x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Money&Me: Rising prices add costs to chef's creativity

Derek Flynn, the award-winning chef for McGettigan's, says food prices have affected the way he pepares dishes.

Derek Flynn is an award-winning chef for McGettigan's, the new Irish pub at Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai.
Derek Flynn is an award-winning chef for McGettigan's, the new Irish pub at Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai.

Family-run hotel offers more room for tasty experiments.

When it comes to food, every day there is something coming through the door that we play with. We have to like it before the customer does. You spend a lot of time and money playing with food, marrying the flavours and tastes. Some stuff works, and some stuff doesn't.

We had a lot of trouble with the bread at first. There was lots of trial and error because we wanted to get it lighter. But it was a nightmare in the beginning. Sometimes you'd take it out of the oven and you could build walls with it. We had to play around with it and add oats, yeast and flours, just getting the balance right.

This task can be expensive, though, because food prices have really changed.

Flour is going through the roof and it will for the next few years. It probably hasn't fully hit us yet and I think food prices will continue to go higher for everything. I remember going out to shop here a few years ago with Dh200 and you would fill a basket. But I was out the other day and bought nothing out the ordinary and spent Dh650. Money is gone and there isn't the same value.

Before coming to the UAE, I worked all around the world. I've worked in the US and later in China at an Irish pub. I arrived in the UAE in January 2000. I first started working in the Irish Village in Dubai and spent six years there. After that, I went to the Montgomerie Golf Course for about 18 months, and then back to Ireland for about two years.

At this point, I got involved in my own restaurant back home, but the recession kicked in. It went from hero to zero. I went from doing 120 meals a day to nothing. A friend of mine from Dubai had bought the place and took me on as a partner. Luckily enough, I didn't invest too much money in it. We were months away from spending €600,000 (Dh2.9 million) to knock down the walls and refurbish it. We were going to build a new kitchen, new function room, six bedrooms and an outdoor area. But with the recession we pulled out, so in the end the investment was tiny.

I then got a great job offer to come back to the UAE. I helped open a couple of restaurants and then McGettigan's came along. It opened about three months ago.

The restaurant is owned by the family that also owns the Bonnington Hotel in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Dennis McGettighan is the managing director, but his father is also here all the time. They also own hotels in the UK and Ireland. Having an truly Irish feel is important to the family. We want to reinvent the Irish welcome. Dennis wants the Bonnington to be a place you come to and feel comfortable, and the same is with McGettigan's.

It's a different feel working for a family business. I have worked for more corporate entities in the past and there was no room for change and new ideas. Here, we sit down at a table and talk things out. We can meet on a personal and professional level. We're all here to make the hotel better and I love doing that. You get a buzz off it.

We're very pleased with where the restaurant's going. It has exceeded expectations. The last couple of weeks, I've noticed if you're not there by 7.30pm, there isn't a seat to be had.

Life is generally very busy right now. My wife is expecting a baby any day now, but having a family changed my spending nine months ago. You have to start thinking ahead more.

On top of that, we've done lots of shopping for the baby boy on the way. I'm also thinking about schooling, of course. They go to school at such a young age now and that's very expensive.

Growing up in Ireland, there were four of us at home. I was the oldest child, so I always got the least amount of pocket money. I remember my sister would get for a day what I would get for three days. Maybe it was the economics of the time, but it was always harder being the oldest. You had to break water with everything.

I used to get 50 pence (Dh2.95) for three days, but I'd usually spend it in one. It was meant to buy me a half pint of milk or perhaps a bag of crisps.

My mother looked after all the money. My dad would hand over a cheque at the end of the week and she looked after the finances. My father was a miner for more than 20 years in western Ireland.

My first job was selling bingo cards on Saturday's, house to house out on my bicycle. That's how they did it those days. I'd go out at 9am and come back about 4pm and get a few pence on every bingo card I sold. I suppose they took pity on me and that's why they bought them, out there in the wind and the rain.

When I was growing up in the 1980s, there was a recession in Ireland. On Monday, my mum would have 20 quid (pounds) in her purse and that's what she would have to use to feed us with. And four in a family was relatively small back then.

We did lots of baking and cooking at home. My grandmother lived with us and she baked apple tarts and bread. I was always dipping apples in the sugar. For me, cooking was always there from the beginning.

I probably learnt more from my grandmother than my mother when it comes to cooking. At 6pm we would have tea, which most people would call dinner, and we'd have fresh bread, eggs and apple tarts. I'm still trying to copy what she made. It was unreal.

As told to Jeffrey Todd