"Every day is different": A day in the life of Michelin Star chef

We experience a day in the life of L'Ecrivain's Derry Clarke

You'd be forgiven for not expecting much of a man who has his own name as the Wi-Fi password for the restaurant he co-owns.

But Derry Clarke is not an egomaniac, and despite his background in fine dining, he's a man of simple pleasures.

"Every day is different, which I'm lucky to be able to say," he says.

Typically, he begin his day at 7am with a bowl of porridge, he heads to the gym for 8am. He tries to go five days a week, admitting he's consciously trying to lose "at least 5 kilos". (He's partial to a cheat day on Sundays though).

"I wouldn't be able for this job if I didn't [go the gym]," he says. "I'm nearly 60 now, so I can still do it."

When he gets into the restaurant, he'll meet with Tom Doyle - his head-chef and self-confessed "right-hand man". He's been with the L'Ecrivain team for over two years, with Clarke describing him as a "brilliant chef".

"Anyone giving compliments, I always say 'pass them on to Tom'. I can't take credit for it. I did my bit and I do help out with whoever needs it."

 

When he's not chef-ing, Clarke works on Grazerfield - his line of sausages, puddings and rashers with meat supplier Michael Bermingham of M&K Meats. Based out of Greenogue Business Park in Rathcoole, he heads out there around lunchtime.

He gets an hour's respite when he nips home after that ("It's a breather, actually") before trekking to TV3 for his slot on The Six O'Clock Show. He's out of the studio by 7pm, to be back in the restaurant by half 7.

"It's a quiet-ish night tonight, so I will leave early," he says, estimating he'll be home by 10pm. On busier nights, he's often not out until 12am - and in bed by 2am (after a cup of tea).

"We've no manager at the moment, and Sally-Anne [his wife and L'ecrivain's co-owner] is out sick," he says by way of explaining his rigorous schedule.

Friday is the busiest day for dinner orders, explaining that lunch is "tapering off" for the restaurant. He puts the decline down to 'dine-and-dash' culture.

"People are eating out of their hand now," he says. "Companies are now ordering in, and also people are getting more health-conscious - people just want a salad."

He'll do the odd festival appearance, but said if he were to every offer made to him, he'd be permanently on tour - he'd consider it when he retires though.

While Tom is his main man in the kitchen, running L'Ecrivain as a business requires assistance from someone else. Diana - acting as the restaurant's front-of-house and office manage - helps Clarke out with everything, including all of his emails.

"I'm spoiled that way - a lot of people have to do these things themselves," he laughs. "It really takes the pressure off me."

He also hates the word staff ("I'm technically staff"), insisting on referring to L'Ecrivain employees as his team.

"The boss of this place is not me or Sallyanne - it's the business, the building, the customers. They run it, we just react to that," he says.

"I like to think I'm a humble chef. I don't like egos."

Behind the scenes

Image: L'Ecrivain

L'Ecrivain is immaculately laid out and finely detailed - to the point where when Clarke sits down, he immediately notices the table we are sitting at is slightly unsteady, he is irked.

The bar front - a plain wooden facade - is due for a revamp, Clarke tells me, but everything else is as is. A bronze statue of writer Brendan Behan suits ominously in one corner of the bar.

As well as the main part of the restaurant and bar, there are three private dining rooms - one is technologically-equipped for cookery demonstrations. There are three separate kitchens - one for service, one for pastry (all bread is baked on site) and the other Clarke calls the heart-source of the restaurant.

"Everything comes through here," he says, leading downstairs to the significantly less glamorous underbelly of the eatery - all iron pots, Tupperware and trolleys.

When making a booking, Clarke's team registers your details and dietary requirements for future visits. Soft spot for a particular table? Rest assured, that's also noted.

How he got started

Clarke's culinary career began in Kinsale, Co Cork where he worked as a pot washer in the Man Friday for the summer. He moved between establishments, before recognising that he had a self-described flair for cooking and food. He and Sallyanne started off with no money, begging and borrowing to open a small venture down the road from where L'Ecrivain is now on Baggot Street - and are marking 28 years in business this year.

Had he not discovered his knack in the kitchen, however, he says he would have pursued a career in fishing.

He's been involved with other restaurants over the years, but admits now that after 28 years in business, he'd rather one have establishment doing well, as opposed to standards being inconsistent across a chain. However, he wouldn't rule out a new venture in the distant future.

"I'd love to do a casual restaurant - something more family orientated with really simple food," he said. "Never say never!"

Critics? Clarke appreciates a fair critique - the same cannot be said for travel site TripAdvisor. he's critical of the amount of anonymity it affords its users.

"I think it's the worst media forum out there," he says. "I think it's hosts are a disgrace. Anyone can put up whatever they want.

"Newspapers are good because they have to stand over it [a review]. Print media is not fake news - print media can be brought to court and sued. Some gobshite on social media to say whatever and get away with it."

On earning his Michelin star, he gives two answers as to how he did it.

"Put truffles on everything!" he laughs. Ultimately for Clarke and co, it boils down to consistency - if a customer comes in and orders a dish one evening and returns another night for the same dish, both should be delivered to the exact same standard. He also places huge importance on locally sourcing ingredients is also key for him.

"That's how you get a star, and keep a star."

Whether you’re a foodie or just looking to expand your taste buds, Ireland is home to 12 Michelin Star restaurants, each offering fabulous food and the opportunity to create priceless moments and memories. Be sure to tune in to the Moncrieff Show this Friday, April 7th to see who will win a fantastic trip to the culinary capital of San Sebastian, all thanks to Mastercard.

For more priceless dining experiences see: www.priceless.com