It’s mid afternoon on a hazy Autumn day in Dublin, I’m sitting in the lobby of the Marker Hotel on Grand Canal square ten minutes early for an interview with Executive Chef Gareth Mullins, but luckily within the lively lounge area there’s plenty to keep me occupied, with people watching opportunities abound.
Tech types lined up on a long table feverishly working at their laptops, a group of girls toasting to something special, two recognisable lifestyle/fashion bloggers catching up in the stylish surroundings and then there’s that signature geometric ceiling that you can’t help but stare up at in awe, no matter how many times you visit the five-star hotel.
I soon spot Gareth coming from the direction of The Brasserie, he’s early too, but the walk that should take ten seconds takes five minutes.
One of the most well-known and best-loved chefs in the country I shouldn’t be surprised that every one wants to talk to him, and, being the personable, genuine guy that he is, that Gareth is only too happy to engage with one and all.
When he finally makes it to our table I too get a slice of that warmth, and our predestined topic of conversation on the dishes which have marked the different stages of his culinary career flows naturally from there.
“When I first started thinking of signature dishes I thought it would be a difficult topic to answer,” Gareth admits, “but as soon as I started to think about it I realised just how much my job as a chef has allowed me travel the world, learning different cuisines and techniques.”
“There is a lot of negative talk surrounding the career of a chef and not enough about the brilliant opportunities it can open up for you.”
“I have a fantastic job working at one of the best hotels in Dublin with a team of young, motivated chefs. Yeah we do have long hours and we work hard but in my view working as a chef has way more pluses than it does negatives.”
Rack of lamb is always a dish that reminds me of the start of career. I started cooking aged fourteen as a kitchen steward out in O’Reilly Hall and they used to do a lot of high end banquets out there for up to five hundred people and rack of lamb was the staple dish on every menu. Then I went to The Merrion Hotel two years later, that’s where I really began to understand flavours and different techniques, and again rack of lamb was there in form of an assiette of lamb. Learning how to butcher the lamb and scrape down the bones is something every young chef has to learn, and there’s no easy way to do it – it’s just hard labour! We are always being challenged as chefs to come up with new ways of presenting ingredients but a presented perfectly rack of lamb with a French trim has to be one of the Irish dishes you can serve.
What I learnt during my time working in Australia was how to cook with seafood properly. The seafood there is stunning and because the water is warmer and deeper you get things like red snapper and barramundi. The dish that stands out to me, and it’s served everywhere from pubs to fine dining restaurants, is Salt and Pepper Squid. Using the seasoning that I learnt to make over there and good quality, fresh squid, it’s a dish that I still love to eat. It’s a mix of Schezuan peppercorns, a little bit of chilli and small bit of sugar and salt – as soon as I taste that I’m transported back to Sydney. I have it on the Le Drunch menu here at The Marker.
When I came back from Australia I spent seven wonderful years in The Merrion with Ed Cooney. I learnt an awful lot from him about cooking and the business side of things, and then I got the opportunity to come here to The Marker. If I and The Marker have made a name for ourselves for anything it’s for trying to stay ahead of the curve and come up with different ideas and concepts because that is what the modern diner is looking for, to experience something different.
One of the first concepts that I developed was Bubble Claws, a celebration of lobster, and every summer now we serve Bollinger champagne and Balderrig lobster from County Mayo grilled with garlic butter and served with truffle fries. That dish was inspired by one of the favourite meals of my life, which I had on my honeymoon in Veregio in Italy. Myself and my wife sat down at a waterside restaurant and had lobster spagettini and champagne. It’s so simple but ever since then lobster is an ingredient I love to work with because it reminds me of such a special time.
I need to mention the Cronut I think! When we opened the hotel I wanted to get the name out there and I heard about the Cronut trend sweeping New York at the time, a cross between a croissant and a doughnut, so myself and the pastry chef at the time Ray Hotillosa created our version and served it as one of the desserts on the launch night. That lead onto radio interviews and newspaper articles. People were freaking out! There were queues across the lobby every morning. I’d love to say I had predicted that would happen but it was pure fluke! They are still served in the hotel today and we change the flavours every week, they change with the seasons so at the moment we have peach and strawberry varieties.
Equilibrium was born through meeting an American guest who uses the hotel quite a lot. He said to me that he thought that my room service menu, which had the usual club sandwich and fish and chips, didn’t have as much thought behind it as my other menus. He thought it was strange there weren’t more nutritious dishes available. I revisited the menu and realised he was right. With this in mind, first we launched the Nutri-Box for lunch the bar, like a bento box of healthy options, people went crazy for it and that was the beginning of Equilibrium. The first port of call is always flavour but you have to listen to your guests and what I heard loud and clear was that people don’t want to be eating rich and indulgent food all the time so we try to create a balanced menu that offers both. The Equilibrium symbol is now seen right across my menus here at The Marker.
The most recent concept we’ve developed at The Marker is Beef & Bordeaux, and it is a celebration of both of those things. In the winter months, after Bubble Claws has ended, we do a tomahawk steak in the restaurant with a bottle of Bordeaux, using John Stone beef from County Longford. We bring out the beef to show the diner before bringing it back in to be carved, then, because it takes forty minutes to cook, I generally send out three or four other small courses until it is ready to be served. It’s very luscious and rich. I think we have some of the best meat, seafood and dairy in the world and as an Irish chef that is something I am continually striving to showcase.
For more information on The Marker visit www.themarkerhoteldublin.com.
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