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A Day in the Life: Seamus Commons

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HERE’S ONE I PREPARED EARLIER Seamus Commons, Head Chef at Knockranny House Hotel with one of his dishes.

There’s always an early start in our house with five kids getting ready for school but for the last number of weeks I have had to be up at the crack of dawn as I am training for the Dublin Marathon in a couple of weeks. I decided to do the marathon about three months ago, I have done a few before but I found out then that if you don’t put in the effort before the event, you will suffer on the day.
So the last few weeks, I have been trying to get in maybe three hours running before I head off to work, because it’s impossible to go running at night-time, especially seeing as I might not finish work until at least 10pm.
I’m normally at work in the kitchen in Knockranny at about 11am or 11.30am and the first thing to do is look at what lies ahead for the day, nearly every day is different but it’s all about communication and making sure everyone is singing off the same hymn-sheet.
I’d have to check the function sheets and go around to each section of the kitchen, starters, mains, pastries, banqueting, breakfasts. I like to shake everyone’s hand and tell them nothing is personal for the day ahead.
I myself would normally be dealing with the mains, I’d start with prep and check is the meat down, fish down, and, at certain stages of the week, there would be meetings with different sections and looking ahead to any major events that are coming up.
For instance, last week we had Neven Maguire in the kitchen, he was filming a programme about food along the Wild Atlantic Way, and we had to cook a signature dish from Knockranny.
Most other days we’d be readying for our main service, which would be from 6pm to 9pm. We could have 80 to 90 in the restaurant, a busy bar also, and along with cooking, I would have to keep an eye over everything else.
During the day also I’d have to be ordering and looking after deliveries. We like to change our menus with the seasons in Knockranny. For example the game season started in September. We’d have venison in then, and partridge, so we’d be checking out to see where we could source the product, and get value for money also.
As a rule, I always try to source as much local produce as possible and we are so lucky in Knockranny as we have our own garden and we can grow produce on site. For example, we grow our own pears and apples, and they are used in our desserts and we can make our own chutney.
We have to take advantage of our location. We can source local seaweed and shellfish but sometimes, just due to sheer volume, we might have to look elsewhere.

Home Economics in Kiltimagh
Chefing is basically second nature to me now but it wasn’t always that way. I only really got interested in cooking after taking Home Economics in secondary school in Kiltimagh, and that decision was only taken mainly due to ratio of females to males in the class!
The industry has changed dramatically over the years, there is so much convenience food available now, so anyone getting involved in the industry has to decide what area they are going in to. There are the basics that everyone has to learn, but after that, it’s what suits the individual and their specific talents.
In our kitchen, we take in young people and they blossom. We took in someone who was only a kitchen porter and he ended up winning Young Chef of the Year only a couple of years later. It’s about giving people the right direction, but like most industries, you have to love your work in order to prosper.
I’m proud of the standards we are setting in Knockranny. I tend to visualise my dishes a lot, I would map them out on a piece of paper and then take it from there. Recently we were delighted to win the Hotel Restaurant of the Year, it nice to get recognition from others in the industry. At the end of the day, food is very personal, and subjective, people have different opinions, and always will have. You have to take criticism but from that criticism you can stand back from it all, and maybe see the reasons why that person thinks they have a reason to be critical.
At the end of a busy day, I just enjoying going home to Bohola, and catching up with the news from all the family. We are sport mad in the house and we’re great Moy Davitts and Mayo supporters, and we love our running too, the girls are mad into cross country. And speaking of running, I better get out and get some more miles on the clock. October 28 is just around the corner.

In conversation with Michael Duffy

Factfile
Name: Seamus Commons
Lives:  Bohola
Age: 45
Occupation: Head Chef, Knockranny House Hotel, Westport
 
Quickfire questions

If money was no object, what would you do all day?
Plenty of fly fishing and shooting.

Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
I fell off a kid’s flicker while playing with my children - and broke three ribs!

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
Lamb’s brain.

What makes you angry?
People being critical of something they haven’t a clue about.

First hero?
French chef Auguste Escoffier.

Name three things that are always in your fridge?
Cuinneog Irish butter, dark chocolate and Kelly’s black and white pudding.

Favourite TV show?
Seal Team.

Who’s the most famous person you’ve met?
Jamie Oliver.

Best holiday?
My honeymoon in Paris.

What do you miss most about being a kid?
Playing sport at every opportunity.

What’s your most prized possession?
My first cooking Gold Medal.

Best advice you ever got?
Keep the head down and be honest.

Describe yourself in three words?
Honest, hardworking, genuine.

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