“There was a small place down the road that used to do lots of fresh seafood,” recalls Anthony Holland, head chef at the Ice House Hotel, Ballina, Co. Mayo. “They’d catch it, prep and cook it simply. It was only bar food, but it was very fresh.”
Anthony is referring to Alice’s at Óstán Oileán Acla; the seafood restaurant with panoramic views of his homeplace, Achill Island. It was here that along with a taste of the freshest wild Atlantic salmon, oysters, mussels, crab and lobster, that he got his first taste of working in a kitchen.
Falling hook, line and sinker for the buzz of the job, he took that love for food off island and put it on paper, gaining a Certificate in Culinary Arts and Professional Cookery from GMIT – a move that inspires his top tip for an aspiring chef hoping to build a successful career in the industry: to lay the right foundations.
“If you do your training at a college and get through the full four-year degree, rather than just a shorter three months course elsewhere, it will bring you a lot further.”
He adds that gaining experience in well-regarded kitchens and travelling are also vital steps in a chef’s development; two things that Anthony himself combined to build diverse career working in some of Ireland’s very best hotels including Ashford Castle, Mulranny Park Hotel and Kinnitty Castle, as well stints cooking aboard P&O Cruises around the Carribean, Scandanavia and the Mediterranean, a year in Australia, and a round the world trip.
“I don’t think I could do the hours now,” he says, on the experience of working in a cruise liner kitchen, “but as a young person it was great experience. It was a great way of seeing the world and accessing so many different cuisines.”
Anthony brought his wealth of talent, experience and well-travelled sense of adventure to the Ice House Hotel over four years ago where ever since he has brought a fusion of flavors and techniques to everything from the casual lunch menus to evening fine dining at the hotel, building on an already solid reputation for great food.
On what attracts foodies from all over Ireland to this luxury haven in Ballina, Anthony says: “Where the hotel is situated alone, overlooking the river and onto the sea. It’s perfect for a break away, and is the perfect place to promote local food, and we’ve really made a great name for ourselves in the past few years for doing that.”
Along with seafood sourced from the West coast of Ireland, Anthony works with as many producers from around Mayo as possible, and says there are many more he hopes to include on the menu in the coming months.
Current favourites at the Ice House include Kelly’s of Newport for their renowned black pudding and sausages, vegetables and salads from Enniscoe House Organic Gardens, and Calvey Butchers from Achill for the best Mayo lamb.
Unsurprisingly given his island upbringing, the chef has a fondness of cooking for fish. “I find that I enjoy cooking seafood the most, I guess growing up on Achill I always worked with seafood, and I think the seafood offering here is fantastic.”
His signature dishes on the menu at the Ice House hotel restaurant include Duo of Crab, with baked crabmeat and garlic fried claws to start, and Pan-fried Fish of the Day, served with pea and chervil soup, broad bean and mussels meat, and poached cocotte potatoes.
Along with championing artisan food producers and growers from around the county Anthony is excited about the culinary scene that is taking root in Mayo. He names chef Barry Ralph of House of Plates, Castlebar, and chef Frankie Mallon from An Port Mor, Westport as two chefs in particular that are working with local produce in imaginative ways.
While his heart will always be on Achill Anthony has embraced family life in Ballina, and found a home at the Ice House Hotel. He says working at the hotel is certainly a more easy-going pace of life than his time at sea, he admits that things have been a bit more hectic of late – given that the day I speak to him is his first day back after paternity leave you can begin to understand why this might be.
“The past few years its been a lot more challenging. I have three kids, from five years to one week old, so it can be quite hard to balance the long hours with family life!”
For more information on dining at the Ice House Hotel visit www.icehousehotel.ie.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.Erica Bracken Erica Bracken