A phonecall that changed my life forever

Executive chef at Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel for nearly five decades, but getting to the helm of the hotel’s kitchen was a moment of chance for Sean Dempsey

Sean Dempsey, executive chef at Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel.

Sean Dempsey, executive chef at Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel.

 

The Time of My Life is a weekly column about a moment that changed someone’s life – for the better or the worse

As a young chef I worked in an array of hotels around Ireland, including The Gresham, The Russell and The Talbot, Wexford. Following this I landed a job at The Dorchester in London, so I moved across the water.

I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of working in a hotel in a new city, but longed for home too. On my way to work one day I rambled past a newsstand and saw an ad for a job at Ballymascanlon House. I applied for the job and was due to go for interview.

In the meantime, during a busy service at The Dorchester, when they might have had 15 events going at once, I got an urgent call from the late Paddy Fitzpatrick. It was unheard of to take a call during service, and definitely frowned upon, but I took it. Paddy said, “What’s this about you going to work in Ballymascanlon? I am opening a new hotel and want you to come on board.”

I agreed to join the team for a month and I’m still there, 47 years later, working with the third generation, as the hotel is being led by Paddy’s grandson, Mark Scott-Lennon.

Daily routine

My day begins at 7.30am. If it’s nice I’ll walk in, to get some fresh air before a busy day of service. I check over the hotel’s various function rooms, kitchens and dining rooms, ensuring all have been closed off smoothly from the night before. I scan the breakfast service carefully because I firmly believe it is one of the most important elements in the hotel, and the last meal people have before check-out so it leaves a lasting impression.

I’ll look at the function listings for the day, which is very varied and could mean catering for up to 450 people in a day. Next is purchasing, which is vital to the hotel and its fresh and local ethos, working with suppliers they can trust, some of whom I’ve been working with since day one.

I oversee a team of 14 chefs and commis chefs. What’s the secret to a smoothly run kitchen? Having a system and planning. You have to stick to it. Things can go wrong, so you need to be ahead of yourself, to avoid panic and to ensure guests are happy.

While the Irish rugby team were using Fitzpatrick Castle as their base, they asked the hotel if I could get leave to go on tour to Australia and New Zealand in 2010 to ensure all their food requirements were met. The following year I again travelled with the team to the 2011 World Cup.

My day ends around 7.30pm, but it could be later depending on guests. When I’m at home, I don’t cook, my wife runs the kitchen.

Do you want to share your Time of My Life story? Email magazine@irishtimes.com with “Time of My Life” in the subject line

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