5 Minutes With… Mike Tweedie
The Oak Room in Adare Manor is well on its way to becoming a culinary destination. Under the direction of Head Chef Mike Tweedie, the restaurant has gone from strength to strength in its first few months. This early success should come as no surprise: before he came on board to oversee the opening of The Oak Room at Adare Manor, Mike was head chef at at the five-star Ballyfin Demesne hotel in Co. Laois. Under his guidance Ballyfin won two AA Rosettes within eight weeks of opening, earned up five AA Red Stars, and was named #13 in the world for Food and Wine Resorts by Andrew Harper’s Reader’s Choice Awards. His impressive background also includes stints in the two-Michelin-Starred Gidleigh Park Hotel in Devon under Michael Caines and the Michelin-Starred Lucknam Park Hotel in Bath under Hwyel Jones.
Throughout Mike’s quickly-rising career, his originality, talent and passion have seen him recognised by some of fine-dining’s most esteemed competitions. He was named a finalist in BCF Chef of the Year 2012 and winner of UK South West Chef of the Year 2013, and reached the semi-finals in the international S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 competition.
With a background like this, expectations were high, but Mike and his team have more than risen to the challenge. Reviews from diners who have had the chance to enjoy The Oak Room’s signature seasonal menu have agreed that these dishes deliver the Adare Manor promise of an experience Beyond Everything…and this is still only just the beginning!
The work of a Head Chef is never done and life for the team behind The Oak Room is fast paced, but we were fortunate enough to have Mike take a little time out of his busy day to talk to us about the experience of helming the new Oak Room, his talented young team, some menu highlights and his hopes for the future. He’s humble about his accomplishments, but his commitment to excellence and innovation are clear.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
“If I’m honest I haven’t fully found a cooking style yet. I think it takes a little time to find your feet as Head Chef, then you grow into a cooking style. You’re always evolving, but at the moment we’re happy just enjoying the process! We like to keep it simple and try not to do too much to the food: to just let the flavours speak for themselves.”
What has it been like launching a new menu with a new team in a new restaurant over the last few months?
“Well, it’s been a challenge! We’re such a big hotel and this was my first pre-opening. You come to a new project with all these great ideas and plans on how things are going to work, but you have to be flexible to make it all happen. I am very lucky that my team hit the ground running! They are a great bunch of boys and girls and I couldn’t have done my job without the support of my team. They’re the reason the restaurant is doing so well so early on.”
The culinary road trip that the team went on during the original menu development stage took you all over the country to meet potential suppliers and taste their offerings. Did you already have a strong concept for the dishes at that point? Was there any particular ingredient which sparked new inspiration?
“Yeah, we had some great fun and met some fantastic people and products! Larry from Galway Goats Farm, Mary and Tony Walsh from Kilkenny Free Range Ducks, Jonathan from Wild Atlantic Way Foods, Fingal down in Gubeen Smokehouse, the folks at Mossfield Cheese in Offaly, Drummond House Garlic, Duncannon Smokehouse, and there so many more we can list.
The whole trip made me look at Irish products in a different light. You have a better understanding of the time and effort these guys put into what they do, so there were lots of different suppliers that made me rethink the way we build our dishes here and actually what we do with their products. We try keep it simple and let the great produce shine on its own merits.”
The menu is very tied to the Irish landscape and seasonality. How often are you developing new dishes? What is that process like?
“Well, we have 16 dishes on the menu, which doesn’t include snacks, bread, petit fours and couple of other surprises! We run a seasonal menu with 3 choices on each course which gives are guests a good choice of dishes. They can choose a 4, 5 or 6 course menu or even, if a guest wanted, 7 or 8 courses from the menu. We work very closely with seasons. I think when something is at its best then we have to use it, whether that it be somewhere on the menu as a main dish or as part of a special garnish.
We’re always trying to develop new dishes and extra surprises for the guest. I always task my chefs with projects to get them to bring ideas to the table because I think it’s important to challenge them and get them thinking about food in the same way I do. There is never a bad idea: if something doesn’t work we take a step back look how we can bring it to the standard we are looking for. It could take weeks or months to get it right! The way we work here is that we all taste the new dish with the Front of House team and get feedback from them. They are the ones who introduce the dishes to the guests, and their opinions matter. Everyone has a voice. Then Dave Kearns (our Restaurant Manager) and I will sit with Jurica, our Head Sommelier, to talk about wines and the way we going to deliver the service.”
Ireland seems to be going through a bit of a culinary revolution right now. Have you found that diners are enthusiastic about exploring new ingredients and new kinds of food? Is there a lot of room for creativity in Irish fine dining right now?
“I do think Ireland is on the up. There are some great chefs in this country doing great things and really flying the flag for Irish cuisine. I’d like to see Ireland be known for its great Irish cuisine and the great produce that we all know we have here. It’s an exciting time in this country for chefs and diners. Ireland has some of the best lands and sea in the world. I do think diners are becoming more advanced and adventurous with food.”
Looking into the future for The Oak Room, do you have any specific goals you’re working towards?
“I guess to have a busy restaurant with happy guests who will come and have fun, enjoy the food and wine and take the memories with them. And happy staff, just to keep giving back to my team, teaching and developing their skills as much as I can as their head chef. A big one for me is to start looking to the future of our industry. It’s important to me to teach and help the next generation of chefs. To make sure they have a good skill set and knowledge to then pass on to other young chefs. And just to keep pushing to be stronger and better than we were yesterday—but most of to all have fun cooking!”
Mike’s enthusiasm for the work he and his team are doing in The Oak Room is immediately apparent in the care and innovation that goes into every single dish on the menu. Their respect for the local produce and artisan ingredients they work with shines through. As diners continue to visit The Oak Room for an unforgettable candlelit fine-dining experience, we know they’ll leave with a new appreciation for the fruits of the Irish landscape and the people who bring them to our tables.