Saturday 19 January 2019

CELEBRITY chef who likes the simple things in life

true to his roots: Fiona Dillon talks to Richard Corrigan about the secret of his success, turning 50 and his idea of heaven

It's 25 years since celebrity chef Richard Corrigan held his wedding reception at a magnificent Cavan estate, and now he is the proud owner of it.

The Virginia Park Lodge overlooking Lough Ramor is clearly a labour of love for the chef.

Speaking from his noisy kitchen in Picadilly, he said: "I had been looking at Virginia for a long time. That is where I had my reception. I had known that place very well.

"There was a lot of interest when it came on the market last year. It's set in over 100 acres of countryside and it has escaped the ravages of the last 20 years of mad development.

"It's beautiful. It really is. It's how it was laid out from the 15th century onwards. The gardens are supplying my London restaurants right now. All the garden team is in place," he added.

The chef said he doesn't worry about "how to fill these places".

"Build it and they shall come," he said, while adding it is already getting interest from all over the world.

"By the way Cavan is not Iceland. We are on the Meath border. We are 55 minutes from Dublin on the motorway."

Born in Ballivor, County Meath, Richard already owns three restaurants in London: Corrigan's in Mayfair, Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill and Bentley's Sea Grill at Harrods.


He may have turned 50 earlier this year, but he shows no signs of slowing down, while admitting it was a milestone for him.

Mr Corrigan himself says he does more hours than anyone in the business. "We lead by example. We lead from the front."

His birthday was in February and his wife Maria asked him if they were going to have a party.

"I said no, I don't have time," he said laughing.

"And I didn't. I just had it about three weeks ago, in Virginia. It's as simple as that. A party to me is good wine, some great food, some close friends around the table.

"You know what I mean, that's my idea of heaven really."

People who he has been close to all his life were at his party, including a farmer who gave him a job when he was just 13 or 14.

"You know, people who meant a lot to me. That is who I wanted at my 50th."

The dad-of-three said around 50 attended the bash.

Mr Corrigan is clearly someone who values loyalty. His staff in London can even get interest-free loans if they are short until pay day.

He knows how expensive the city can be, especially for young people starting out there.

"You want to be coming to London with five grand in your pocket to get started if you are going to live in a nice apartment or something. It's a crazy place," he said.

"You know we rely on these young enthusiastic people to come join our company and therefore we do the right thing. I am not the only one in that. The smaller companies in London, I mean, hold on to their great people.

"You don't hold onto them by just letting them walk home, and sending them out hungry.

"A lot of restaurants don't even feed their staff any more in London.

"We insist that the staff eat incredibly well in our company.

"A lot don't do it any more," he said.

His has been a remarkable success story at a time when many others have failed. Figures published earlier this month reveal that Richard Corrigan Restaurants Holdings Ltd posted a 3.9pc rise in turnover to £9.4m (€11.8m) in the year to the end of December 2013.

He values his relationship with his customers and his suppliers.


"You know your suppliers are part of your success story and you should never underestimate them as well," said the chef, who comes from "farming stock".

"I am not an urbanite. I can tell you that. I am reverting towards simple things as I get older. I don't need a lot to make me happy. Just a good bottle of wine and good company."

He declares that he has made "more buddies around Virginia and Oldcastle in one year since I bought the place than I have in London in 20-something years".

He also says he has a "strong affinity" with the west of Ireland because his mother was from Connemara.

"To unwind I do a bit of reading. I don't really travel a lot. Ireland is my main destination," he said.

He has been to the south of France a few times, but his real relaxation comes from "sitting in a really good pub in Arthurstown in Wexford or Oldcastle in Meath. Somewhere where there is wit and fun and enjoyment and laughter. You can't buy it, and it's in Ireland in bucketfuls."

In the future he is thinking about opening a "really cool" vegetarian restaurant for Dublin which he thinks there is an opening for.

"I am keeping my eyes open all the time," he said.

But for the moment, he is continuing with his work on restoring his Cavan lodge to its former glory.

True to his chef roots, he can still remember what he ate at his wedding feast.

"We got married in a church in Athboy, Co Meath. I was living in the Netherlands just before that, and came home to get married in Ireland, and then we came back to work in London. We had around 150 people at the reception. I still remember the craic at the wedding. It was brilliant. We had a seafood cocktail, and shoulder of lamb. It was stunning," he added.


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