'He's a great guy, a sound fella but an awful businessman'
Published 27/02/2012 | 05:00
THERE is no doubting Conrad Gallagher's culinary genius but his business acumen has regularly landed him in hot water.
His dining guests have included US presidents, stars of stage and screen, and rock icons -- Bill Clinton had him brought to the White House in 1996 to cook a St Patrick's Day dinner.
On the other side of his life, he has fought off the sexual advances of a Christian Brother, battled cancer and survived life in one of New York's toughest prisons.
But he still has plenty of friends in his native Donegal.
"He's actually a sound fella. I know people like to portray him differently but I just think he's a great guy and a fantastic cook but he is a terrible, awful businessman," one friend said.
Trained at the Killybegs Catering College, Mr Gallagher left Ireland behind to further his culinary education, landing jobs in some of New York's best restaurants, including the Waldorf Astoria and Trump Plaza.
His own restaurants would follow in his native Letterkenny as well as in Dublin, landing a coveted Michelin star aged just 26 as critics lined up to praise him. "Pure, undiluted genius," one wrote.
Peacock Alley was his most famous, but it crumbled with the rest of his six-restaurant empire by 2000.
Mr Gallagher then headed for London to reinvent himself and his career but it was a short-lived venture, despite Mr Clinton being among his first guests.
Within months, his Conrad Gallagher restaurant on the prestigious Shaftesbury Avenue, backed by Mean Fiddler Group boss Vince Power, was closed.
Mr Power never explained why, but he did say: "If he ever sets foot in England again, I will bankrupt him."
One out-of-pocket supplier in London said at the time: "He is without doubt the worst person I have ever dealt with."
The Peacock Alley venture came back to haunt him as his former landlords pursued him for three paintings they claimed Mr Gallagher had stolen.
In April 2003, he was arrested in New York on the foot of a warrant issued by the Irish authorities and spent six weeks in the tough Brooklyn Detention Centre.
On his return to Dublin, he was acquitted of theft charges.
Mr Gallagher bounced back again, this time in South Africa. But the same old story followed -- more debts and an auction to pay off his creditors. He would leave Cape Town under a cloud, heading for Ireland in 2009.
Two-and-a-half years later, and with a string of more debts behind him, he's now working as a consultant for five-star hotels around the world.
As a close friend said yesterday: "On TV or as a consultant, I'd back him all the way. But I'd never give him a cent towards his own restaurant business."