Nestled in the picturesque surroundings of the Loire Valley, 90 minutes south of Paris, an unassuming looking gate provides access to the truly exquisite 300-acre grounds of The Condor – an Irish owned private luxury estate. The Condor offers guests a unique experience, with a home away from home approach adopted, allowing the highly skilled team of butlers, security, culinary and operations to ensure that each need of the guests within are catered for to the highest standard. The Condor is bookable for family get togethers, intimate celebrations, corporate and client incentive trips, board member retreats, golf trips and more.
The culinary team at The Condor is led by Executive Chef Gary O’Hanlon, a household name who features weekly on our TV screens on The Restaurant. Gary and his team of talented Irish chefs, based on site at The Condor, create and produce enticing menus celebrating and blending the culinary highlights of the Loire Valley Region and Ireland.
We caught up with Gary to learn more about his move to The Condor, the bespoke culinary experiences he personally tailors for guests and marrying French and Irish produce to create memorable dishes.
Tell us about your experience working in Ireland before taking up your role as Executive Chef at The Condor?
I graduated from Tourism College Killybegs in ’95 and in the early part of my career I worked in Dublin at La Cave Wine bar and Restaurant under a fabuous English Chef called Peter Aston and then I went on to The Stormont Hotel in Belfast which was a real eye opener as it was during the years leading up to the Good Friday Peace Agreement. From there it was almost 6 years in Boston before coming home in 2005.
Then I worked in The Galway Bay Hotel in Salthill for a few years before going to work with my great pal Gearoid Lynch in The Olde Post Inn in Cavan. That was the smartest career move I’d ever made to that point as The Olde Post Inn was regarded as one of the best restaurants in Ireland at the time and I took a lot of confidence with me from there when I went on to become the opening Head Chef of Viewmount House in Longford.
That move was the probably the most important of my career. I went there with serious drive and ambition that I could make a name for myself. The building is beautiful beyond words with the Restaurant situated in the old stables. I finally had the canvass I’d always craved and I set about building an incredible team there and we went on to have 10 amazing years together. I was fortunate enough to win Restaurant of the Year in 2014 and many individual chef awards throughout those 10 years, but the one that meant the most was The Georgina Campbell Award for services to Irish Food which I won in 2018, a few months before I finished.
Viewmount House and my time there meant the world to me but the chance to become Culinary Director of Baxter Storey came up and, with a young family, the chance to work a Monday to Friday role, so I took it and loved every second but after a few years the allure of fine dining came calling again and once I saw The Condor I was hooked. The place is beyond words beautiful and to be able to say I took the chance to go and cook in France was one I simply couldn’t pass up.
What tempted you to go work in France at The Condor?
Hand on heart, the owner and our CEO. Fabulous people. I initially went to France to cook for 2 weeks and on my second or third day the guys made me an offer and after a chat with Netty, my wife, I jumped at it. Honestly, something just clicked in me when I worked with Niall (Carroll CEO) and he allowed me to build my own team and explained to me his vision for the business and to say I was excited would be an understatement. I’m surrounded by some of the best people working in hospitality and with world class golf on site, my best pal Adam as my Sous Chef and the Loire Valley as my shopping ground, it was easy to be tempted. Paradise for a chef.
What does a typical working day at The Condor look like for you?
It usually starts at 5am. It’s rarely later. I’m up, showered and a quick Mowhawk shave (lol) and straight across to the Chateau. Adam & I will start mise en place for breakfast service which is always chef table style so we need to be in a minimum of 2 hours before guest arrival. If one of us isn’t standing in the Breakfast Room, with the place looking incredible and inviting prior to the first guest arrival, I’m raging. It must always look inviting and not rushed. Lights, music and table must be perfect. By 7am, either Adam or I will be at the Bakery in Loury to grab breakfast pastries and breads for the day.
Guest usually start coming from 7am onwards and, depending on the group, the last one could be 11am or after. If guests golf we then start preparing lunch for them which will be served on the 9th hole at a beautiful Al Fresco dining area. Prior to that, we make smoothies or various types of fruit and vegetable drinks which our Golf Services person will add to their bags before they set off.
