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Chef Fran Broadbery

Chef Fran Broadbery

It’s not every day I sit down with an Irish chef and it’s not every day I nearly miss a flight to America. Today I did both…virtually at the same time!

Dear Readers…if you’re flying anywhere this summer on Aer Lingus, Ireland’s national airline, listen up… Aer Lingus requires all passengers check-in two to three hours before all flights…and they mean it! If you’re not at the ticket counter when the “last call” for your flight is made, you’re snookered. Chances are you’re not getting to your final destination on the flight of your choice. In fact, you may not get to your final destination at all. I know: I learned it the hard way.

In typical fashion, I arrived at Dublin Airport 90 minutes before my plane from Dublin to Boston was scheduled to depart. I was feeling pretty chuffed (happy) with myself: 90 minutes felt positively luxurious. No husband, no kids, and clutching nothing but my carry-on bag, I sauntered over to one of those kiosk-yokes to check in. When a “Flight Closed” message flashed up on the screen before me, I wasn’t the least bit worried. Instead, I walked over to the “Flight Closing” desk and waited patiently {about 10 minutes} to clear up the problem.

“Didn’t you hear the two last calls for your flight?!”, said the young Aer Lingus representative dressed in green.

The last two whats?, I replied calmly. “My flight doesn’t leave for 90 minutes.”

“That may well be the case,” she said, “but check-in for all Aer Lingus international flights is three hours before take off. You have missed the last call for your plane. You’ll have to see if you can get a later flight…which is, unfortunately, showing oversold at the moment.”

Arguing the case, no matter how politely, got me nowhere so I hustled myself over to the next queue (line) to see if I could get on my flight. Five minutes passed…my position in the queue wasn’t improving and my heart was beginning to pound like a jack hammer. You see Dear Readers, I was meeting my youngest daughter at summer camp on the other side of the Atlantic and I HAD TO GET ON THAT FLIGHT!!!!

No longer calm and smug but rather stressed and glowing sweating, I thought all was lost until an Aer Lingus supervisor called to me saying, “Today is your lucky day!” It turned out the man directly behind me in the last queue was also supposed to get on my flight and, since there were two of us who’d screwed up, they were going to do us a favour by getting us through security, immigration, and customs and onto the plane. “You’d better not do this again!”, my new friend and I were chastised.

Cruising through lines like the ancient Israelites passing through the Red Sea {thanks to Moses}, my friend and I struck up a conversation. Turns out he was delayed getting to the airport because of a problem at the car hire (rental) place. Hertz or Avis or another company was giving him a hard time and he wasn’t able to check-in before the dreaded “last calls”.

It was in the U.S. Customs line that we finally exchanged names and handshakes and I asked him what he did. “I’m a chef!”, he replied in a soft Irish accent.

Hmmm…a chef!…an Irish food blogger saved by an Irish chef!…sounds too good to be true.

“You’d better watch out,” I warned, “I may just have to interview you on the flight to Boston.”

My new friend chuckled, “If we make this flight, I’ll be happy to talk.”

As luck would have it, we made the flight and, what’s more, Aer Lingus sat us together. A captured interviewee: my day just went from bad to great! So, Dear Readers, without further adieu, it is my pleasure to introduce to you my seat-mate and good luck charm…Chef Fran Broadbery.

Plum Island Grill Food

Tempura Shrimp, Thai Seafood Stew, and Apple Tarte Tatin served at Plum Island Grille

Q. So, Fran, what can you tell me about your restaurant?

A. It’s called Plum Island Grille and it’s on Plum Island, a beautiful barrier island with a single drive road leading up to a picturesque “old school” restaurant. It’s about a half-hour north of downtown Boston.

Q. What kind of food do you serve?

A. Oh, Jaysus…really good food {laughter}. No, seriously, it’s Mediterranean, strong French, with a hint of Thai.

Q. That sounds delicious. How did the Thai part work its way in?

A. I met my wife in a Thai restaurant and I’ve always loved Thai food. I guess you could say I’ve always had a soft spot for Thai.

