Saturday 25 November 2017

Food cultures come together to create synergy at the Olde Post

The Olde Post Inn is an every day celebration of Cavan's rich food culture and a testament to what local businesses can do when they work together

Award-winning chef Gearoid Lynch at The Olde Post Inn in Cloverhill, Co Cavan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Award-winning chef Gearoid Lynch at The Olde Post Inn in Cloverhill, Co Cavan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

Gearoid Lynch has worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens around the globe - from Thornton's and Le Coq Hardi in Dublin, to Pied a Terre in London and Lea Linster in Luxembourg - but bringing his fine dining skills back home to Cavan has been his ultimate dream come true.

"I always wanted to cook. From an early age I was watching my mother cooking stews and baking apple pies and it was always in me," Gearoid explains. "The ingredients always came from the garden or the farm, the milk, the meat, everything was in-house. After school I applied to study with to be a chef, but I didn't get in the first year, so I went off to be a plumber for a few months, which I was very bad at. So thankfully then I got in the second time."

"In 2000, I won the won the Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year and I came back to Cavan. I opened up my first restaurant in 2001 in Cavan town," Gearoid adds. "I had a partner in that at the time and it was hard; number one I had no money, I had a lease on the restaurant and then had to take on six or seven staff and I was just hoping I had enough to pay them. It was also hard to get people into good food at the time. It really only caught on when I got the opportunity to get out into the countryside and start up here because people who are into good food will travel. I think that good food and the countryside really go together."

In 2002, Gearoid and his wife Tara opened their restaurant The Olde Post Inn, which is housed in an old post office built in 1884 in Cloverhill Co Cavan.

"When you are doing fine dining in the countryside it has to be for the love, because you are not going doing it for the money, that's for sure," Gearoid smiles. "If you can get yourself a living and a wage out of it, that's all you want. I think where some places slip up is when they start cutting back on staff and say 'well I don't need an extra chef' or whatever it might be, but I believe that you have to put your staff first and if you make money then afterwards that is a bonus.

"The building had already been converted into a restaurant, but we did significant refurbishments before opening and every year or second year, we have done further phases of work to the bedrooms and the kitchens and the biggest thing probably was when we put on Hampton conservatories onto the front of the building and the back," Gearoid adds.

"In total we have nearly spent €1.2m on the restaurant over the last few years, so it has to be a love. We have great loyalty and support in our customers. People keep coming back. And we always put money back into the restaurant, we never stop developing it."

Over the last 13 years in business, Gearoid and Tara have developed a clockwork-like working dynamic while simultaneously juggling the parental responsibilities of their four small children Órán, Lorcan, Emma and Eoin.

"Tara does the front of house and I do the kitchen," Gearoid says. "We have great staff as well, who are very loyal and passionate. If you take the likes of Garret Galligan, who is in the kitchen with me for the last 13 years or our pastry chef Brid Teevan, who has been with us for the last ten years and like them there are so many others on our team who have been with us since the very beginning. We are very lucky."

"Even through the recession I think one of the most important things was that we didn't cut our staff, we didn't cut back on ingredients, we didn't try to go cheaper at all and we didn't cut the price of our menu," Gearoid adds. "I think if we had cut the price, we could never have brought it back up again and we wouldn't have been doing ourselves justice. Something would have had to give. So we held on very tight and we were hounded to cut this and that, but Irish food isn't cheap."

Geography has also aided The Olde Post's success.

"I think the secret to what we do is that we are in a really good location," Gearoid explains. "We are on the border of Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh, so we have those three counties and then we have the catchment area of foodie Dublin, Belfast and Galway who come in to us too."

But the real key to The Olde Post's sterling reputation, Gearoid believes, is their boundless access to top quality local ingredients.

"The ingredients we have on our doorstep in Cavan are just amazing. Some people say 'Oh you are paying too much for that,' but if I buy Felix Cropp's lamb for example and it is €8 or €9 a kilo and you could get the more commercial lamb from somewhere else for €6 or €7, that's not a question for me; I mean Felix Cropp's lamb has a story and a flavour. I know how it has been looked after so I am very confident in the product and it has got a small carbon footprint too.

"The majority of our produce in The Olde Post Inn is sourced from within a 10 mile radius of the restaurant," Gearoid adds. "I like to leave ingredients as close to their natural disposition as possible to ensure an honest encounter between producer, chef and guest. It's important for me that our menus are naturally rich with produce from the county and that we make the best of all that is seasonally available to bring dishes that burst with flavour and originality."

Gearoid is not just passionate about championing local produce, however, he also firmly believes in creating symbiotic working relationships with other local businesses.

"Whether it is where you are getting your lamb or who you might get in to paint the restaurant, you have to give back to the surrounding community all of the time in a place like Cloverhill, and everyone helps one another out," he adds.

Three years ago Gearoid was diagnosed with Coeliac disease, which prompted his exploration of gluten-free cooking. Gearoid has now written a book on the topic, My Gluten-free Kitchen published by Gill Books.

"I am the first chef and restaurateur to do a gluten-free cookbook in Ireland or the UK, so there has been a big response," Gearoid says. "I have recently bought a little house in Cloverhill also, which I am after totally gutting and doing up as my YouTube studio, dedicated to our online cookery videos for our own YouTube channel. So it is a very busy time and there are lots of great things happening for us."

From the very early days, Gearoid has had a very straight-forward approach to the finance side of the business.

"Basically when I came home I went to the bank and that was it. We never got any other help," he explains. "Probably the biggest thing that has kept a lot of restaurants afloat, I think has been the 9pc VAT rate being kept. I think the government has seen how important that has been for businesses.

"In business you just have to keep things simple; our motto has always been that once you pay your mortgage and your suppliers and your staff those were the three most important things and if you had some left over, then that's all well and good. It has always been a thing we've kept a good eye on. So that would be the piece of advice we have adhered to very closely, that and 'always open up your letters'," Gearoid laughs.

Gearoid has been a key figure in the development of Taste of Cavan, an annual food event which showcases the produce his home county has to offer. Taste of Cavan has become hugely popular over the last four years and will take place this August 12 and 13 at the Cavan Equestrian Centre. Last year's Taste of Cavan attracted almost 40,000 food lovers from across Ireland with hundred of stalls and demonstrations from Gearoid, alongside his fellow Cavan chefs Neven Maguire and Shane Smith.

"Cavan has so much to offer and the popularity of Taste of Cavan and how the numbers have grown year-on-year is a testament of that. It is wonderful to see and this year hopefully will be even bigger than ever," Gearoid says. or call (047) 55555/55266

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