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Forensic attention to detail is bakeryÕs recipe for success

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: {J}

A PhD in chemistry mightn’t seem to be necessary if you want to be a top-class chef, but there are occasions when it gives you a head start.

When Fintan Hyland of the city-based Gourmet Tart Company was unhappy with the quality of the butter croissants being produced in his bakery – despite the fact that they were being made by French pastry chefs to a French recipe – he began a forensic campaign to discover where the fault lay.

“There were croissants everywhere,” says his wife and business partner Michelle.

Fintan placed them by windows and doors, on tables, near radiators, she recalls, so that he could measure the moisture content of each one. Eventually he discovered that the croissants were losing their flaky quality because there is more humidity in Ireland’s atmosphere than in France’s. So he tweaked the French recipe to take account of the Irish climate. The result is a perfect croissant that Fintan is happy with.

It’s that attention to detail that has made the Gourmet Tart Company one of the most successful bakeries in the West, since it was started nine years ago almost by accident by Fintan and Michelle.

There are three Gourmet Tart Company shops in the city, each recognisable due to its distinctive logo and creative window displays. In July the couple expanded the business further by opening a restaurant in Salthill, opposite the Catholic Church.

It was a brave move in these tough times – some might say mad – and entering the restaurant business has been a baptism of fire, says Michelle honestly.

“We know all about food; when it comes to service, we are learning.

“It’s like starting the business from scratch, but the stakes are higher, because we have worked so hard to get to where we were before opening here,” she explains as she sits in the comfortable surrounds of Gourmet Tart restaurant in Salthill.

Still, it was something Fintan wanted to do and she was fully behind him. “He is a great worker and had a great vision and genuinely believes in it,” she says.

Michelle credits his commitment and drive as being the reason for their success to date, but there’s no doubt that her level-headed support has also been a major factor.

He had originally tried to set up a café in Galway after leaving college, she explains, but didn’t have the money to do so. In retrospect that was good, because they have built up so much experience by taking a different route.

When his restaurant dream didn’t work, he got a job in Shannon, working in chemistry. But, while he didn’t mind the science world, “he didn’t love it”, according to his wife. Baking and cooking were what Westmeath-born Fintan had loved since childhood, when he was given the free run of the family kitchen by his parents.

Friends would ask him to go and play football, and he regularly responded that he would . . . when he had finished making a flan.

So, it was no surprise that when he was working in Shannon, Fintan began to bake. He baked in his domestic oven in Limerick every Friday evening, selling the resulting produce in Limerick’s Saturday morning market.

Michelle, a Galway native, who had met him in UCG, where she was studying law, was working in Galway back then. She’d take the bus down to Limerick every Friday evening to help him bring his creations to market and sell them.

They did that for a few months, as an experiment to see if it would work. It did. Fintan gave up his job; they got married and moved back to Galway.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Ruby ready to rock again and Bob is worth a big flutter in Gold Cup

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 06-Mar-2013

New edge to Galway hurling championship title pursuit

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A battle of talent and the ability to pull in public votes

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 11-Mar-2013

Here is a question. And there is no holiday or grand prize for getting the answer. But can anyone name the people who have won The Voice of Ireland and what has become of them?

Over across the water in the UK they have The X Factor and while I hate the concept of it, it has produced a few stars even though they don’t last long in the whole scheme of things.

But The Voice of Ireland seems to generate false excitement with the winner ending up become more anonymous than they already were. And it is costing families a fortune in the process.

While the programme is a ratings winner, strangely, it has resulted in those getting through to the final stages investing huge amounts of money in the hope that they will receive enough votes to get through to the next stages.

So, suddenly, it is not about the voice or the talent involved, it is all about votes and who the participants can convince to pledge their support for them. So it is obvious that talent goes out the window.

It means that someone with half a talent could realistically win the whole thing if they generated enough support behind them. From now on, the judges will be taken out of the equation and it will be left to the public to generate income for some phone operator.

Those who get through to the live performances have to engage in a massive publicity campaign in an effort to win votes which makes this whole effort a pure sham. It is no longer about their ability and just an effort to win appeal.

While the initial process does involve some vetting of the acts, now it becomes a general election type exercise in which the most popular will win the competition and the judges will have no say whatsoever.

It is a bit like the recent Eurosong in which the judging panel across the country voted for their favourite song, which incidentally was the best of a very bad lot, but then this was overturned by the public who chose a relatively crap song to represent us.

But again, this was all down to convincing the public about who to vote for rather than having any bearing on the quality on offer. There are times that genuine talent becomes overlooked because of the need to extract money from the voting public.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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