Paul Monaghan’s route to running his own food business was unorthodox to say the least. After studying Environmental/Biological Science, he spent the better part of two decades working for major multinational pharmaceutical companies. It was only after taking redundancy that he decided to follow his heart and begin a new career as a chef and business owner. Even then, the path he followed was anything but standard.
The first nine years of Paul’s life were spent near Manchester before his family moved back to Ireland, settling in Rooskey, Co. Roscommon. His mother is an excellent home cook and her baking and boxty were so popular she began a small business, selling them into local shops. From a young age Paul always showed an interest in food and cooking and learned quickly from his mother. The early training in the kitchen proved useful during his college years when he was definitely a very popular housemate. He reckoned that if he did the cooking he’d never need to do the washing up and it seems to have worked!
He recalls buying a cookbook and wok 20 years ago and teaching himself Oriental cookery. In a neat twist, he gave that same cookbook and a (new) wok to his son Michael, when he moved to Dublin to study music.
Redundancy offered Paul a chance to reinvent himself and he grasped it with both hands. Consultancy was an obvious choice, but not one he wanted to make. He had already done several short cookery courses, including one with JP McMahon in Michelin starred Aniar– a welcome Christmas present from his wife Mary. He was also a keen athlete and was tempted to pursue a career in personal training. He tossed the two options in the air – the world of fitness, or running his own food business. The food world won hands down. Talking to friends who were chefs and ran their own businesses, he then made an unusual choice. Rather than doing a fulltime course somewhere like Ballymaloe, Paul decided to try and secure work in some top quality kitchens and learn ‘on the hoof’.
His approach was to follow the ‘stage’ system popular in France and offer to work for no payment in order to gain the essential experience he needed. His first placement was with JP McMahon in his Galway restaurants which he found absolutely inspirational. Further stints with Neven Maguire in MacNean’s Bistro, Paul Flynn in The Tannery and in Fallon & Byrne were equally rewarding. Paul was not only learning about the kitchen and cooking, but also how these successful businesses were run, how they kept costs down and quality up, and all aspects of management. Finally he was ready to start out on his own.
Listening to Paul talk, it’s clear that his science and management background dovetail seamlessly with his culinary skills to set him up perfectly as a chef/owner. He is eminently practical in his approach and a forensic application to detail and time management are a stark contrast to many chefs. Paul took over the premises in Sligo Folk Park, Riverstown at the end of 2015, refurbished it and reopened it as ‘FEED Café & Restaurant” in spring 2016. He hit the ground running and literally hasn’t stopped since.
The whole family are involved in Feed. Mary when she’s finished her busy days as a hairdresser, Michael (21) and 15 year old twins Leah and Christian help out regularly. Leah is showing some talent in the kitchen making brownies that her proud Dad describes as ‘famous’.
Paul is passionate about food – provenance, quality and seasonality. Like his mother he loves to bake and makes all the breads from scratch, from soda to sourdough. He genuinely loves to feed people and his menus reflect his years spent travelling for work, particularly influenced by Spanish and Italian cuisines.
One of his food highlights was in an unassuming restaurant in Florence where there was no menu – either for food or wine. Plate after plate of delicious Italian food poured from the kitchen, accompanied by great wines. That element of surprise appeals to him and the concept of trusting yourself to a chef who really knows what he’s doing. Lucky customers at FEED would seem to be doing just that! #SligoFoodTrail www.sligofoodtrail.ie
** Don’t miss Riverstown Vintage Festival and Family Fun Day on Saturday 3rd June 2017 **