Life Table Talk

Saturday 23 August 2014

A day in the life of chef Richard Corrigan

Richard Corrigan (50) is a chef and restaurateur. Born in Ballivor, Co Meath, he now 
lives in Muswell Hill, London, with his wife, Marie and their three children.

Ciara Dwyer

Published 06/07/2014 | 00:00

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Richard Corrigan. Photo: John Carey

I get up at eight. I listen to 
Marty Whelan on lyric fm. 
His funny sketches roll me over with laughter. You need someone to cheer you up in the morning. I have a cup of coffee.

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My wife, Marie, usually leaves the house before me, but, on rare occasions, we'll sit down for oatmeal together. She's Irish, but I met her in the Netherlands.

She works in family therapy and she has a Master's in Law. She's an incredible grafter. We live in Muswell Hill, north London, and our three children are away.

At nine, I jump on the scooter. It's an amazing way to get around London. I hate being stuck in traffic. With the Vespa, I arrive into work really fresh. First stop is Bentley's, a wild-seafood restaurant that I own in Piccadilly. It's been mine for 10 years and, 20 years 
ago, I was the head chef there. The minute I get in, I talk about the oyster deliveries.

All of our fish comes from the trawlers. If I'm not happy with it, I return it. I want the best of the best. Then I head to the bakery and talk to 
my baking team. As I taste the brioche, I'll talk to the kitchen team and throw them a few test ideas. The more artistic side of my temperament is at work in the kitchen.

After that, I meet the management team. I like to say a quick 'good morning', look people in the eye and shake hands. If something is upsetting me from the day before, we talk about that. I am very straight-up, but we always end up with a nice sense of humour floating around the place. I don't think people work well when 
they are scared. In my company, everyone matters.

Then I'll jump on the bike and 
go to Corrigan's in Mayfair. It has 
a brisk lunch service, and I'll be in the kitchen, on the pass. By two o'clock, it's over and then I might discuss the specials for that night with the chef. 
We have Bentley's in Harrods, too, 
and I go around there at least twice a week. It has such a simple menu - fresh fish, grilled.

I normally have lunch with my staff. We pride ourselves on the good food we give to them. I have worked in kitchens in very-fine-dining restaurants, and the better the restaurant, the worse the staff food. When I was a young chef, I saw workers bring in food from Burger King and McDonald's because they had nothing to eat. I swore that, if I ever became a chef proprietor, I would set a standard for staff food.

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They might whinge about me being a tough son-of-a-bitch, but, by God, the staff food will be excellent. I try my damnedest to look after people.

In London, a lot of people use certain websites to get loans until their next 
pay day, but they are charged huge interest. We encourage staff not to go near them. If they are short of a couple of hundred pounds, we will give them an interest-free loan. I do this because 
I remember having no money when I 
first came to London. I used to get on the Tube and jump the ticket box at 
the end because I didn't have enough money to get to work.

Having very little can cause huge stress. When you don't have access 
to £10 in your pocket to get home, 
it is a terrible experience in a place 
like London, and I'll never, ever 
forget it.

In the evenings, I head back to Bentley's or Corrigan's. Some nights, 
I might leave there at a quarter to 12, 
and then, the other night, I was there until a quarter to four in the morning, talking to a chap from Dublin about Behan and Beckett.

When Ireland was in a very bad place, there was a big hedge-fund meeting in one of my restaurants. I was passionately upset that these guys would bankrupt Ireland, and I thought I had a chance. I walked into them and said, 'Leave my country alone you, fuckers'. They all started laughing, and then we had a big discussion. Politics, food ethics, farm ethics, standards of service 
and standards of looking after your fellow human beings - all of these are interlinked when you have a responsible position in society.

Maybe we won't make that much of a difference, but, if everyone does a little bit for their fellow man - just give something back, and don't be cruel.

I got my generosity of spirit from my mother. She is from Connemara, and people there are generous to a fault. They never turn anyone away. Just because you have a restaurant in Mayfair, and have reached the pinnacle of what you've wanted to reach, it doesn't mean you become an asshole food snob.

I usually talk to my dear, dear wife about three times during the day. I don't know how she puts up with me. I really don't. Being driven is a horrible curse. I bought the Virginia Park Lodge hotel in Cavan and, right now, we're going through the whole estate and renewing everything.

I usually see Marie over the weekend. We make a habit of having dinner in 
one of the restaurants at least once a week. Sometimes, she books tickets for us to go to the theatre. I'm always reading. The boss of Bloomsbury Publishing dropped me in two books about the Spanish Civil War.

I can't go to bed at night until 1.30am. When I haven't resolved problems during the day, ideas always come 
to me at night. I have a lovely old, 
hand-built, hi-fi system at home and 
I've great headphones.

I sit down, sometimes with a glass of wine, and listen to an album. I love Leonard Cohen. Then, when I'm relaxed, I'll go to bed.

Richard Corrigan is appearing at the Hay Festival Kells, Co Meath, today at 3.30pm as part of the Food Village discussion - 'Organics: The Future'. 
He will be speaking from the 
Boyne Valley Stage. For tickets, 
see www.hayfestival.com/kells

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