In our latest of the How To Become A Chef – Advice From The Pros series we speak to Barry Liscombe from Harte’s Bar and Restaurant in Kildare. He has tonnes of experience and has been a head chef in a sister venue of Harte’s before moving to Harte’s. Read all about his journey below and see how he’s become the great chef he is today.
HOW TO BECOME A CHEF – BARRY LISCOMBE
Barry Liscombe is one of our Executive Chefs cooking at Web Summit and Food Summit with Good Food Ireland, currently taking place in Dublin
WHO I AM
Barry Liscombe, Executive Chef of Hartes Bar and Restaurant Kildare. I have been with the company six years. I moved here from another pub restaurant in the group, the Dew Drop Inn, where I was Head Chef.
THE NITTY GRITTY
What type of training did you have?
I first learned with my Dad who is also a chef. I worked with him in his Italian restaurant in Maynooth from when I was 15 years of age, working after school and in school holidays. I am basically self taught, I bought myself a copy of Larousse Gastronomique years ago and never looked back.
What were the challenges along the way
One of the biggest challenges has been trying to push forward with the local food message. Making sure customers understand what they are getting – we are very strong on that at Hartes. On a personal note, like all chefs, balancing family life with work is tough. Like any craft, cheffing requires lots of hours and I don’t begrudge working them, I love my job. But I have kids and a wife at home and I don’t see them as much as I’d want to, so that’s one of the toughest parts. I’ll add to that by saying that finding dedicated staff with the same work ethic as me makes the job worth putting in so many hours – because I don’t want to be in a kitchen working with people who don’t care about the job like I do, when I could be at home with my wife and kids.
Were their any major positives or crucial turning points in your career to becoming the chef you are?
My huge turning point was a negative that turned into a positive in my first kitchen job. I was 21 and it was my first proper job away from working with my Dad. I didn’t get on very well and it really put me off. I thought ‘if this is what it’s like working in other kitchens, I don’t want to be a chef’ – the atmosphere and work ethic was all wrong and I gave up my efforts to become a chef for four months. Then I found myself watching cookery programmes and reading cookery books and I really missed cooking. I thought there must be places to work that are good, with people who really want to cook. I started working at Rubicon, a restaurant in Dublin. The chefs were amazing with a brilliant mind set. They really made me believe I could do it and gave me my inspiration back. It was a huge turning point in developing into a chef. I fell in love with the industry in that restaurant. I moved on from there to become Head Chef at the Dew Drop Inn in Kill aged 25. At Hartes, I have fantastic team, all of my chefs have quit non chef jobs to become chefs and they are enthusiastic and work hard every day. They’re brilliant.
Which people influence your cooking?
There are four Head Chefs who influence my cooking. Firstly my Dad, he taught me all the basics – his ethics and cooking etiquette, everything. I love Neven Maguire and Ross Lewis, I think they are amazing men who have dedicated themselves to working at the highest levels. Also Marco Pierre White – I really like the things he does in his kitchens. I must also mention Darina Allen, who works hard to promote local produce and that has had a huge influence on me and the industry in general.
Which food styles/trends interest you or influence your cooking as a professional chef?
Trends are the nature of the beast that is cooking – they come and go! There will always be a new thing! I try to copy the fundamentals of my grandmother’s food – I want to stir those kinds of deep memories when someone eats a dish I have cooked. Things used to be very linear in food, new dishes are more natural looking. And the ingredients are key. What I feel we need to do is display more interest in where the food actually comes from – its a message we are very determined to get across at Harte’s and why we are part of Good Food Ireland. We know we are not on our own. There are others like us in the network. Cooking with local produce and sourcing smaller suppliers is a lifestyle and professional choice and the way toward a sustainable Ireland which is proud of its food culture.
Why do you love your job as a professional chef?
I love my job because I am a hands on person. I’m left handed, not academic but more creative. I also love music and art and either one of those could have been a career choice for me when I was very young. I play the guitar at home. For me, cooking just brings together a whole set of senses – touch, sight, smell, taste, – it ticks all the boxes and it was something I could do naturally. Creating good food makes me excited to go to work.
What’s the worst thing about your role as a professional chef?
Discovering people who don’t care about what we are doing here. It really hurts physically when customers don’t ‘get’ our concept – it can be soul destroying when you’ve spent three days making a perfect Cassoulet, balancing all the flavours, just for someone to say ‘ but that’s just like Heinz Baked beans!’ You wouldn’t believe it but it does happen! I feel we are still slightly backward in Ireland when it comes to appreciating the effort chefs make – not like in some parts of Europe especially, where chefs are revered for their commitment and skills.
Describe a typical day in the kitchen
I always start early. The lads come in first and get the stocks strained – we usually make those the previous night before we go home – and we get the sourdough on to bake, it proves overnight. Lunch chefs then arrive to do prep and get ready for lunch where we could do 50-80 covers day during the week. . I like to have music on when we are prepping, it just makes for a fun atmosphere to work in and motivates people! We start with the evening prep around 5pm. But at 4pm, we all sit down to have a meal together. It’s really important because firstly it gets us raring to go for the evening when we have something proper and wholesome to eat, but also it’s a time we can talk and share ideas – sharing a meal together used to be a very traditional thing in the big kitchens back in the day, and it’s something we started doing here at Hartes. I find it essential to the proper function of the day and a key time to connect with my team.
What are your strong points?
I am extremely driven to inspire and encourage my staff to love food, to enjoy preparing it. My strongest point is my ability to break down these ingredients – to match them and balance the flavours. That’s one of the most satisfying apects of cooking.
Any early cookery disasters on the journey to becoming a chef?
The biggest disaster ever was on my first day in one of my first jobs. I had to peel a big pot of potates. I spilled the water onto the fridge meter and it shorted out the entire kitchen – it was shut down for three days. That was within an hour of me walking in the door…
Would you change anything about your journey so far?
I wish I had taken myself more seriously when I was younger, and had more confidence in my abilities. It’s really important to believe in yourself in this job and I could have done that a bit better when I was a younger chef.
Who does the cooking at home?
Well my wife Faye hates cooking! So I do 80% of it which I don’t mind at all! I spend some of my day off every week getting meals prepared for home for the week. It’s so much easier for me to do it when I know what I am doing and I can do it quickly and efficiently. While Faye makes all the tea. She makes great tea!
Any advice for anyone who wants to become a professional chef?
Pay absolutely no attention to the long hours/bad pay reputation this business has. Invest time in your future. Don’t listen to negatives if you love cooking. The harder you work the more you will learn and it will pay off. Apply yourself fully to the job and go after what you want. Follow your heart.
What’s your favourite recipe/most tricky recipe
Recipe wise I love making Cassoulets. They take a long time to cook and it’s a great buzz to know how it will turn out at the end – it’s always different! I also love making the cured salmon we do here at Harte’s. I love cutting through it when it’s ready and the moment when you try it and you know you’ve got it right.
Read more advice and insights on how the best chefs in Ireland became chefs right here – How To Become A Chef. Learn from their stories and find out if you’re cut out for it!
Don’t forget to check out our fun infographic on The Journey To Becoming A Chef