Guests who remain on the Chateau grounds will enjoy lunch on site, usually poolside in one of our many dining rooms. Quite often there could be yoga, hot air ballooning, massages, shopping trips to Paris or Orleans or a cookery class for those guests that remain around the Chateau. At some stage or other they will do all of the above if on a 3-4 day stay. The cookery demo/classes are very popular which always surprises me so what I tend to do is always make something that they will eat during their stay as it really gives guests a feel for the effort that goes into every single thing they eat.
Once lunch is done guests are usually at leisure for a few hours and then when the golfers come in after the 18th we always do petite plates for them. We always have a brown sugar chocolate chip cookie, a beautiful, glazed sausage roll and then 3 or 4 other petite plates that guests enjoy with some cocktails and or wine.
At this stage Adam & I are well into preparation for dinner and one of us will generally pop to the markets at this time of day to get the last things needed for dinner or to re-stock for the next day or so. This part of my day is incredibly important. Due to high security we do not allow deliveries so Adam and I buy absolutely every ingredient and carry into the Chateau. As we are quite remote the planning must be perfect every single time as we do not have time for mistakes.
Then it’s back to the house for a shower and to get a new uniform for the evening, break down the kitchen and clean it from top to bottom and then we are in the zone for dinner service.
Guests usually come down for pre-dinner drinks at 7pm and then they sit for 8pm. Dinner usually take 3 hours and once they leave the dining room to head to the main bar you know it’s ok to wrap up and go home so it’s clean down, bins out and home to bed for anytime between midnight and 1am and we go again the next morning.
It seems like a really long day and it is but the nature of the business is quick short stays so we give everything for 3 or 4 days and then re-group and re-set for the next set of guests and there’s usually a few days break in between. I’m blessed with a fantastic hard-working crew so everyone buys in to what we are doing and they all have years of experience, so they just get it.
How would you describe the culinary offering at The Condor?
Haha! The 64 million dollar question. Honestly, I give people what they want. The culinary offer at The Condor could go from sushi to an 8 course tasting menu to a Steak Night to a special evening like ‘An Ode to The Masters’. We pride ourselves on giving guests what they want. They generally tell me what they don’t like and then I plan around that.
The important thing is we make guests feel comfortable from minute one at The Condor and should they feel like a chicken wing at 2am or caviar and blinis at 10am, they know they will get it with a smile. I’m entering my fourth year at The Condor and no two trips have been the same yet. It’s not for the faint of heart. You really need a deep repertoire, or you’ll be found out very quickly.
What makes dining at The Condor memorable?
For me, it’s the personal touch. The offering is so bespoke to your needs that you can’t but feel special when staying here. Also, we try to never serve you dinner in the same dining room twice. Each dining room/area has its own unique qualities that brings guests to a different head space every time. From the Wine Cellar to the Sunken Garden and the Terrace and Al Fresco dining to the absolute beauty of the main Dining Room at the fireplace, it really will blow your mind. The place has to be seen to be believed and it’s such an honour to cook there. I’m blessed.
How does the Irish connection shine through on menus at The Condor?
The Irish connection shines through first and foremost with the people. From our CEO Niall to Adam and myself to the guys on the golf course and golf services, we have a huge contingent of Ireland’s finest working here. Menu-wise it stands out when you have beef, lamb or sausages. I’ve always been a huge fan of Irish ingredients and as a member of the Irish Food Council and proud member of Eurotoques Ireland I’ve always strived to have Irish ingredients to the fore of my menus.
In saying that, it’s imperative I use the best of local produce too and we most certainly do but when it comes to beef, lamb and sausages I buy Irish simply because it’s the best in the world and that’s all I’m interested in at The Condor. I’m a proud member of the Chef’s Irish Beef Club as of this year. Bord Bia inducted me this past year and it was a proud moment. I’m happy to showcase the best of Irish beef, lamb and pork in France and with the incredible ingredients of France and the Loire Valley I like to think we get it right.
Have you got a unique celebration coming up or have you been tasked with organising a client or corporate incentive trips?
Contact the team at The Condor today to enquire for further details. The team can be contacted by phoning 083-1210042 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.