Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets women who are to fore of food service industry in Galway
Michelle Crehan has a stack of cookbooks by her bed. She reads them like other people read novels and all the time she’s absorbing ideas and information that she will later put to good use in her restaurant, the Kitchen at Galway City Museum.
But life wasn’t always thus for the mother of three. Michelle came to cheffing relatively late in life, having previously trained in journalism, a career she worked at for several years in Ireland and Australia. Her CV also includes a spell teaching English in Japan and a brief period as a private investigator – better not to dwell on that, she laughs. She also studied film in GMIT and worked at that briefly.
For nearly three years now, she has been chef-patron of one of the city’s most popular restaurants, located to the rear of the Spanish Arch, where the savoury food – Mediterranean in style, but local in ingredients – caters for vegetarians and carnivores, while the cakes and breads are sublime.
Michelle’s career change began when husband Mark, a site foreman, lost his job in the early days of the recession and she had to reassess her options. She had been focusing on rearing their three children, but with Mark out of work, she decided she’d have to start earning money. However, freelance journalism or films weren’t going to pay the bills, so she looked elsewhere.
Michelle had always loved cooking and baking, but as a hobby. Then, at around the same time as she was exploring new career options, her sister-in-law Noeline Kavanagh, who runs Macnas Theatre Company, inveigled her into catering for a post-parade party when the designated caterer let them down.
“I gave it a go and I got great feedback,” she says.
That led Michelle to seriously consider a career in food and at the age of 39 she successfully applied to GMIT for the college’s Total Immersion one-year cheffing course.
At the interview stage, this straight-talking woman told the panel that she’d had a bit of experience in the Clybaun Hotel – owned by her father, the property developer Chris Crehan – but, otherwise she was just a keen amateur.
Despite her reservations, she was accepted and started just as she turned 40.
“From day one, when I went in and put on the chef’s whites I knew I’d made the right decision. I had the knowledge about food but GMIT taught me the skills.”
It was a tough year, but her mother was a great help with the children – and continues to be.
Michelle graduated three years ago and got a job baking in the restaurant at Galway Museum. Shortly afterwards an opportunity came up to rent the space. But she had to make up her mind immediately.
She knew Aoife Qualter, who worked front-of-house there and was a fan of hers. Once Aoife was happy to stay on, Michelle committed. Also from Galway, Aoife had previously worked as a restaurant supervisor in the Hotel Meyrick. She’d then went travelling, returning home three years ago to see her parents. She fully intended leaving again after a summer at home, when she worked in the Museum restaurant under the previous management. But when Michelle approached her, Aoife opted to stay on.
“I wouldn’t have done it without her. She has way more experience than me,” Michelle says simply.
The two work together really well. They share a wicked sense of humour and during the interview, they finish each other’s sentences. However, despite their bond, leasing the Museum restaurant was a huge risk. No previous tenant had managed to make it work and Michelle was taking it on in very tough times.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
Helping shoppers move on from plastic
In the three weeks since The Filling Station Eco Store opened its door on Abbeygate Street in Galway City, this shop’s mission to rid our cupboards of single-use plastics has caught the imagination of people far and wide.
Opened by John Tedders, a farmer from Shrule, and his children Keeva, Jonathan and Jess, The Filling Station is no ordinary shop. The outside of this small unit that once housed an XL convenience store has been transformed with bright colours and, through the window, you see an image of a grocer’s store that might look at home in 1960s Ireland.
But the thought process behind this shop is very much of today’s world, where the wasteful use of plastic is dominating our collective consciousness – and images of floating islands of the stuff in our oceans etch on our minds the impact it’s having.
While it’s nigh on impossible to avoid plastic in supermarket aisles, John has made it easy. He buys everything in bulk – from organic and local suppliers where possible – and customers bring in their own reusable containers to fill up.
Your container is weighed while empty, before you fill it to your heart’s content. Then it’s weighed again and you only pay for its contents – with everything priced per kilo or per millilitre. Unsurprisingly, that means savings for customers, something we’ll come back to later.
Setting up a shop like this had been a long-term ambition for John and one he finally realised this year when the unit, on the corner of Abbeygate Street and Market Street, came up for lease.
