Working as head chef of a gastro pub on the Wild Atlantic Way probably wasn’t in Lee Mastin’s mind as he gained experience in London’s Michelin starred restaurants. Would he swap his life now, living in rural Geevagh and heading up the busy kitchen at The Draft House in Strandhill for those hectic, heady days? “Not a chance”, laughs a contented but seriously motivated Lee.
His story begins in the historic, maritime town of Portsmouth on England’s southern coast. Lee always had aspirations to make a career as a chef and went straight into formal training at the tender age of 16. After three years in college, he headed for the bright lights of London and began a period of intense learning in some seriously impressive kitchens.
His first job was in the Mayfair Intercontinental Hotel which he describes as a wonderful chance for a young chef. It was also where he met his wife, Therese. The hotel kitchen system allowed him to work his way around the different sections, learning as he went. His appetite well whetted he moved on to work with celebrity chef Gary Rhodes in City Rhodes off Fleet Street which at that time had one Michelin star. Lee also spent two and a half years working with Raymond Blanc’s protégé Steven Bulmer, in his Soho restaurant Atelier. He describes this as a real baptism of fire. Not quite Hell’s Kitchen perhaps, but a seriously demanding and difficult place to work. The hours were long – 7am-11pm, 6 days a week – and the standards exacting. The reward was earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand and 3 AA rosettes along with probably the best experience a young chef could gain.
It’s interesting to hear Lee’s views on working in a Michelin kitchen. Although it is tremendously challenging and demanding, it can be repetitive as the menus are necessarily short. He is grateful for the skills he learned, but much prefers the less rigid structure of a different type of kitchen. Perhaps this was a motivating factor in his taking on a very different challenge – high class outside catering. He worked with the largest independent company in the UK which catered for events ranging from 500 people at football clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Birmingham City to select private dinner parties with just 10 diners. A challenge indeed.
Home was beckoning for Lee’s wife Therese whose homeplace is Geevagh near Riverstown. The couple moved to Ireland ten years ago, settling in Geevagh. After spells in Cromlech Lodge, as head chef in the renowned gastro pub The Oarsman in Carrick-on- Shannon and running his own catering company, Lee has settled in The Draft House. “The minute I met Daniel the owner, I knew this was someone who thought along the same lines as me”, said Lee, “His enthusiasm matched my own and it’s incredibly exciting working as part of this team”.
The two share a passion for quality produce particularly locally sourced. Lee is zealous about tracking down producers – whether it’s eggs, cheese or vegetables. He is on a constant look out for good regular suppliers and is evangelical in encouraging new producers. This dedication is obvious from the ever changing Draft House menu with its focus on seasonality.
A decade in Sligo has seen Lee and his wife settle completely with their family. Lee, an enthusiastic soccer player in his youth, has been initiated through his children into the world of GAA. He was a Community Games secretary for years and is very involved in his local community. It’s no surprise to discover that his mother’s maiden name is Regan and the chances are his own family roots are a lot closer to him than he expected. www.sligofoodtrail.ie #SligoFoodTrail