‘This Job is Part of Who I Am’, Head Chef Anil Roy

Wednesday, March 23, 2022. 12:12pm
Head Chef Anil Roy of Clayton Hotel

We meet with Dublin-based Head Chef Anil Roy to chat about his extensive career in hospitality

Clayton Hotel Charlemont’s Head Chef Anil Roy hails from Kerala, in Southern India, but has been Ireland’s gain for the past 18 years. Anil has had a varied and exciting career in the hospitality industry for over two decades, and so, at this stage of his professional life, Hotel & Restaurant Times was excited to meet with him to chat about his experiences, approach, and current Head Chef role.

Anil’s start in cooking happened due to circumstance, and a difficult one at that. When he was a teenager his mother passed away, and cooking became a necessity. He had to cook for his father and brother, and so threw himself into trying recipes, with help from his grandmother and aunt. Anil enjoyed cooking, but it would be a few more years before he considered it as a career. “While I was in my final year of studying zoology, I was working in a hotel in night housekeeping,” Anil tells us. “The office was next to the kitchen, and I got to know the kitchen staff well. I talked to them and tasted things they made. That’s when I began to think being a chef could be a career. I thought, I could travel the world. So, when I graduated, I went to study catering and hotel management.”

We’re sure it’s a question Anil gets asked a lot: what made him choose Ireland?

“After working in hotels in India for a few years I went to the Maldives to work in The Four Seasons,” he explains. “A few years into the job The Four Seasons was looking for staff all over the world, and my Head Chef told me there were opportunities in Riad, Singapore, and Dublin. Before the Maldives, I had never been outside of India, so I didn’t know what the best choice would be. I asked my Head Chef what I should do and he asked, ‘What do you most like in your life?’ I was about twenty-five and I didn’t know as I was mainly focused on my career. However, I said I like green and hills, so he replied, go to Dublin! The Celtic Tiger was roaring, the country was growing, and I thought it would be easy to travel around Europe from there.”

Anil moved to Ireland to take up a Senior Chef position in The Four Seasons in Dublin, and he stayed in that role for 11 years. He tells us he loves Dublin and can’t see himself living anywhere else, but also recognises the current housing crisis is a barrier to people who want to work in hospitality, and a challenge for businesses who need staff.

“Many people can’t afford the rents in Dublin,” he says. “When I first came here it was easier to afford rent but now it’s very hard. It will be tougher to find staff in the next couple of years, as less people are coming to Dublin for that reason. It’s hard for businesses, as they can’t afford to raise the wages because then the guest price will be unaffordable. We want to see a change and light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully that will come. Dublin is a great place to live and work. I have been here 18 years and I am here to stay. My kids are born here I bought a house here.”

After his decade-long stint in the Four Seasons, Anil says it was time for a change. “Chefs need to move around to avoid becoming one-dimensional,” he says. He moved to The Marker during the opening, staying for a year, and following that came a stint in The Westbury. Then, perhaps fatefully, he was walking along the canal with his wife when he passed The Clayton Hotel Charlemont. He recalls: “I told my wife, ‘Oh maybe this hotel is opening’ and she actually she sent an application in on my behalf without telling me! When I got a call from the hotel, I was very surprised, but when I discussed the role, I decided it was something I would like to do. I was part of opening, and it was tough, but I did well because I had so much experience.”

Head Chef Anil Roy of Clayton Hotel

In the Clayton Hotel Charlemont Anil overlooks two restaurant offerings, Lockside Bar & Social, which serves light bites and comfort foods like burgers, stews and fish and chips in a bar setting, and Gaudens Restaurant, which is a proper, albeit casual, dining experience serving the likes of steaks and fresh fish dishes. He also oversees the Atrium, a large space in the hotel which can hold bespoke catered events like corporate and networking events and PR launches.

We want to know – how does Anil approach his menus?

“I first think about the customer base,” he tells us. “This hotel is hard to predict as there’s a mix, so I try and put a slice of the world in my menu so there’s something for every taste. I also try as much as possible for the menu to be seasonal. Quality is also very important; I never buy cheap ingredients. On a particular day in the market, another person might be cheaper, but I always say buy from the supplier we trust. Saving one or two euros per kilo means you ultimately compromise the quality of the dish. Instead, I plan my menus so everything is connected and I don’t waste food. I like to change up the menu regularly too, to ensure it’s varied for repeat corporate guests.

Of course, while the organisational and bottom-line aspects of menu planning is crucial, the execution is what will delight guests and have them coming back again and again. Anil tells us his cooking approach is all about simplicity, dedication and excellence. “My food is never complicated,” he says. “I keep things as simple as possible and don’t use fancy methods – everything is based on chef skill. When new chefs come into the kitchen, I tell them their involvement in the food is key. For example, you can’t cook beef with the timer on – every beef is different, every cut is different, every cow is different. The thickness is different, the toughness is different, and recognising how to best cook a particular piece comes with time, experience and senior people showing you. All those things, recipes can’t teach.”

Anil takes his senior role seriously and tells us it’s important to encourage and listen to the team in the kitchen. The times are long gone, he says, where the chef is a king who shouts at people. If you treat people badly, from kitchen porter to chef, no one will want to work with you, no matter how much they are being paid. Empowering the team to put forward ideas is also important, says Anil, and if he decides the idea won’t work, it’s his responsibility to respectfully explain why. “I want my team to learn from me and get something from me career-wise,” he tells us.

The housing issue in Dublin is not the only challenge when it comes to hiring staff. Kitchen staff notoriously work unsociable hours, and the job can be high-pressure. Anil recognises this, and understands it’s not always easy, but he says he still wouldn’t want to do anything else.

“Sometimes over the years I wanted to leave the field,” he says. “I had a career break and did some other jobs but felt like something was missing. This can be a tough job but I also cannot live without it. If I do not work for one or two days, I feel uncomfortable. It’s part of me and it’s the person I am. I need busyness and pressure, and the satisfaction I get from cooking. To become a chef is not an easy journey but this goes for any field. For this job you need passion and dedication, and a connection to the team, the building, and your colleagues. These are key to come to work and meet the challenges of everyday and the expectations of the guests. You need to be a self-motivator and you need to treat everyone as you like to be treated.”

We think that’s pretty good advice for a novice chef! On a final note, we have a very important question for Anil – what is his signature dish? “Cauliflower, salt and pepper,” he says. “It’s gluten free, dairy free and the sauce is spicy. It was created by accident as the dish originally had shrimp. I swapped the shrimp for cauliflower and it worked. Cauliflower is not seen as a very attractive vegetable and guests have told me they never eat cauliflower but after trying mine have a newfound taste for it!”

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