The Seafood Interview supported by BIM - Frankie Mallon

BIM Seafood Circle

This month Marilyn Bright talks to Frankie Mallon, chef- proprietor of the acclaimed An Port Mor seafood restaurant in Westport, Co Mayo

Summers spent on Lough Neagh fishing, picking berries and making jam, chutney and bread with his grandmother are among Frankie Mallon's earliest memories. Today he is chef proprietor of Westport's An Port Mór restaurant with a reputation built on showcasing the local produce that abounds around Clew Bay that has attracted well-earned recognition, including the Georgina Campbell Seafood Chef of the Year for 2015.

Frankie MallonMenus feature local, fresh seafood and shellfish like the Inishturk crab cakes with a seaweed and polenta crust or the Donegal turf smoked organic salmon served up with Clew Bay prawns marinated in garlic, lemon and fresh herbs. Clew Bay seaweed jam appears on a plate of Achill Island smoked fish alongside homemade treacle brown bread.

Frankie grew up in Portmór House at Blackwatertown in County Armagh and trained in Portrush Catering College. Leaving college in the 1990's, he went into Paul Rankin's Roscoff restaurant which was breaking new ground at the time. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Frankie says. “It instilled in me a passion for good food and I learned the ethos of hard work that stands to me today.”

Roscoff was awarded a Michelin star that year and it is still a point of pride that commis chef Frankie prepared the starter and dessert for the customer later revealed to be the Michelin inspector.

Looking to broaden his experience, the young Irish chef worked for a couple of years in London, then spent two years in Switzerland at a family run hotel in Berne. “It was very regimented and ran like clockwork, but it engrained organisation and that stays with you. It’s training and discipline that makes you if you really want to make a career of cheffing, so I consider myself lucky."

It was off to the heady delights of Paris next, which Frankie admits was a “dream come true - completely surrounded by food.” He worked in Guy Savoy's fish restaurant just off the Champs Elysée and soaked up the atmosphere in the markets and food temples like Fauchon - with fruits and pastries presented like jewels in cases and Hediard where caskets of fresh truffles bear price tags that look like telephone numbers. “But in the end, I’m a home bird and, after two years in Paris, I was yearning for home and family,” Frankie recalls.

An Port Mor Starter PlateBy his late 20's, Frankie was back in Westport, establishing a name for cooking the best seafood, notably as head chef at the Cronin family's popular old world thatched pub overlooking Clew Bay. Opening his own restaurant, An Port Mór, six years ago it was natural that seafood would star on the menu. “It's a pleasure to work with great produce - prawns, lobster, scallops straight out of the bay - that you know is so fresh and you can cook with confidence. You don't need to do a lot with them - just grill with a bit of butter and a few herbs and you can't go wrong.”

Frankie doesn't go overboard for the foams and waterbaths that he terms ‘frills and swills’, saying that “you can get bogged down with complications.” He thinks that fashion in cooking is going back to more simplicity, “Or maybe we all mellow with age,” he quips. Customers are more particular now, he's observed, because they're more knowledgeable, value quality and look for local and artisanal food on the menu.

Frankie buys in whole fish to be boned and filleted in-house where best use can be made of offcuts and bones for stocks and sauces. Prawn and lobster shells are flamed with brandy and roasted off to make the base for bisques, or processed and steeped with chervil and peppercorns to make flavoured oils.

Frankie Mallon in An Port MorJane Harriett's rapeseed oil from County Down has replaced olive oil in the Port Mor kitchens. “It's homegrown, a lovely gold colour and we use it for everything from frying and grilling to marinades and salad dressings.”

Homegrown and local is a theme throughout the An Port Mór menus and the terrific produce grown locally partners perfectly with the ultra fresh fish and seafood to present the food credentials of the area at their best.

Cress and fresh herbs come straight from Joe Kelly's farm outside the town, along with salad leaves, red chard, Frankie's favourite bok choy greens and long stem broccoli. Carrots, beetroot and turnips are grown by Lily Ryder, along with the taste trialled Mayo potatoes that Frankie swears put commercial supplies in the shade.

An Port Mor Starter PlateLocally harvested seaweed and polenta crust is a signature twist, appearing as a crisp finish on crab cakes or roasted cod fillets. New to the menu this season is a pairing of Achill Island smoked mackerel paté with Kelly's black pudding, just grilled and served as a warm salad.

An Port Mor and Kelly's of Newport, along with a dozen or so other restaurants and artisan producers make up the Gourmet Greenway Group, all food related businesses welcoming cyclists and walkers along the Great Western Greenway that embraces picturesque Clew Bay. This popular trail put Mayo ‘on the radar’, Frankie says, and the area is getting a name as a food destination.

“The Greenway has created a feel-good factor, with the local community all working together - restaurants, hotels and food producers all supporting each other. We opened at the worst possible time six years ago and the business was built by word of mouth with recommendations from B and B's and hotels, and it's the locals who keep us going through the low season too. They enjoy the area’s brilliant fresh fish and seafood - and the lovely Achill Island lamb - just as much as visitors do. It’s a great place to live and to work.”

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