Conrad Gallagher is not immediately at ease being interviewed. And with good reason, perhaps, given that the former wunderkind turned enfant terrible of Irish food is as well known here for his financial failures as for his culinary genius.
There is no doubt he has made some enemies through his high profile career, as well as friends and fans, but he’s clearly eager to turn the page as he sits at a table in his newest restaurant, loquacious on the subjects he most enjoys – food, his new Aungier Street eaterie, his rise to fame – and less so on those that have brought him such unwelcome attention over the course of his dramatic career.
“My fall was a very hard and very public one,” he says of the media-saturated moment when his signature Dublin restaurant, Peacock Alley, hit the rocks some 10 years ago. It’s not a period he is eager to revisit, and his unhappiness about the coverage it engendered at the time clearly still runs just below the equanimous surface he presents. “Some people can do it quietly. Unfortunately [my fall] was blasted from one end of the world to the next.”
Conrad Gallagher has never been able to do things quietly. His most recent public fall involved a declaration of bankruptcy in South Africa, where he ran a restaurant and operated a consultancy. “I started investing heavily in property,” is how he explains it, and though he knows how it will read to Irish audiences, he doesn’t dodge the question. He says he joined forces with two business contacts, one with a real estate background and the other a developer, for a joint venture which sank much of his earnings into property. “There was a bit of a turn in the market, and that ran into difficulty and it needed cash, and it was the same sort of scenario again,” he says with evident weariness. “Here I was involved in a business I knew nothing about.” He ended up owing almost €200,000 to two main creditors and also came under investigation from the South African department of labour for allegedly failing to register his employees with a mandatory unemployment insurance fund.