WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – MICHELLE MCGOWAN, HEAD CHEF
I first became aware of Michelle McGowan when I was researching for my post on restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating in Ireland. As it happens The Red Bank is gorgeous inside and also has a spacious and newly renovated outdoors space.
Michelle McGowan is a multi award-winning heads up the kitchen team at The Red Bank Restaurant in Carrick-On-Shannon. She is a passionate advocate for using locally sourced produce and she thrives on creating innovative dishes using seasonal ingredients sourced through local producers in Leitrim, Sligo and surrounding counties.
I came across several things this week that reminded me it was high time to kick this series on the women of the Irish food industry. They are hard workers and they are not celebrated near as much as their male counterparts. So here I am, trying to do just that.
How did your career path bring you here?
My career started long before I ever became Head Chef at The Red Bank Restaurant. After completing my Leaving Cert in 1996, I attended Killybegs School of Tourism where I graduated in Culinary Arts. I then studied in GMIT and achieved a distinction in Advanced Kitchen Management. Later, as a mature student I returned to study in Killybegs and graduated in Advanced Pastry.
In my early twenties I began a career with Murphy Bros, Ballina, Mayo under the direction of Head Chef Gerry Luskin and within two years was offered a position as Head Chef in the Gable End Restaurant, Enniscrone, Sligo.
In 2006, I opened my own café, Magumba’s in Enniscrone, which rapidly became known as the “go to” destination for locals and visitors alike in the well-known seaside village. While continuing to work directly in that business, I also made the bold decision to take over the lease of the gastro pub “The Pilot Bar” also located in Enniscrone and for a period of five years oversaw the teams in both kitchens.
Over the years since then I have worked in a number of places and have developed a successful reputation as a chef that produces high quality culinary menus specialising in the use of locally sourced produce. It was during this time that I first worked with Jason and was encouraged by his deep sense of quality and service in the hospitality industry. Values I greatly admire and share which made any decision to follow him to Carrick-on-Shannon very easy.
How does your career fulfil you?
As an award-winning chef, being able to create seasonal menus and dishes that meet the preferences of our dining guest excites me. I am always striving to be responsive to what people want and push myself to explore new trends, tastes and experiences for others. At The Red Bank Restaurant, we are passionate about sourcing and using quality local Irish products. This encourages local support and ensures quality of products and service. We very much appreciate the wide variety of these products and the relationships we have with our local providers.
What are your professional ambitions, what’s next for Michelle McGowan?
During Covid 19 while working from home I released a video series of tutorials and it reminded me of my interest in teaching others. I hope to return to third level and seek a qualification which would allow me to fulfil a career in teaching Culinary Arts.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry that constantly inspires you and why?
To name one is really too difficult. I admire a whole variety of women across the Northwest who have made a significant contribution to the Industry. I admire people who put themselves out there to make a difference. People like Ethna (Nook Café & Restaurant, Collooney), Dervla (Pudding Row, Easkey) and Sinead (Jinny’s Bakery, Drumshambo) are among those who inspire me especially for all they did during Covid 19 given the restrictions that public health measures put on our industry.
What do you think can be done to raise the profile and visibility of women in the industry?
Opportunities like this, to be published either in text or through social media, allows for others like me to be recognised and places like The Red Bank Restaurant and all its providers to be acknowledged and promoted. Social media plays a huge role in our lives and having reviews published gets the word out there that there are a significantly more women in Head Chef positions across the Industry. This is something which appears new over the past ten years and something that I would encourage.
What is the proudest moment of your career so far?
Aside from being a mother to my two beautiful children there are many proud moments for me throughout my career. Perhaps most exciting was that for two consecutive years in 2014 and 2015 I was awarded Best Chef in Connaught and the Pilot Bar was awarded Best Gastro Pub in the highly prestigious Annual Irish Restaurant Association Awards. Under my leadership in the kitchen and Jason’s leadership (Front of House) I am confident that The Red Bank Restaurant team – Mark, Niall, Sonata, Blaithin and Niamh – will get to enjoy such awards.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I have always loved to travel so I would encourage my younger self to do that more. To sample the world’s amazing cultures and cuisines in foreign countries, their colours, flavours and produce, just not available in this country. To explore cooking styles and techniques and to see how they create dishes and display foods for their customers. Irrespective of pay I would seek work in high quality settings to keep learning and develop my own skills and see first-hand how wonderful their dining experience can be.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Having a sense of values, working to high standards, knowledge of legislation, policy and safe practices are all essential for working in a contemporary hospitality industry. Although hugely important, these have their limitations without passion, drive, ambition and the desire to succeed and always be better at what you do. Appreciating others and encouraging team members to develop recipes that are added to the menu is essential. This helps to encourage their growth for future positions and for the team to appreciate each other more.
Are you a savoury or sweet kinda person? Please tell us about a real treat?
Oh savoury, always savoury. There’s nothing I like more than travelling and visiting local restaurants and cafes on my days off. I particularly enjoy coastal areas where there is always fresh seafood on offer. I am very lucky to live along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way as it has so much to offer. I am excited to get back to this and to support the hospitality industry in Ireland which has really struggled over the past year.