Chris Friel is the antithesis of the popular image of a chef, fuelled by the likes of Gordon Ramsey. No out of control tantrums and certainly no storming out of one job looking for another – he’s been at the Sligo Park for nearly a quarter of a century. Chris is a guy who has worked his way up from the bottom rung of the kitchen ladder and he’s almost evangelical about helping others do the same.
To the continuing surprise of his mechanic father, Chris always preferred the inner workings of a kitchen to those of an engine. Brought up outside Letterkenny, of six sisters and a brother, he is the only one who has made hospitality his career. He fondly describes his late mother as a brilliant cook and no doubt that is where his inspiration originated.
To Chris, a career as a chef is a calling, almost like a vocation. He was always a busy youngster, getting a part time job doing bar work as soon as he could and luckily for him, hospitality suited him perfectly. His enthusiasm and talent was spotted early on first by the Mount Errigal Hotel and then by the Sligo Park where he began working (as a dish washer) in 1995. Encouraged by the senior chefs, he followed a day release scheme, going through college in Letterkenny while working. He found this combination of study and training in college along with the practical experience on the job a perfect arrangement. He believes full time students no longer seem to get the amount of practical kitchen work they need, focussing more on theory and nutritional areas. In Chris’s opinion, there is no substitute for a classical training.
At the moment he has two young chefs working in the kitchen with him while doing two days a week in Killybegs. He reckons it keeps them all on their toes and everyone benefits.
Customer satisfaction is the ultimate achievement for Chris. He loves to know he has put together menus that work and match the ever changing clientele the hotel serves. Midweek and weekends bring different diners; Jack B’s bar and the Hazelwood Restaurant need different handling. He produces about 30 different menus for the hotel for everything from breakfast to corporate functions. That’s a lot of customers to keep happy!
Chris lives in Strandhill with his wife Karen who he calls the fulcrum of the family; the one who keeps everything balanced and stable. They have three children Rebecca (20), Rhianna (11) and Poppy (4). Downtime is their fortnight’s summer holiday in the sun, relaxing and reading a book – the polar opposite to the busy hotel kitchen.
Cooking at home is Karen’s domain and Chris just loves to be cooked for. He’s not fussy, just delighted to enjoy a home cooked meal either in his own house or with extended family or friends. Sounds like a recipe for a pretty perfect evening for everyone.