Paul Bocuse with President Valery Giscard d'Estaing at the Elysee Palace in Paris. In 1975 Bocuse had just received the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur . When I got to Paris years later I found out that there was a lot grumbling about there not being a chef from Paris at the event. This was because the culinary world was changing and most of the innovative chefs had restaurants in the smaller cities. Paul Bocuse is now ninety years old. He was a force in his day
This will only be of interest to hotel people and Dubliners familiar with Clerys around that time or even later.
This is a photo taken when I was a commis chef in Dublin around
‘62/’63. I know it was in the very early sixties because I remember all the big
fellas around the butcher block discussing The Cuban Missile crisis and whether
or not we were going to be blown off the face of the earth by the Russians and
the Cubans. At the time it was a very distinct possibility for us. It was the main topic of conversation for a
few weeks. I don’t really think we
completely grasped the situation in those innocent days. We were so far removed
from it and there was no internet to keep us up to date.
The photo was taken in Clery’s restaurant kitchen in Dublin
City. Clerys was a large department store in the middle of O’Connell Street in Dublin,
founded in 1853, and the restaurant was frequented by both locals and customers
of the store. A lot of people came from what we Dubliners called ‘the country ‘meaning
anyone born outside of Dublin City itself. On sales days it was very busy
because of the customers ‘from the country ‘.
I was about 17 years old and as naïve as could be when I
started there. I had just finished 3 years as a dishwasher / prep cook / potato
peeler /tea maker and general dogs-body to the chefs and cooks and their
assistants in the kitchens of the now closed Jervis St. Hospital.
Jervis Street Hospital kitchen will be another story with a
cast of true Dublin characters straight from the pages of Dubliners by James
Joyce. In fact, I think that many of the people I met there could easily have
been a paradigm for a good short story. From Nelly who was the vegetable prep
person to J.J. who filled the ovens and flat tops with coal a few times a day
and on to Billy Devereux, the clown prince. So many characters come to mind.
Working there was like being in a family.
Sister Olivia was in charge of the food department (the
hospital was run by the Sisters of Mercy) and she would descend from the
convent every night to close everything up. The only problem, if you can call
it that, was that she liked us to say a decade of the rosary on our knees on
the kitchen floor before we left. This was a little too much to ask of a young
lad after a long day’s work, so for the most part we did a vanishing act at 5
to 6. The downside was that after too many vanishing acts the looks got dirty
and you had to show your face and get down on your knees for at least 3 days to
make up for it.
I enjoyed my time spent in Jervis St. Hospital kitchen and
really learned quite a bit, given the lowly position I had. But now I was on my
way to the big time. In order to get any kind of credentials I first I had to
spend at least two years in an established kitchen in order to get the
experience needed to apply to a bigger and better establishment. Clery’s
restaurant was to be that place.
I was sent to Clery’s by the chef of Jervis Street Hospital
to interview with the chef there ; they were friends. That was more or less the
way things were done at the time.
The chef in Clerys was a shortish rotund man with a deep
baritone voice and a skin problem. He presented himself well, was always
dressed in impeccable whites and had an air of authority about him. His bass /
baritone voice alone would have earned him an Oscar in any of todays animated
films. His name was Gerry Doran. He had a beautiful white moustache, which only
added to this sergeant major image that he liked to project, and he was indeed
a good actor. He had the quality of adopting the appropriate body language and
posture to the subject on hand and the natural demeanor of someone used to
being both in the lead and on top of things, even when he wasn’t. To a young
lad like myself he was the Messiah. He was not the first Messiah for me of course;
with each step up the ladder the Messiahs began to get bigger and more
intimidating. Eventually I was able to tell the difference between the phonies
and the real thing but at that age I didn’t. I was impressed with everything
Clery’s was a popular place for shopping and dining in
Dublin at the time. It catered to the lower middle class I believe; a large cut
above Woolworths but not quite on the same level as Brown Thomas on Grafton
Street. There were bargains to be had and sales were held regularly.
It’s exterior was also a great source of romance around 7pm.
If you had a date you would meet the intended under Clery’s clock or at
Nelson’s Pillar, then off to the pictures. Clerys was part of life in Dublin at
The restaurant was usually busy at all times. The food in hotels
and restaurants in the sixties was nothing remarkable. There was plenty of
roast beef, mashed potatoes, peas and Brussel sprouts; the stuff of the
sixties, no imagination and definitely no innovation. To compensate for the
lack of new ideas there was great emphasis on doing things right. Everything
had to be done according to the book. The only problem in Clerys was that no
such book existed.
My place of work would change. In the mornings I would just
do butchery, this was my favorite spot. The atmosphere with the butchers was
fantastic and they took me under their wing and taught me a lot about the cuts
of meat and the breaking down of sides of beef. This would all come in very
handy later on. The camaraderie was
wonderful with lots of commentaries on the all sorts of subjects. In the
afternoons I would be on the service line making omelets and such or on the
grill. I really didn’t know how to do anything. I do remember one day I got an
order for an omelet and the chef was standing beside me. I hadn’t learned yet
how to whip the eggs by just using my arm so I used my whole body. This meant
that the more I beat the eggs the lower my body would go until the chef had to
grab me by the scruff of the neck and pull me back up. That’s how I learned to
During the holiday season there were usually office parties
held by the various big companies in Dublin and a lot of them would be held in
Clery’s ballroom with all the big bands of the day. Dermot O’Brien and the
Clubmen were regulars and sometimes we would have big names like Dickie Rock.
