An Irish Chef in France

It must be every chef’s dream from the first day they put on whites that their ultimate ambition is only going to be satisfied when they run their own restaurant. Every decision made by the management has to be considered in terms of whether or not it is one you would agree with, were you in charge.

Before I opened my own restaurant, Dwyers in Mary Street in Waterford in 1989 I had worked in a good selection of establishments, all these restaurants had certainly contributed to the chef I was then.

In 1972 I had started work first in the far from tender (in terms of kitchen employment) age of twenty three. I had perhaps dawdled a little while in search of a B.A. in U.C.D. and perhaps followed a cul de sac or two before I realised that I was not made to be a teacher. I felt an immediate rapport when working in a kitchen and was far happier peeling spuds for a few hours than writing an essay on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

Snaffles was in many ways an amazing place to start, Nick and Rosie Tinne who ran the establishment were both cooks because of their love of food rather than any strict training. Rosie had it is true done a Cordon Bleu course in London with Constance Spry and Nick was a Rowing Blue from Cambridge but neither of these qualifications were necessarily going to prepare them for running a busy restaurant in Leeson Street in Dublin.

What did prepare them was their dinner parties which they had produced in their house in Castleknock and the many other parties they had attended within their circle in sixties Ireland. At this time the old rigid formulae of professional cooking were breaking down, the heavily reduced stocks and set piece desserts were being overtaken by the less traditional French cooking style introduced by Elizabeth David.

The Tinnes were a great hit in Dublin for this reason and as the Good Food Guide of the time famously said “Guinness, Rome and Beauty” made a path to their basement in Leeson Street. The Tinnes were also prepared to let me try out new dishes, particularly at lunchtime, an amazing experience for an unqualified if enthusiastic young(ish) chef.

From Snaffles I went back to the heartland of cooking and headed for France. This was an eye-opener in many ways. Now I found myself back in the old school of three days boiling to make a “Fond” and peeling a potato with six concave facets and one convex “comme un gousse d’oeil”.

Probably my most important influence came next when I went to Kent to work for some years under chef Michael Waterfield.

Michael had trained under George Perry Smith in the “Hole in the Wall” in Bath. This restaurant is now recognised as the one which started to introduce the cooking philosophy of Elizabeth David to restaurants in England.

Again I had made an extremely lucky choice in my progression towards my own restaurant. Here in the Wife of Bath we cooked not only the dishes discovered by Mrs. David but also those discovered by the other cookery writers of the time, Jane Grigson and Margaret Costa. The Wife of Bath was a complete pleasure to work in and marvellous to find oneself in a job with which one was perfectly attuned.

The first time I was actually master of a kitchen was when I worked for the Gossip family in Waterford. This was also a great dry run for opening my own restaurant in this town. When I opened Dwyers in 1989 I had been living in Waterford for a decade which had truly introduced me to my prospective clients.

Nothing had, however, prepared me for the work load of running a restaurant alone. Not only must one be a chef-de-cuisine but also the human resource officer for a staff of 5 or 6 people, you must be a clever purchasing officer, on a constant search for local quality foods, you must be able to somehow spread your personality between the kitchen and the dining room so that clients feel that your personal touch is felt throughout the restaurant. You rapidly acquire a whole new set of skills from flower arranging to self publicity. I remember after the first six months of the restaurant being permanently exhausted as I continued to try and be all things to all men.

It does however, get better, but you do have to be extremely clever about husbanding your energy and delegating jobs to your staff as they become more used to your ways.

In the end however there is a tremendous amount of job satisfaction to be had from running your own business, from knowing that excellence can be achieved when the buck stops with you.

However after 15 years, in 2004, I decided to close the doors in Dwyers. Basically I wanted to experience new things before it became too much effort and running a Chambre d’Hote here in France would be less stressful than running a restaurant. This has turned out to be the case. Here we have no staff except ourselves and we eat dinner with the guests, all of which reduces the stress levels.

Recently a friend in Waterford has started to design and make wonderful sand art on the beaches of Waterford. On his webpage he recently noted that it was odd to put your heart and soul into a piece of art which was going to be washed away in the next high tide. I commented to him that this is not strange or odd for chefs whose works of art are demolished by customers within an hour of making.

Martin Dwyer started cooking professionally over 40 years ago in the legendary “Snaffles Restaurant” in Dublin. After a time in a Relais Chateau in Anjou and in “The Wife of Bath” in Kent he opened his own acclaimed restaurant, “Dwyers”, in Waterford in 1989. In 2004 he sold this and moved south to France where he and his wife Síle bought and restored an old presbytery in a village in the Languedoc. They now run Le Presbytère as a French style Chambre d’Hôte. Martin however is far too passionate about food to give up cooking so they now enjoy serving dinner to their customers on the terrace of Le Presbytère on warm summer evenings. Martin runs occasional cookery courses in Le Presbytère and Síle’s brother Colm does week long Nature Strolls discovering the Flora and Fauna of the Languedoc.
Le Presbytère can be seen at:;


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