We Grill: Patrick Ryan
Up-and-coming artisan baker Patrick Ryan, 29, runs bakery and bread school The Firehouse in Delgany, Co Wicklow and on Heir Island in Cork.
His debut book is Bread Revolution and he starred in the BBC2 programme ‘The Big Bread Experiment.
You’re passionate about baking – especially bread. Why is it so important to you?
Convenience has become key these days and that’s resulted in fewer people baking. The bread we eat has changed so much from what bread really is and what it used to be like back in the day when people, like my gran, used to bake all the time. But it’s not just about the health benefits of homemade bread but the nostalgia too. Whenever I watched my mum or gran bake I’d ask to lick the mixing bowl or the spoon – and that’s the bit I remember the most! If the next generation don’t bake then that family tradition will be lost. We need to show younger people that baking, especially bread, is simple.
How old were you when you started baking?
I have a degree in corporate law so baking was never the long term plan – it just kind of happened! When I was 19, while still at NUI Galway, I spent the summer on the Greek island of Paros and I got a job in a beach bar and a restaurant. It was my first taste of working in a kitchen – and I loved it. So, I came home and finished my final year and then enrolled on a two-year cookery course in Galway where I did a five-month placement at the Radisson Hotel. I soon found out that anyone working with food has to have a passion for it because there are easier ways to make money!
Tell us about The Firehouse?
I’d already set up The Thoughtful Bread Company in Bath with Duncan Glendinning which we made into an award-winning bakery, so I decided to head home and start my own revolution here. I set up a bread-school on Heir Island in Cork during the summer of 2012. The idea was to do a one-day weekend course for about six people. It took off more than I ever thought possible and by the end of the summer more than 60 people had been. Since then, we’ve added Sundays and we are fully booked until October. We then opened The Firehouse Bakery and cafe at The Delgany cafe in County Wicklow, where our speciality is sourdough bread. I now work there during the week and go back to the school on a weekend.
What was it like training under the guidance of Michelin-starred chef Kevin Thornton at Thornton’s Restaurant in Dublin?
I hadn’t done much pastry so when I came here it was like a whole different world. It was very tough but I was impressed with the high standard and respect for ingredients Kevin has.
Do you think programmes like the ‘Great British Bake Off’ have helped baking become popular?
Absolutely. Everyone can relate to it and it’s making baking more popular, which can only be a good thing. The final last year was viewed by 9 million people and had more viewers than the ‘Champions League’ coverage and ‘The X-Factor ‘which just shows there is growing interest in baking.
You had a taste of TV on the BBC2 programme ‘The Big Bread Experiment’. What was that?
It was a three-part series that tried to reunite a community by getting them to start up their own bakery. Myself and Duncan were there to offer the professional help and I’m pleased to say it was a great success. It was a bit daunting at first being on camera but I soon got used to it and would now love to do more!
Best food you’ve eaten?
It was in the Japanese restaurant Azuma in Sydney. The flavours in the dish were simple but tasted amazing.
Favourite place to eat?
The Fox at Broughton Gifford, in Wiltshire. It’s really good pub grub, like comfort food, that uses local produce. Its Sunday roast is delicious – served as a whole joint which you share with your fellow diners.
Do you have any hobbies outside of the kitchen?
I used to play rugby but now I don’t have the time. I still follow it and also Liverpool Football Club.
Earliest food memory?
At my gran’s farm in Laois, Ireland eating bread, butter and jam. The soda bread and jam were made by her and although so simple, absolutely delicious.
Favourite Irish dish?
Anything slow cooked, like plate of beef or shoulder of lamb, or any fish would be perfect especially lobster, oyster and crab.
What foods/ingredients could you not live without?
At the moment I’d be lost without flour!
What is your long-term goal?
I’m aware it’s a good time for bread at the moment so ideally I’d like the bakery to grow into a brand. I think young people should be encouraged to cook and bake more at school and in college – and be encouraged to work in the food industry. If I could tell my 16-year-old self what to do I’d say learn to cook – the girls love a guy who can cook!
Tweet us @takestockmag to be in with a chance to receive a copy of his book!