Friday 23 June 2017

Stephen Gibson chef and co-owner of Pichet restaurant, Trinty St, Dublin

Stephen Gibson, 37, is chef and co-owner of Pichet restaurant, Trinty St, Dublin. He lives in Crumlin with his wife, Natasha

Stephen Gibson
Stephen Gibson

Emily Hourican

I like to be in work for around 7.30am. My wife, Natasha, and I live in Crumlin, so it's about a 15-minute drive -- generally, I just get up and go. We got married last summer, and there are no kids for the moment, so we don't have that complication.



Sometimes, when I see Denise and Nick [Munier, co-owners] trying to manage the long hours with their three children, it looks damn hard.

In work, the first thing I do is have a cup of tea, then I go through the orders while I have breakfast. I have pretty much all my meals at work, but the great thing about being a chef is you can work 14 to 15 hours in the kitchen and you never feel hungry, and as soon as you stop, you're starving! I walk around the kitchen and make sure everyone knows what the story is for the day. There are 12 chefs altogether, with five of them on in the morning. It's a big kitchen now, but it didn't start out that way. When we first opened Pichet, we were just so happy to find decent premises, that we were prepared to say yes, despite some drawbacks. The day we walked in, Nick asked me, 'Can you work in this kitchen?' I said I could, because I just wanted to start somewhere. We had a very low budget and couldn't make any major changes at that time, so the restaurant just outgrew the kitchen. Then we had to make the commitment and put a proper space in -- or start looking for somewhere else, which would have been the greater of two evils, as where we are now is a great location. And, because we're constantly busy, we were afraid to make a move; there's a bit of X factor in the success of any restaurant, and we didn't want to tamper too much with the formula. So we closed for nine days a few months ago and put in a new kitchen.

The cafe part of Pichet opens at 8am, with coffee, granola, yoghurt and pastries. Around 10.30 or 11am we introduce a range of sandwiches. Everything comes fresh from the kitchen. I like that we're busy right through the day; it keeps the building alive. The restaurant opens at 12, but there's movement from 8 or 9am.

Before Pichet, I was in L'Ecrivain for nine years, but it was always the plan to open my own restaurant. However, for a long time, I didn't know what kind of a place I wanted. My whole career had been in Michelin restaurants, and I presumed that was what I wanted to do. I'm from Donegal and went to college in Killybegs. After that, I worked in France at a Michelin two-star restaurant, then Australia, then back to Dublin, where I worked with Paul Flynn in La Stampa. But I wanted to do the three-star Michelin thing, and he inspired me to try, so I left again, did a year on the QE2, then went to London, where I worked in Nico's in Park Lane. They offered me the job of second chef there when I was 24; I just knew if I took it, that would have been the end of my learning, because I could never have gone back and taken a job below second chef again. So I turned it down and went to Sweden for a couple of years. I didn't become second chef until I was 28. After Sweden I came back to Dublin, met Derry Clarke and went to L'Ecrivain for nine years.

The more I cooked, and the more mature I got, the more I realised I wasn't really into the whole palaver of Michelin anymore. When I went out myself to eat, I no longer wanted to go to these big, fancy restaurants and eat a load of small portions. I wanted really nice, simple food -- a slow-braised piece of meat, or a nice steak. So then I knew that was the direction I wanted to take. I don't put anything on the menu I don't feel excited about eating. I'm not into big, showy-off flavours, mad textures or jellies. But because I've trained in Michelin-starred restaurants, I know how to make something taste good.

That training will come in handy for the Brancott Estate dinner. It's called A Curious Feast For The Senses, and the idea is to create something unusual -- unexpected pairings that the customer thinks initially, 'hmm, that doesn't really go together'. Then, when they taste it, they realise, 'actually, it does'. I'll be doing a starter, main and dessert to match the Brancott Estate wines, with a food demonstration of each dish before the customers eat them. We'll be cooking for 100 people, and there's no kitchen in the Sugar Club, but that's the challenge!

Pichet starts to get busy from 12. Usually, bang on noon, at least one customer walks in looking for a table. We have a lot of regulars, and for lunch we generally do around 75 covers. The lunch deal is €20 for two courses, €25 for three, and it tends to get very busy. In the evenings we turn the coffee shop around and make that into a restaurant.

During the day, when I'm not in the kitchen, I'll pop upstairs to the office, or have a meeting with Nick and Denise. Even the days I'm technically on a half-day, there's always something to be done. The worst thing about being a chef is that, even when the customers go home, you're still there, preparing for the next service. I'm in the kitchen until 11.30 or midnight, generally three days a week. I have a really good team so I can take that bit of time off. And, because I'm one of the owners, I know how hard the hours are, so I try and be as nice as possible with the roster.

Outside work, my main priority is spending time with my wife. Natasha worked in Pichet when we first opened -- that's where we met. She's a pastry chef, so she understands the industry and the way it works. Now, she's started her own business, Petite Sweet, making wedding and special-occasion cakes.

Once a week, we make time and go for a meal together so we can sit down, across from each other, and talk. It's a bit of a busman's holiday, I suppose, but then, it always is! Any holidays I get, I gear them around cities with restaurants I want to check out.

I also love going to gigs. I always go to Electric Picnic, and any other good gigs around town. It's a great way to wind down too. The buzz of being a chef is the pressure, that energy you get after a good night, a big, busy night -- it's amazing. Everybody works together, everybody's on the same vibe, and it's exciting. Winding down afterwards is the hard bit though. When you're young, you go and have a few beers, but when you get a bit older, you try not to do that.

Usually, if I'm not going to a gig, I go home and watch a bit of telly. You can never just go home and fall asleep; you're too wired. I'd be in bed for 1.30am at the latest, then up again at 7.15.

L

A night of intrigue and wonder awaits curious foodies this March as pioneering New Zealand wine brand Brancott Estate will stimulate the senses with a free four-night food and wine event. Cully & Sully will host the event and four top Irish restaurants -- Pichet, Campagne, Tankardstown House and Locks Brasserie -- will create a range of gastronomic delights in front of a live audience. Curious? See www.brancottestatestaycurious.com

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