When The Merrion Hotel’s Sous Chef Antoine Danthu invited me to spend a shift in one of the country’s most famous kitchens, I jumped at the chance. With nerves asunder, I approached the hallowed doors of the kitchen as though it was my first day at school. The feelings of unworthiness, intimidation – you name it – disappeared within minutes, as I was embraced into the camaraderie that exists in the busy kitchen.
Unlike most restaurant kitchens, The Merrion serves five menus across the day: the main restaurant, the bar, room service, afternoon tea and functions. With a constant eye to what’s going on in the main hotel, the kitchen is run with military precision; and it has to – the clientele that stay here expect the best.
First things first – breakfast! Although I began the day at 8am and the breakfast service was just starting, junior chef Danny had been there from 4am prepping for the morning. If you are ever ordering breakfast in the Merrion go for the french toast – it looks and tastes divine.
Come 9.45am it was time for the daily kitchen staff briefing. Executive Head Chef Ed Cooney , Mark Staples (Executive Sous Chef) and Liam Krievs (Senior Sous Chef) briefed everyone on what dishes were going to be served throughout the day and reminding everyone what they are meant to be doing.
My first job was to roll prawns in brick pastry and pin it together with a wooden pick. Needless to say this looked a lot easier than it was. They are supposed to be rolled very tightly however my first few (yes only a few) were quite baggy!
The next part of my day was preparing the specials for tasting by the floor staff. This is to ensure all the staff know what dishes are on special, what is in them and what they taste like. The specials were:
Mac & Cheese
Pastry –Paris Brest with vanilla ice cream and strawberry sorbet
I had to taste each dish just to make sure they tasted as good as they looked. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!
It was time to go back to the kitchen where we began to prepare for a private function. I helped Antoine make smoked salmon with chive, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches. Next up was the superfood salads made up of feta cheese, spinach, pomegranate and watercress and pumpkin seeds.
Once that was done, I started on my next job with Antoine which was to create the duck confit terrine. I began to remove all the meat from the confit duck, and once that was done I mixed the duck with salt, gelatine, salt, pepper and capers. After a quick taste it was packed into a terrine tray.
It was time for lunch at this point which I grabbed some mac & cheese, chicken salad and a lovely pastry.
After lunch I arrived back to the kitchen Robbie Nolan (Junior Sous Chef) offered me a beef slider with tomato relish, although stuffed from lunch – how could I refuse?
Antoine took me to another kitchen where we prepared club sandwiches for the private function taking place. Once we did this it was back down to the main kitchen where I watched the pastry chef Sandy from USA prepare some amazing desserts.
Finally Antoine took me back up to the smaller kitchen where we prepared the club sandwiches as it was time to serve Afternoon Tea. This was the part I had been waiting for. Each dessert is inspired by a work of art which puts a really different slant on the whole idea of afternoon tea.
Ed Cooney, Executive Head Chef, took time out of his busy day to have a quick chat with me. He explained how he used to have to import a lot of food from London and Paris but the surge of amazing local produce means that he no longer has to do that.
I asked Ed how he comes up with his recipes for each department. He told me that each has a different concept and its about making dishes that work with in that concept and seasonality. He encourages all the chefs to come up with ideas for dishes which may appear on the specials and if they are popular they will bank the recipe for future service.
With tired feet, and a new found respect for the work and dedication that goes into creating the menus in The Merrion I finished my shift, but not without letting everyone know that I am available for any shift they want to give me – what an amazing experience.