luiza does a lot of the cooking at home – she makes great pasta. On a Sunday I will do a roast chicken as I’m gone most of the week so that’s my time to relax over dinner and make sure everyone is happy.
You are a huge advocate of local food producers.
Yes it’s very important to me to support the local suppliers at the hotel. We have great produce around us in Kilkenny and very passionate people like Sean Ring with his organic & free range chicken - to me it’s the best chicken in Ireland. Sean also does amazing beetroot and potatoes when in season and works tirelessly to maintain exceptionally high standards of quality produce.
Mags Kirwan of Goatsbridge Trout Farm is one of Kilkenny’s real food heroes – their trout products are wonderful and Mags herself is legendary; her personality and enthusiasm for her work is amazing. She’s a real gem and we are blessed to have her as an ambassador for Kilkenny and its produce.
Vincent Grace produces amazing organic vegetables from his Riversfield Farm in Callan. Nick and Simone in Edmundburry Gardens in neighbouring Laois grows the most beautiful micro herbs. I’m just mentioning a few but we are really lucky to be surrounded by amazing producers and I believe strongly that it’s very important to support them in every way we can.
How tough is a chef’s life?
It has it challenges like every job. It’s a job where you have to love what you’re doing, and be determined to deliver food to the customer that’s of the highest quality and reflects your creative ability. In this game, you’re only as good as the last plate of food you produce. So maintaining high standards is ‘a must’.
A lot of restaurants have downsized their menus since reopening last month. Why is this?
I think staff is the issue for most places, as not everybody is gone back to work. Hotels and restaurants are doing menus that are do able for the staff in kitchen and front of house, and this helps to keep a consistent product coming from your kitchen.
At the end of the day sometimes less is more, its better have five or six dishes done really well, rather than have lots of dishes on and struggle to maintain a level of consistency for your guests when you get really busy.
How are you coping with the heat in the kitchen wearing masks and Covid personal protective gear?
We live in different times now and sticking with the guidelines that have been set is very important to us at the hotel to keep staff and guests safe. And of course it is very hot and uncomfortable at times, but it’s something we have to get used to and keep on doing and hopefully it will get easier and become ‘second nature’ to us.
So what is your favourite meal and what memory does it bring to your senses?
My favourite food was always my Mam’s Sunday roast. My mother has sadly passed away now but she was a brilliant cook and the best mother in the word, and the kindest and happiest person you could ever meet. She always looked after the family with her cooking and baking and that memory has always stuck with me, and the fantastic smells that would come from the kitchen.
What food don’t you like?
I don’t like kiwis or pea shoots! Kiwis don’t taste of much, other than water. Pea shoots just seem to be put on top of dishes as a garnish by chefs. Large amounts of pea shoots are impossible to eat, for me if it doesn’t add to the dish flavour wise, it should not be on the plate.
What’s your top tip for cooking?
Don’t be afraid to experiment with your food, and for young chefs coming through the ranks now to taste everything as you go, the most important thing is to have a good palette taste is everything in kitchens
What’s your guilty pleasure – food wise, at the end of the long hard shift in the kitchen?
I would have to say ice cream, that’s always been my go to after a hard day. Strange I know but that’s a chef life, we can cook the best of dishes on a service but not be interested to eat the food we cook all day when we finish.
The Ormonde Hotel will be celebrating 20 years this September. Any big plans to celebrate?
There are lots of ideas being explored by our General Manager, Colin Ahern along with Ann Phelan and the team in Sales & Marketing, so hopefully something will be announced in the coming weeks.
It’s a great achievement to be still going strong after 20 years. And it’s a credit to Colin and the management team and all staff members who continue to work hard every day to make sure we will continue for many years to come.