22 February by Eleanor McGillie
Northern Ireland is building on its reputation as being a foodie destination. Live It Experience It takes Time Out with a chef who really is providing a unique dining experience in Northern Ireland. Robert Curley of the Slemish Market Supper Club talks about his love for food, his homely beginnings cooking with his mum and his journey to Slemish country.
Q: What is your name?
A: Robert Curley
Q: Why did you decide to become a chef?
A: I have always been fascinated by food. I love everything about it. I have a great mother who cooked homely meals and I was always asking her how she made the dishes and why she used ingredients. I was always helping her out and it just came from there. I got a job in a kitchen when I was at school and got the bug. I then went to catering college in DIT Cathal Brugha St Dublin to train in professional cookery.
Q: What was your first ever chefs job?
A: My first ever chefs job was working in Finnstown House Hotel, Lucan, Co Dublin. I used to go there straight from school. It was a great place to learn proper cooking . I started at the bottom doing the basic jobs like vegetable prep, starters and desserts and used that time to learn from the Head Chef.
Q: What is your first food memory?
A: My first food memory is of picking and podding peas with my granny from her garden. She then cooked them in a little butter and fresh mint – the flavours I can still taste now.
Q: Do your early food memories influence your cooking techniques today?
A: Yes of course. You remember your food memories from growing up with all the tastes and smells of different foods. I sometimes recreate those foods but more up to date and in a more refined way.
Q: Who is your chef role model?
A: My chef role models are plenty from Derry Clarke L”Ecrivan Dublin (1 star) to Eneko AxtaAzzurmendiBilbao (2 star). I like lots of chefs doing wonderful things with food.
Q: How many hours per week do you work?
A: When I do a supper club it would be 50-60 +hours to get everything done. It is a lot of work but I love it.
Q: Tell us about the Slemish Market Supper Club?
A: We are a pop up restaurant based in Ballymena in Co Antrim and we travel around taking over venues. We serve a six course bespoke menu cooked in fun creative ways using produce from Slemish Market Garden and the Glens of Antrim.
Q: Did you have a club over the Christmas period?
A: Yes we had our Christmas Slemish Market Supper Club in Pattons Bar in Cloughmills. It was a great success of fine food, fun and festivities. We also had a very special Valentine’s Club earlier this month which again was well attended and the feedback from the supper club goers was fantastic.
Q: You team up with Chef Gorka Arietta a lot? Tell us about that collaboration.
A: Yes we have done a few collaborations together. It’s great to get a different perspective on food and we learn new and old techniques from each other. Gorka is a great chef and we are quite similar in our outlook on food. We are competing in the Small Plates/Pintxos Expo in Vitoria Gasteiz Basque region of Spain next month (March 2018). It will be great for us to compete at this prestigious competition against some of Spain’s finest chefs. Wish us luck!
Q: You have a special relationship with the Slemish Market Garden – a story which gained great coverage in the media. Tell us about this.
A: Yes we work very closely with Slemish Market Garden. They supply us with great fruit, vegetables and eggs. At the start of each season we sit down and discuss what to plant for the supper club. They have wonderful produce. We have a great relationship with them.
Q: What is your message to young people considering a career as a chef?
A: Learn as much as you can, read everything, ask questions, write things down, save your money and eat in restaurants. Show up to work early and offer to leave late, come in to work on your day off just to learn how to make pastry or hone your butcher skills, taste everything you can, over and over and ask the chef so many questions he gets annoyed!
Slemish Market Supper Club is a Live It Experience It Member.
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