The legendary chef reflects on his life in food, from hard living in the Netherlands to gathering stars.

Richard Corrigan is an extraordinarily talented Irish chef whose stellar gastronomic trajectory is matched only by his affability and legendary good humour. He’s the man behind a slew of renowned restaurants, including oyster and seafood restaurant, Bentley’s; Corrigan’s Mayfair; and the 150-acre Virginia Park Lodge, where – long before he owned it – he married his wife Maria. He won his first Michelin star as head chef at Stephen Bull in Fulham, and then followed it up by being garlanded again as head chef at Lindsay House Soho.

Indeed, he’s no stranger to the starrier side of cooking. He’s been crowned winner of The British Menu no fewer than three times; he won the Great British Waste Menu; and he’s cooked for The Queen. Is there anything he can’t do? We talk to him about his life in food and the secret to the success and longevity of his restaurants.



You grew up on a farm in County Meath. What was that experience like for you?
Seeing the beginning of what ends up on your plate is quite an amazing thing. As a child I literally watched my dinner growing in the ground. This produce was ‘organic’ long before organic was a thing.


You’ve talked about your time in the kitchen of a local hotel – was that a transformative moment for you?
It was the teamwork and the leadership I saw there that changed everything for me. It was a truly great experience from start to finish and totally humbling for me: this is where it all began. It’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my working career.



You worked in the Netherlands for some years. What was that experience like?
Oh boy, we worked hard and played even harder out there and we had just the best fun. It was a really pivotal moment as the restaurant movement was just starting to take off and people were taking restaurants and chefs really seriously. I was living in Amsterdam and having the best time of my life. I fell head over heels in love with Europe.


When you came back to the UK, you were head chef at Stephen Bull, where you were awarded your first Michelin star. Can you describe what that felt like?
Stephen had a no-nonsense approach to cooking and his food was simple, seasonal and delicious, so we were over the moon to receive a star for it. To say that restaurant was ground-breaking wouldn’t do it justice – he changed the restaurant scene and the way people thought about eating out in restaurants. He made us chefs think differently too.



You first became a chef-patron at Lindsay House in Soho, which also won a star. What was it like to have your own place?
Well, I went for an interview and bought the restaurant! I had no idea what I was doing there but the team and I made it up as we went along and hit the ground running. We just had a true passion for cooking the most delicious food possible with a real focus on quality produce. Soho was a very different place back then – it was a very tough area with lots of crime, but there was so much character to Romilly street. We didn’t want to be anywhere else.


Bentley’s then opened in 2005, followed by Corrigan’s in 2008. They’ve become such beloved and iconic restaurants. Did you imagine you’d still be there 17 years later?
Coming back to Bentley’s after having previously been the head chef was like coming home. My only aim was to make it glorious once again. At its heart is the best seafood and shellfish, seasonal cooking, daily baked bread, everything made from scratch – and it just works.



You also, of course, have Daffodil Mulligan Restaurant & Gibney's Bar London and Virginia Park Lodge. What do you think is the secret to the success and longevity of your restaurants?
It’s all luck. I was born with the sun shining on my back and for that I’m forever grateful. Maybe a little talent, too, and being able to keep a great team around you. Success is rarely down to an individual.


What’s been your proudest professional moment?
To journey through these decades and see them through – and hopefully put behind us! It’s been ever so tough the past few years, but we’ve managed to stay afloat. And to see the next generation of Corrigans in the business warms my heart.


What is your earliest memory of food?
Poached bacon and cabbage from the garden with Colman’s English mustard. That is real soul food right there.


Who has been the greatest influence on your career?
The Holy Trinity of chefs in London: Albert Roux, Rowley Leigh, Stephen Bull. These are food gods to me.



And are there any young chefs coming up that you rate?
There are just too many to choose from! It’s exciting to see the country’s restaurant scene is driven by so many young people, they will shape the future


What would you change about the restaurant industry if you could?
Brexit!


What is the best thing about your work/ being Richard Corrigan?
In the restaurant industry you face so many different battles every day, but you get a real sense of achievement when you overcome them. I also love the people, from our guests to the team who feed and serve them. How could you ever be bored working in restaurants?


What’s your favourite escape from the kitchen?
A trip with my family to Virginia Park Lodge in Co. Cavan. There’s something about the air down there – it’s so fresh and pure.



What is your favourite dish to make in spring?
Cornamona salt marsh lamb (that’s the finest Irish lamb!) with gently steamed asparagus, broad beans and peas with a simple jus.


What dishes do you rustle up at home for a quiet dinner?
A Shepherd’s Pie. Heavenly.


What are you most looking forward to in 2022?
We have some exciting new restaurants in the pipeline and to be able to open them – safely – with a brilliant team is truly exciting.

By Nancy Alsop
April 2022

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