One Sunday morning in the wee hours after a Saturday night function,
around 2 am, when we were all about to leave work some of the crew gathered at
the top of the stairs of the front exit. The Chef, Gerry Doran, was there with
us too.We heard a bit of a commotion
from the floor beneath. It turned out to be a young drunken reveler harassing a
young girl on the floor below. She was crying and obviously in distress.
The chef (Gerry Doran) was dressed in his charcoal fedora
and his dark grey overcoat; he was always impeccably dressed. He decided go down to investigate. From above we could
hear the echo of his booming resonant voice. The young fella, feeling the
presence of an authoritative figure took him for the police, apologized
profusely and promised it would never happen again.He never inquired as to the identity of Gerry
Doran but assumed by his composure that he must be someone in authority. Amazingly
his presence in the guise of a police detective put a stop to the whole thing
immediately. This, after all, was the day of Lugs Branigan, a notorious member
of the Irish police force and the scourge of juvenile delinquents in Dublin
City in the 60’s. He said about three or four words in that deep baritone of
his and it was all over. The young man wormed his way up the stairs and out
into the night. It was just like those old English detective shows on
television in the sixties.
When it was all over I hopped on my bike and cycled home
only to be stopped at O’Keefe’s the knackers by the real police in a squad car
wanting to know what I was doing out at that hour of the night, 2 am. This happened every time I worked late. The
police were always from ‘the country’, they would question me and then let me
be on my way.
We also had our fair share of characters who had their own
names. The grillroom chef was a very jovial and overweight person who was named
‘Billy Bunter ‘, the Italian butcher who, to make sure no one took his tea,
would spit in the cup was called ‘Luigi’ I think. Then there was the arthritic
and incomprehensible old Irish butcher by the name of Ed Hughes. His Clery’s
name was Edward G. Hughes (a reference to Edward G. Robinson) because no one
could understand a word he said.
Gerry Doran’s sous chef was his complete opposite. His name
was Eamon, he had a constant frown in his face and absolutely no presence or
charisma.I think I may have seen him
smile once during my time there. He always seemed to be worried about something
and never spoke except for the business at hand. I don’t think they liked each
other very much. Gerry Doran would make fun of him when his back was turned.
Eamon’s main responsibility was to prepare Mr. Clery’s Irish
Stew. The old man would come into the restaurant every Thursday and his Irish
Stew always had to be there for him. Mr. Clery was also from ‘the country’. Eamon spent the better part of the day
preparing his Irish Stew and great care was taken not to disturb it so it could
rest while awaiting consumption. The old man loved it.
For the most part the work in Clery’s was interesting
enough. This was where I learned a lot of the butchery skills that would come
in handy for the future. As far as real cuisine was concerned it was nothing to
write home about. Meat would be delivered fresh from the supplier almost still
alive, and guaranteed to be as tough as nails. The purchasing was done by some unknown
person who obviously did not have a clue about food. They would not allow the
chef to order the food. This was the time of big kickbacks in hotels between
the chefs and the vendors.
A frequently heard phrase regarding the customers were
concerned wasthat " we would never see
them again". This was meant to prompt the carvers to cut the roast beef as thin
as they possibly could and to cut back on the portions and costs as much as
possible. They were country people who came up on special buses and trains to
do their shopping in Clerys and not be back for quite a while. Even then I
thought this was a terrible way to treat paying customers / guests.
I stayed there for about 2 years I think and look back at
the time fondly. I was sad to see that it had closed and all the workers were
My next step was on to The Gresham hotel which was just up
the street from Clerys and another new adventure started. It is well documented
on this blog. I worked with Paddy Roberts / Pastry Chef and Eamon Cunningham /
Pastry Chef. Paddy Roberts also played for Shamrock Rovers. Eamon’s nephew
became one of my best friends after we met in London 3 years later. It’s a
small world. Our story is on my blog under Noel Cunningham.
Many, many years later I came home to Dublin from abroad
where I had been working for a couple of years.I had a job lined up in Paris but it fell through. I had to look for
something to do in Dublin while I planned my next move. I eventually found
something in a place called the Green Isle Hotel and, lo and behold, who was
working there but Gerry Doran, my chef from years ago. He was not the chef but
he explained to me in his all too familiar rumble of a voice, even after all
those years, that he didn’t want a ‘ big job’ he just wanted something to do.
The chef of the Green Isle Hotel was someone I had worked with in The Gresham
Hotel in the sixties but he did not do me any favors. I think his name was
Aidan and from what I remember he had a bad habit of looking at the floor while
he was talking to you.
The food and atmosphere of the place was really awful. I
stayed one day and realized why I had left the country in the first place.
Food quality in Dublin has greatly improved over the decades
as it has all over the world thanks to people like Paul Bocuse, Roger Verge and
a host of others. Most have passed away or gotten too old but they were the
ones who started what was to become a worldwide awareness and interest in food
presentation and quality.