Reporter Brendan Keane talks to Wexford chef Loughlin Druhan about his meteoric rise from a Fás course to culinary chief at the World Hotel Of the Year
The path to global success in the culinary world for one Wexford man has taken him from Kilrane National School to Head of Culinary at Adare Manor - certified as World Hotel of the Year in the prestigious Virtuoso 'Best of the Best Awards 2018'.
Loughlin Druhan, whose parents and siblings still live in County Wexford, received his secondary education in St Peter's College and speaking to this newspaper about his amazing path to culinary success admitted that when he left school he didn't really know what he wanted to do.
'My aunt and uncle ran a little hotel and I got summer work off them and I found out about a Fas course which I did from January to April and that gave me an interest in food,' he said.
He then enrolled in a course in Galway Institute of Technology and following that ended up in France where he was lucky enough to get a job in the Michelin-starred restaurant, La Rochelle.
Recalling his formative years as a chef Mr Druhan said it was all about hard graft.
'We would start at 8 a.m. and finish at 11.30 p.m. and I suppose in that regard a lot has changed and a healthy life-work balance is something that we try to instil here in Adare Manor,' he said.
'We try to ensure that people work eight-hour days including their break and we have a team of 66 chefs here,' he added.
His time in France marked the beginning of an international journey that would see him rise quickly through the culinary ranks to the point where he was appointed to important kitchen positions in some of the world's most prestigious hotel groups including being Director of Food and Beverage and ultimately Executive Chef with Jumeirah at Eithad Towers in addition to being Executive Chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai, Cairo and Bahrain.
He said having international experience has proved invaluable and in much the same way as learning a new language the best way for any up-and-coming chef to reach the top of his or her game is to experience first-hand what the world has to offer.
'I was French classically trained and that's something I've brought with me all along,' said Mr Druhan.
When he returned home from France he took up an appointment at the K-Club in Kildare where he stayed for four-and-half years.
'It was at that stage that I decided I wanted to travel and I read about the budding tourism industry in Dubai,' he said.
Having applied for a position there he effectively took a step backwards in terms of his career and went to work as a junior sous chef.
However, within two-and-a-half years he had worked his way back up the ranks and it was a case of losing a battle to win the war because the experience he gained would prove invaluable as his career progressed.
His work in Dubai led to him being offered a position as Executive Sous Chef with the Carlton Hotel group in Bahrain where he said he gained even more insight and knowledge about different styles of cuisine.
'It's all about learning as you go and each experience gives you new insight into different cuisines,' he said.
From Bahrain, Mr Druhan was invited to oversee the development of the Hilton Hotel in Cairo which he found challenging but very enjoyable.
With his career on an ever-upward spiral and his international reputation as one of the world's foremost chefs being compounded with each new role Mr Druhan's next appointment was in Abu Dhabi where he oversaw the running of 12 restaurants manned by a staff of 240 chefs.
'After five years in Abu Dhabi I decided it was time to move on and return home,' he said.
With his reputation preceding him he got a call from Adare Manor, in County Limerick, which is now owned by the McManus family.
'I hit it off straight away with the family and with the CEO, Colm Hannon,' said Mr Druhan.
'We opened up again in November but I came back the year before to look at the logistic aspects of it,' he added.
For Mr Druhan the dining experience is not just about food; it involves every aspect of the restaurant under his watch. Under his direction even items like wooden utensils used in the kitchen and restaurants at the Manor are sourced from local wood.
'We used wood from some of the trees that were felled on the property during recent storms,' he said.
'We got that wood and a man who lives locally down here produced wonderful bowls from it and we also produce our own honey here too,' he added.
'We've also sown our own truffle trees and we hope that in four to five years we will have our own truffles.'
As part of his reconnaissance mission prior to the premises re-opening Mr Druhan took a trip around Ireland in a camper with the aim of sourcing produce for the manor's restaurants from artisan producers nationwide including in his own native County Wexford.
'It's a different country now to what it was when I left over 20 years ago and there are numerous little artisan businesses in operation now which is great because it means we can source our produce in Ireland,' he said.
'There weren't many artisan suppliers 20 years ago but there are a lot of businesses out there now.'
For coffee lovers there is the added bonus of being able to visit a nearby coffee producer and witness the roasting process for themselves.
'It's all about enhancing the overall experience of dining and giving customers a bit of background to what they are eating,' said Mr Druhan.
He also said it's important to meet suppliers and to understand where they are coming from in terms of their passion for their products.
'I think that's very important because when you see how passionate they are about what they're doing you know that what you will get will be top-of-the-range produce for your restaurants.'
In Adare Manor Mr Druhan is over a team of 66 world-class, award-winning chefs and its flagship restaurant is the Oak Room which is fast being regarded as one of the best fine dining eateries in the country.
The venue is hoping to host the Ryder Cup golf tournament in 2026 which Mr Druhan said would be a great coup for the manor.
'In 2020 the Pro-Am is coming here as well which is good,' he said.
Very proud of his Wexford roots Mr Druhan tries to come back home once-a-month to visit his parents, family and friends but it's on the international culinary world that he has truly made his mark.