For full story see this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Savouring food success at the Halla Bia
The city enjoyed the sweet taste of success over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend as the Galway Food Festival attracted an estimated 80,000 visitors – a record for the annual event in this its sixth year.
Visitors enjoyed the many in-house tasting events, food tours and talks, the open-air market at Fishmarket Square, and Breaking Bread on Easter Monday.
Halla Bia at the former Connacht Tribune Print Works was Galway’s first temporary indoor food hall, where almost 30 indigenous food producers from along the Wild Atlantic Way showcased their produce.
It was a huge hit with foodies and, according to organisers, has reignited the debate around the need for a permanent indoor market in the city.
Festival organiser and owner of Builín Blasta Café and Bakery in Spiddal, Heather Flaherty, said: “Halla Bia opened a dialogue among traders, the public and the City Council about the importance of a permanent indoor market for Galway.
“The support from all parties indicates that the drive and desire is there for a permanent space to showcase and highlight the fabulous products and producers in Galway City and County. A permanent indoor market would give small businesses a great place to start and grow their business and would contribute hugely to Galway’s already thriving food industry.”
Breda Fox, Head of Local Enterprise Office Galway, sponsors of the indoor market, said: “The Food Hall was an essential element of the festival for small producers. It allows small producers to showcase their range and quality of food and meet with customers including locals and visitors on a busy bank holiday weekend.”
Businesses around the city also confirmed a bumper weekend of sales resulting from the thousands of visitors who flocked into Galway to avail of the 100 food-based events celebrating food and the community during the five-day festival.
Another festival hit that attracted huge crowds was Breaking Bread on Easter Monday. Several community groups living in Galway prepared and shared their traditional and modern dishes with up to 9,000 visitors who got to taste dishes from around the world.
The ethnic groups showcasing their delicacies included the Indian, Malaysian, Lithuanian, Traveller, Mexican, Nigerian, Polish, Ghanaian, Japanese and French communities.
It also included members from One World Tapestry Group, as well as asylum seekers who are residents of the city’s two Direct Provision centres, the Great Western at Eyre Square and Eglinton House in Salthill.
Ms Flaherty said: “Breaking Bread brought over 14 different cultural communities together in one place to share their food and their stories, and the variety and diversity at the event was staggering. Galway is a melting pot of different communities and it is time to embrace them, welcome them and learn about their culture and their food.
“It was an event that opened doors and hearts, inspired new projects and collaborations and highlighted the importance that food has in bringing people together.”
Gary McMahon from Galway City Council, the main sponsor, said: “Now a five-day event, we have a spectacular and sustainable festival celebrating our gastronomy, our hospitality and our sense of fun and congeniality that engages both residents and visitors to the city.
“Galway City Council looks forward to next year when, as part of our designation as European Region of Gastronomy 2018, we will build on this year’s great success and visibility for everything foodie in the city of Galway in partnership with Galway Food Festival.”
Galway Food Festival 2017 was the first official outing and major public awareness campaign since Galway, West of Ireland was designated a European Regions of Gastronomy for 2018.
Alan Farrell, Senior Executive Officer with Galway County Council and one of the drivers of the ERG said: “The weekend was a phenomenal success and an excellent example of how a strong partnership and cooperative working can have a huge impact. ERG is about all of us, it needs buy-in from all members of the community in order for it to reach its potential and if last weekend is anything to go by, that is there in abundance.”
Win tickets to exclusive Jameson craft event at the Connacht Tribune
For your chance to win tickets to #JamesonCraftSeries event in Galway on March 4th and one of the bespoke Molloy and Sons tweed blankets created especially for the event and inspired by the colour, beauty and quality of Jameson Black Barrel. Celebrating those who believe in craft, tradition and making something that lasts. Answer the below question:
The unmistakably smooth taste of Jameson Black Barrel would not be achieved without the hand-crafted flamed charred black barrels that it is matured in.
Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 5.00 pm on Monday 2nd March 2015
Follow the journey of Molly and Sons on apps.facebook.com/JamesonBlackBarrel/ All entrants must be over 18. (Enjoy Jameson sensibly, visit DrinkAware.ie)