Meet the chef
An interview by the communications team with club caterer Jason Dunphy as he gives a peek into his thoughts, ideas and insights regarding food and hospitality at Howth Yacht Club...
Q: When did you start cooking?
Jason: I think it was when I was about 19 years old and my first experience as a chef was across the bay in the National Yacht Club where I only stayed a few short weeks before going to 'Floyds' in Glasthule. I spent some time there before going to 'Roly's Bistro' which gave me a taste for how a really busy kitchen is worked and with that experience I then spread my wings, 'chefing' in lots of restaurants in London and Dublin - including 'La Stampa' and 'Cookes Cafe'.
Q: Is it usual for young chefs to move around?
Jason: Yes, pretty much. It's quite common for young chefs to expand their horizons in their early years because the more experience you get in different restaurants the better. It also means that it is difficult to hold on to good young chefs and it's extraordinary how many vacant jobs there are at any one time as a result of this.
Q: What are the qualities that a professional caterer needs to have to run a successful club catering business?
Jason: Well primarily you need lots of patience because there are different expectations from people dining in a club environment. The club is owned by the members, you are dealing with them differently than you would for a passing trade, like a tourist trade. So it's not like you are dealing with people today that you are not going to see tomorrow.
Q: So what is different about how you manage that - feeding the same few people you see all the time?
Jason: You are trying to be creative all the time so you have to keep different foods on the menu, which is difficult because your turnover will be limited, but your are trying to get more variety on the menu because we have to deal with the competition. There are lots of choices of restaurants in Howth for the members.
Q: So what are the challenges for you if you are trying to get more variety out in a club atmosphere as opposed to what the guys can do across the road in the other restaurants?
Jason: Well firstly, staffing will always be challenging because the public-facing restaurants and bars have the opportunity to open 7 days a week, they have an almost infinite market - particularly because of Howth's tourism and passing trade and they can often sell a higher value dish and might also use foods that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to present to HYC members.
Q: Explain what you mean?
Jason: Well a lot of them would prefer to deal with farmed foods and lower value commodity products, like farmed fish, Sea Bass and other produce that I would find it difficult to be offering to discerning club members because I believe that they are looking for something better of better quality than that. There is a considerable demand for quality in the club and we should be providing it at every opportunity.
Q: So where do you find your quality? Where do you get your stuff? Have you preferred suppliers of specialist produce?
Jason: Yes of course. I use organic farmers in Mullingar to buy beef, mainly Dexter and Hereford beef. It's really important to find quality product that is certified and accountable. These products are really good quality. You buy the 'whole beast' so you have more of an opportunity to do things with it.
Q: So do you keep the whole cow in the fridge?!
Jason: We sure do.
Q: What about your other produce, like fish, for instance?
Jason: Well fish is a really important part of our business and it is vital that we reflect the quality and heritage of Howth's indigenous product. We have great fish shops out there so we buy fish from them, you know, we use a couple of different ones so we find out what’s best and what’s good on any one day. We use Beshoff’s, Doran’s, Nicky’s so we can be assured there is always good fish in there. On any day, one of them might have great Ray, or another great Sole etc - so we buy according to what's fresh and good quality on any day.
Q: What makes Howth Yacht Club a good venue for visitors who want to come to the club and have a function?
Jason: Well firstly, the Dining Room is an absolutely fabulous room, you cannot get views like that anywhere else really – it is very very hard to find a room like that for a special function with such spectacular views. Couple that with the feeling that many locals don't notice every day - there's an incredible 'feel good factor' that people get when they drive into Howth - trust me, I get it every time. People get that holiday feeling…., except that I'm coming to work! Everybody gets it, it’s not just me, it’s everybody and it’s probably that many of us see it every day so we don’t appreciate it as much as the visitors, guests and tourists. Howth has a 'wow factor'.
Q: How important is it to you that members bring in and welcome outside functions into the club and what exactly does it mean to you and your team?
Jason: Oh yes, external functions are essential for me to keep a business running and to keep my staff employed. Club catering cannot survive without other functions and it is simply not feasible to provide members with regular catering without it. There wouldn’t be enough coming off the bar on a Friday and Saturday to sustain a business and to provide a living for anyone employed and tasked with delivering a proper catering service. We provide members and visitors with a unique opportunity to come and speak to me personally about something particular they would like me to cook for them for their event. This is an offering that is often difficult or impossible to do in other catering establishments and I would say that our members benefit hugely from this service.
It can be challenging because our time in the kitchen tends to be focussed on the meal ahead and it can be tricky to allocate time when approached without notice, but the beauty of that is you wouldn’t get that in a restaurant, you know that their chefs will give you a menu, some might try work on it with you, but most of the time 'the offer is the offer.'
Q: So you have much more flexibility in terms of what the the member is looking for ?
Jason: Exactly, we will certainly always try to sit down and talk with the member or the people that are holding the event to try to get an idea of what they are looking for and what they expect, before designing a menu for them. So we really need to find out what they want, we have to, because we have a 'don’t say no' policy.
Q: What about your regular dining days, tell us about your schedule?
Jason: In the winter we work Thursday through to Sunday and in the summer time it's now all week long. This is unusual for a club and it's great to be offering it to the members. Also, if it's a sunny day and we are meant to close at six and the bar is packed and there are still orders coming, there is no problem we will stay later if possible.
Q: So flexibility is key?
Jason: Absolutely, it’s no problem if we know members are going to be arriving late we will hang in there, there is no problem - all part of the service!
Jason and his team provide catering in the club every day from 12:30 in the summer and Thursdays to Sundays in winter. Inquiries for private functions should be made through the club offices (01 8322141). Keep an eye out for special events and late-organised barbecues when the weather forecast offers a potential window!