Raymond Moran, head chef and partner at Soda and Starch Pantry and Grill talks to TSE about his career as a chef.
When did you first get into cooking and what inspired you?
I was on my way to a large hotel in Cavan to be a waiter when a Head Chef from a local restaurant in Derry offered me a position as a Commis Chef in his kitchen and so it began.
After 20 odd years ironically the same person has now offered me the opportunity to open my own restaurant in my native City of Derry.
Have you any culinary qualifications?
I studied for one year at the North West Regional College where I achieved my City and Guilds. During my second year I left to start working in the industry. The fast pace of the working environment provided me with the right kind of experience to develop my career.
I have a vast collection of cookery books and I’m always trying new recipes. In essence I have learned indirectly from all the greats in the culinary world, from Rhodes to Trotter.
Can you outline your background in the trade and career to date?
I deliberately moved around a lot in my early days trying to get as much experience as possible, working in restaurants and hotels at home and abroad. At the age of 26 I finally returned and took up my first head chef position in Oysters. Fast forward a number of years; I was head chef at Harrys at Bridgend in Donegal before setting up my own business.
For the last number of years I’ve also been working in the family business with my brother. We catered for major outside events, private dinners and weddings in the North West.
Who has inspired you in your career?
I’ve been lucky to work in some fantastic hotels and restaurants with excellent head chefs. I’ve learnt something from each of them and this has shaped the style of chef and kitchen manager I’ve become.
I’m always looking for inspiration in books and benchmarking new restaurants to see what they are doing.
What I love about being a chef is the fact that you are always learning.
When did you join Soda and Starch?
This is a new venture which opened in March and the first restaurant that I’ve been a partner in. So there are some nerves at the minute but I’m looking forward to getting back behind the stoves and cooking the food that I like to eat myself when I am out. Good classic Northern Irish comfort food with a little twist.
What style is your cooking?
I believe in letting the produce do the talking and in giving the customer a choice in what they want to eat. I’ve always stuck to that.
It’s rewarding when a regular customer tries something new and enjoys it.
What is your food sourcing policy?
If it’s good enough, tastes great and it’s at the right price then don’t be afraid to use it. The majority of the ingredients will be locally sourced but I have some produce from further afield.
Things have changed since I started in the industry and we are spoiled for choice. We have excellent quality produce to work with.
We will be focusing on seafood in the restaurant and we are well placed to get fantastic seafood from Greencastle.
How many staff do you have?
We will be opening with a small team in the kitchen. There will be four chefs. Hopefully we will need more as the popularity of Soda and Starch Pantry and Grill grows in the coming months.
Whose career would you like to emulate?
I’ve always liked what the Flynn’s have done and I admire the fact they want to be in Dungarvan and of course that people will travel to them.
That’s amazing for their community.
Have you any interests outside of work?
My wife Jessica and I had our first baby last year and we have another one on the way so for the foreseeable numbers of years I am all theirs!