Thursday, August 31, 2023.

We met with Stefan Matz, The iNUA Collection’s Group Executive, for an insightful conversation about the industry and all things culinary.

Cheffing and the culinary space in Ireland is at an interesting crossroads. Post-COVID, the hospitality industry has started to rebuild and tourism is once again growing, but with this renewal comes a crucial need for passionate industry professionals. Guest expectations are high and a country’s dining offering can make or break a trip and impact word-of-mouth recommendations and return business. Hotel & Restaurant Times was delighted to meet with The iNUA Collection’s Group Executive Chef Stefan Matz to chat about his perspective, including his challenging role, Ireland’s current hospitality landscape, and iNUAs place in it, both as an innovative and exciting Group and a catalyst of change in the industry.

German-born Stefan has been living in Ireland for over two decades, and while he retains his accent, his peppered “at all at alls” are proof of his adopted Irishness. It’s clear he’s passionate about the industry in Ireland, and over the years has worked at the highest cheffing levels, spending eleven years as Executive Chef in Ashford Castle and gaining a Michelin star during his time at the Erriseask Hotel in Ballyconneely. He also ran his own catering consultancy business for several years before joining iNUA in 2019 as Group Executive Chef. Quite an incredible career for someone who says they “fell into cheffing.”

“Some chefs always knew what they wanted or grew up in a kitchen and cooked with relatives from a young age, but it wasn’t like that for me at all,” Stefan explains. “I studied economy in college but didn’t enjoy it. I like to be busy and working with my hands, and I was always the fussiest eater, and still am, believe it or not. My brother was working in hospitality and said I should give cheffing a go, so I tried it. I seemed to have a talent for it, and loved the job satisfaction and rewards, and that’s why I’m still at it.”

As Group Executive Chef of The iNUA Collection, Stefan’s role is crucial in coordinating the Group’s culinary efforts and establishing, maintaining and developing consistency and standards, a particular challenge given the Group’s eight diverse properties, which include the five-star Muckross Park Hotel & Spa in Killarney, the trendy and modern Dublin One Hotel in Dublin’s city centre, and four Radisson Blu hotels around the country.

Stefan explains: “Broadly, I develop the culinary concept to the needs of the customer and the business. I implement it and make sure the teams are trained, have the resources they need, and the kitchens are properly designed and equipped. I’m on top of meeting critical targets, making sure the quality is set, improved and maintained, and that staffing levels are where they should be. Its sounds complex, but of course not everything can be done by one person; each hotel has its own team that is responsible for its own operations, so I don’t micromanage.”

Stefan tells us this is also the case when it comes to the menus of each hotel. While consistency across all iNUA hotels is crucial, creative input from chefs is encouraged. “Concepts have to be similar and we must have the same high standards throughout all iNUA properties and restaurants, but it’s also so important for chefs to engage with the food and have a platform to express themselves,” he says. “It’s not my menu, it’s their menu, it’s our menu. I ask chefs, what would you like to see on the menu? What would your customers like? We want those individual influences. For example, if we have a chef in Cork that wants to focus on Cork products, we encourage that regional influence, or if we have a chef from another country, we want them to bring their own flavour. A chef who’s engaged will cook better and that food will taste better, and the guests can taste the difference.”

DKANE 11/08/2021 REPRO FREE Stefan Matz, Group Executive Chef at The iNUA Collection with teenagers Gráinne Guest, Little Island, Clodagh O’Regan, Little Island, Amy McCrossan Donnachie, Cobh, Keelan O’Brien, Leamlara and Jay McCrossan Donnachie, Cobh PIC Darragh Kane

It’s clear from iNUA’s diverse portfolio it’s an exciting, innovative Group, and this, Stefan tells us, is reflected in the culinary offering. The Group has a dedicated Director of Innovation who leads Innovation Teams in each hotel with the goal of identifying customer needs, researching current and projected trends and innovating and coming up with new trends. However, Stefan says there must always be a balanced, measured interplay between the traditional guest needs and innovation.

“I don’t think there’s any group out there who has innovation at the forefront as much as iNUA,” he says. “However, our customers and guests always come first, so we need to be sure we’re always focused on what they want. Change must be slow, or we can implement change while having a dual offering, so traditional Irish food alongside something more trendy or innovative. It would be different if we were talking about a standalone restaurant but we have customers and guests staying with us and we need to make sure we look after them, and that makes it more complicated as the menus need to suit a variety of tastes and expectations.”

The key, Stefan says, is quality first. “It will always be what the guest wants over everything else,” he says. “Take fish and chips: it’s a traditional dish but if it’s high quality and executed well – the fish is fresh, the batter is crisp and the tartare sauce is creamy and zesty – even a foodie would appreciate it. Food provenance is a big part of this, and we are lucky in Ireland to have such wonderful produce. iNUA has developed strong relationships with Irish producers. We pick the best of what’s available nationwide and make it available to all our guests. For example, our beef burgers are from Gilligan’s Farm in Co. Roscommon and our sausages are from Andarl Farm in Co. Mayo. We are proud of our suppliers and highlight the provenance on our menus. Guests love to know where their food comes from, particularly international guests who want a real taste of Ireland.”

Talk turns to another element of how iNUA is innovating and moving things forward: recognising the urgent need for chefs and culinary professionals, in 2021 the Group launched a two-year Professional Cookery Traineeship in association with Limerick Clare Education & Training Board, designed to lead to a QQI Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Professional Cookery. Stefan is heavily involved in the programme and tells us it’s never been more important to entice people into the industry.

“I am worried about the industry,” Stefan says. “We stopped training chefs a few decades ago – there was a recession and CERT – the Council for Education, Recruitment and Training – ceased training people in the Irish hospitality industry and we just never go back onto the path, and that’s why we now have a shortage. Commis chefs were not trained, so commis chefs never developed into chefs de partie or sous chefs, and now we have no head chefs anymore. We now must make the effort to rectify the situation, and that’s why I’m delighted to be involved in our own traineeship programme. iNUA’s CEO Sean O’Driscoll recognises the need for the industry, and so the focus is on offering a fantastic and interesting course which is practical as well as theoretical, and crucially, making a cheffing career attractive.”

The hospitality industry’s PR problem is well-known. Unlike countries on the continent like France, Spain or Austria, where jobs in hospitality are meaningful careers for many and training opportunities abound, in Ireland the industry still has a reputation for being a stopgap, and negative perceptions remain, particularly in terms of hours, pay and, with cheffing, the pressure of the job.

Stefan speaks to this: “It’s a great profession, and most people don’t know how rewarding and enjoyable it can be. We hear too much about the negative aspects, but people need to hear about the good things – the buzz, creativity, opportunity to travel all over the world, meet people, and have fun at work. It must be seen as a career, with a real career path, like for example a commis chef can become an executive chef to a culinary director. It’s about perception. In Germany where I grew up there was an opinion that if you weren’t good for anything else, you become a chef, and on the other side of it, in Austria they have secondary schools specifically oriented to tourism, so you do your Leaving Cert and take culinary or management classes. This makes it attractive for people, a career to be proud of. We need to create that awareness here in Ireland or in 10 years we’ll have a problem.”

There is much to be positive about however, Stefan says. iNUA is constantly moving and developing and lots of exciting projects and concepts are on the way. “Despite the many challenges the industry is facing, hospitality is an exciting place to be right now. If you look at Ireland now and 30 years ago, we’re a completely different country, certainly in a culinary aspect, and if we’re to continue at the same pace we’ll be on another planet soon!”

For more information on The iNUA Collection visit

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