Q. Did you meet your wife in Thailand?

A. No…I met her in the Chili Club in Dublin.

Q. Oh, I remember that place…it is great.

A. Yea, I worked in the kitchen there as a dishwasher and a precook. Anna the chef, she was about 83 years of age, took me under her wing and taught me some of the tricks of making proper Thai cuisine. She was one of the best chefs I ever worked with in my life.

Q. You’re Irish but you live in America now…how did that happen?

A. When I was twenty-one, my then girlfriend moved home to America and I went to Europe to sow a few “wild oats” and learn more about food. I went from Barcelona to Scandinavia cooking for about a year. Food, fun, drink…but in the end, I missed my girlfriend and headed back to Dublin on Dec 21 and was in Boston by Dec 24th. Arriving in Boston on Christmas Eve blew my mind! My girlfriend and I drove up to New Hampshire on Christmas morning…something I’ll never forget…no one had ever told me how beautiful America is. I never expected it. I fell in love with the countryside immediately.

Q. Obviously your girlfriend was American. Did it work out?

A. Twenty-two years later, two boys, and a flying restaurant…it certainly did. My life is busy but good!

Q. What influence, if any, has your upbringing had on Plum Island Grille?

A. Ireland…not so much…my Mum…plenty. My mum was not a good cook but there are certain dishes of hers that I remember fondly and I’ve tried to recreate them at Plum Island Grill. There are dishes from the Irish sea and the Irish land: salted and smoked cod chowder, wild mushroom soup, perfectly boiled ham, and, oh my God, my mother’s scones. I can never replicate them but I do make them. So, I’d say Ireland itself isn’t much of a strong influence but my mother definitely is.

Q. Where did you go to school.

A. I started school in Wexford and then did two years of school in Tallaght. I only remember it as the fluorescent green school where there was a very pretty accounting teacher…and therefore I love accounting. I then went to Blackrock College for 5th year and on to Bolton Street for architecture and property management (real estate) and, finally, finished at Trinity College with a degree in architecture.

Q. From architecture to becoming a chef…how did that happen?

A. Architecture is the creation of something from scratch…food is very similar.

Q. You mentioned that you are one in a family of eighteen children! What was that like growing up?

A. I loved my childhood. It was hard. We were poor. We struggled. But, we built an amazing family bond that will never be broken. When I see my family now…even if it’s a year or two between visits…there is no awkwardness…it’s like we see each other every day. I’m floored by my family. Thank God for Viber!

Q. How often do you get back to Ireland?

A. At least once a year, if not twice.

Q. I have to ask…what’s it like to be married to an American…as you know…I am American and married to an Irish man.

A. Kathleen has never been like any other American I’ve known. If she was I probably wouldn’t have married her! {more laughter!} She is a mind-blowing woman on so many levels. Tall, dark, beautiful and elegant…amazingly witty…and yet sweet at the same time. I am challenged by Kathleen on a daily basis and for that I am very grateful. My life is never boring with her and it never will be. She wont’ let me rest on my laurels and I like it that way. She’s an interesting lady.

Q. One last question…what is your favourite thing to eat?

A. Pan seared John Dory over perfectly hand-whipped potatoes, julienned zucchini, carrot and summer squash, finished with a vanilla-orange guerre blanc.

Q. Mmmm…that sounds delicious. Ok, Fran…thank you very much for getting me on this flight today and for giving me this unexpected yet lovely interview! It’s been a pleasure.

A. It was an interesting way to meet you. I really enjoyed it too.

Note: If you’re in Boston, you can call into Plum Island Grill at 2 Sunset Blvd, Newbury, MA 01951. Phone: 978-463-2290. Website: http://www.plumislandgrill.com. Tomorrow I’ll post one of Chef Fran Broadbery’s recipes.

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