Sunday 17 December 2017

Waking hours with Kevin Arundel of The Chop House

Kevin Arundel (46) is chef-owner of The Chop House, a gastropub in Ballsbridge, which he opened five years ago. Born in Ballinspittle, Co Cork, he lives in Ballsbridge with his wife, Jillian, who is a partner in the business, and their children, Millie (7) and Charlie (6)

Kevin Arundel has been in business at The Chop House for five years. Photo: Tony Gavin
Kevin Arundel has been in business at The Chop House for five years. Photo: Tony Gavin

Ciara Dwyer

My wife Jillian is the first to get up in the house. She's up at 7am, and then I get up 15 minutes later. By that stage, the kids are starting to run around. They are six and seven, Irish twins. They are great fun. By the time I go downstairs, the dog is looking at me, waiting at the front door. I walk up to work with him - I live 300 yards away from The Chop House.

I tie up the dog outside and then I meet Mary-Pat, the baker, and make sure that she's happy. She starts at 6.30am. I see what sort of bread she is going to make and her special dessert for the day.

Then, I go to the Eurospar next door. I get a coffee and read the papers for 10 minutes to see what's going on in the big, bad world. I don't really read the horrible stuff. We're only here for a short time and I'm trying to look after my family and friends, so I don't really want to get involved in other people's hardship. I read the business and sport. Rugby is my sport and I'm a Munster fan. You can imagine the fun we have here, with The Chop House being so close to the Aviva. When the Leinster boys are playing, I wear a red jacket and my Munster top underneath, just to wind them up. A few years ago, we lost five in a row. They used to come in doing high-fives with me, but at least that has stopped for a while.

For breakfast, I'll have a couple of slices of turkey. I cut out bread and pasta last year and I lost a stone in eight months. It can be an unhealthy business. Between 8am and 10am, the deliveries start coming in. They arrive before the chefs come in. It's a small kitchen with not much storage space, so we need to have daily deliveries. There are no freezers, except for ice-cream, because I don't believe in them for storage. Everything is fresh. I make sure we have all the stock and then I go into the office. I do emails, Twitter and Facebook. They are all hugely important. Twitter is massive and we have a huge following on it. You only need one of those guys to retweet something.

Just over two years ago, we were on the Anthony Bourdain TV show The Layover, where the chef shows what it's like to spend 48 hours in a city. He loved our restaurant. Some seven million people saw that show and the day after it aired, a man flew in from Iran. He had seen the show on his iPad and he told me that that was why he chose to dine in The Chop House for his Dublin visit. It just shows you the power of the show, and how small Ireland is.

I'm the owner and chef of The Chop House. When we bought it five years ago, it was called The Shelbourne House, and it was probably one of the oldest pubs in the area. There was a smell of chicken curry in the whole building. I walked in with five other gentlemen. They said, 'you can't fix this one' and I said, 'if we don't fix this one, we don't eat. It's very simple'. I had one business before which didn't work and so, I had to start again. I have an American friend who says that you don't learn from success, but from humps.

I put a French-restaurant model into an old dump of a pub and we opened. Everyone said it was crazy, but suddenly, within six weeks, we were full all the time. Now, we have a huge turnover. The economy has come back but also, it's about location. They call the whole area around here Google-land, but you also have aviation companies and Facebook close by. If you can afford to live where we are, you can afford to eat out.

After all the admin, I go through the specials of the day with the chefs. The specials are where I have fun. The menu changes every couple of months, but the customers always ask about the specials. Our modus operandi is very simple. You come in to this very understated, old-style pub, and you sit down, and the bread is warm - baked that day - and you have a choice of scallops, foie gras and prawns with an unusual garnish.

And every table is shown a massive meat board. Because it's a gastropub, the music is loud, and it's not starchy like a Michelin-star restaurant. We push ourselves every single day. Unless we keep evolving, The Chop House will die and fail. It's important to remember to look after your customers - they don't have to come back to you.

When lunch is done, I go home and spend a couple of hours with the kids - doing homework and playing soccer. If I get half an hour during the day, that's when I'll read. I love fiction. I think David Baldacci is a great writer. At 5pm, it's feeding time at the zoo, but at a quarter to six, Jillian sees me itching to get out the door, so it's back to The Chop House. Then it's the same rigmarole, starting with the specials. I look at the diary with one of the managers and check the names. Some regulars like certain tables, so you make sure they get them. Before you know it, it's 10pm.

I started working with food when I was 16. My parents went on holidays and when they came back, I was working in the local hotel. After my Leaving, I studied in culinary college. I went on to get a job in a restaurant, but I decided to leave because I wasn't learning. You don't learn unless you go away to really good places. I went from earning IR£200 a week to £60 sterling a week in a Michelin-star restaurant in Devon. The stuff I have in my memory bank from that time is phenomenal.

This will be our fourth year doing Taste of Dublin. We replicate what we do in The Chop House, and it's been brilliant for us. At night, I get home at 10pm or 11pm. I might watch an episode of something like Breaking Bad, and then it's lights out. I don't do late nights. For 14 hours a day I go like a dynamo, and then when I'm in bed, I'm asleep in 30 seconds. It drives my wife crazy.

The 'Sunday Independent' is official media partner to Taste of Dublin, celebrating 10 years this year. Taking place in the Iveagh Gardens from 11-14 June, tickets are available from tasteofdublin.ie

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