Laois native Patrick Ryan is owner of Firehouse Bakery and bread school based in Wicklow.
Having initially set up a bread school on Heir Island in West Cork with his wife on their return to Ireland some eight years ago, they are now about to open a second cafe in Wicklow as well as setting up a new bread school there to cater for all bread enthusiasts.
Patrick, his wife Laura, Firehouse Bakery and their latest creation – little James – are going from strength to strength.
We got in touch recently to hear their story.
First things first … your Laois roots! Tell us a little about your background, where you grew up, family, school etc.
Well I’m be the youngest of five and worn and raised in Castletown.
My mum is from Wicklow which is kind of ironic in that I find myself back in Wicklow now and about to open a new café in her hometown.
I went to primary school initially in Borris-in-Ossory before the last few years in Castletown.
From there I ended up boarding in Roscrea at Cistercian College and then onto Galway. I have always been on the go really as I was just turned 12 when I started in Roscrea.
Where are you and your businesses based now?
The Firehouse Bakery originally began on Heir Island in west Cork.
It’s kind of random for a boy from Laois to find himself on a West Cork island but Heir island would be home to my wife Laura’s parents.
We were living in the UK for several years and moved back to West Cork eight years ago.
The original idea was just to teach bread courses for a summer but from that has grown what we have today.
We have a bakery and café in Delgany Wicklow, we are about to open a second café in Wicklow town.
We have also developed a wholesale bakery which would supply café, restaurants and shops throughout Wicklow and Dublin and on top of that we are about to open a new bakery school which will allow us to teach courses from our bakery in Wicklow, in fact we were just about to release course dates prior to Covid 19 but as soon as things settle that will be next on the agenda
Any designs on opening in Laois in the future?
Not right now as we are concentrating on what we have going in Wicklow, but you never know, there is a place for Firehouse Bakery in every major town.
To be fair who doesn’t love real bread.
So, after an initial dalliance with corporate law, you took a complete change of direction towards the food industry … were those close to you shocked or had you always an interest in food and professional cookery?
It was a slight career change alright but certainly one I don’t regret.
It kind of came about after spending a summer on the Greek islands and having got a job in a kitchen which I loved so following that I swapped law books for chef knives.
What sparked your interest in the food industry? Would you have been one to dabble in the kitchen growing up?
Yeah, I suppose I did.
You would usually find me under my mum’s feet annoying her in the kitchen but that may also have been just a way of dodging the hard work to be done outside!
How did training under the Michelin starred chef Kevin Thornton come about?
It was through a contact in college in Galway that made the introduction and opened the door for me.
The day I did my trial was actually the day they found out they had lost the 2nd Michelin star to become a 1 star.
Let’s just say that was a fun day.
But to be fair it was an amazing experience and it definitely laid the foundation upon which I base myself today.
Upon completion of your training you travelled for a while including to Australia and came back to settle in the UK initially, namely Bath. Why there?
It actually came about from a trip to Fiji one of the guys that I met Duncan had the idea of setting up a bakery but he was a web designer and asked me if I would be interested in coming over to Bath to help out and the rest is history I guess.
This led to you featuring on the BBC2 programme “The Big Bread Experiment” – what was that experience like?
Yeah it was a fun experience, always a bit daunting the first time being on camera, but it was an amazing experience which gave us great exposure.
I like to think since then I have become a little more comfortable on camera.
Having a look at your menus on your website almost had us jumping in the car to Wicklow (only for the slight issue of Covid 19 restrictions!). Do you have a process for coming up with new menu options?
I am just into food that tastes good.
I hate pretentiousness and just want to make good, tasty comforting food, be that a loaf of bread, a pizza, a sandwich whatever.
And possibly have worked with the likes of Kevin Thornton that comes through in that you give respect to every ingredient that you use.
And no matter what it is try make it the best it can be.
You’re also a published author of Bread Revolution which you co-wrote with Duncan Glendinning. Have you any plans for another book?
It would always be nice to do a second book.
I certainly think my baking style has evolved since writing Bread Revolution.
But also the entire landscape of publishing has changed since then.
So much more can be done online now giving you a far greater reach so I would be doing a lot through YouTube and Instagram these days in terms of recipes and helping people get into baking.
One YouTube video which I have done with I love cooking is about to hit 10 million views which is just crazy to think.
(I) recently hosted an online baking class through Zoom and we had people from Australia to New York and Jakarta to South Africa signed up.
When you have the time, what’s your favourite thing to cook for yourself?
Oh, that’s a hard one, so much depends on what mood I am in.
But I love to cook for friends. Getting the BBQ going having a few beers.
As the saying goes – “Behind every great man….” You run The Firehouse Bakery alongside your wife Laura … are you a match made in bakery heaven?!
Yeah Laura is my rock. I am sure I drive her crazy with all my hair brained ideas, but she is always there for me and always has my back.
You also have a little one – James. How’re you finding the work/life/family balance?
James has certainly been a game changer; he is definitely the boss in our life now.
Work life balance would be important to me, it took me a little time to appreciate it and achieve it but something that is so important for anyone setting out in their own business but also something I need to create more of.
I am not really one to sit still but I am getting there.
Who are the people you admire in your industry?
There is so much talent and amazing people in our industry right now. I consider myself very looking to be a part of it.
From a baking point of view, I would have huge respect for Joe Fitzmaurice of Riot Rye in Clough Jordan and Thibault from Tartine in Dublin.
Do you teach the courses at the bread school? Is teaching something that came easily to you?
Yeah, I would teach all the courses. It is definitely something I enjoy.
Recently I have started doing online courses which kind of came about because of Covid so that has been great to develop and something I hope to do more of.
Yeah, I guess I have always been pretty comfortable teaching. When I am baking, I am in my comfort zone so getting up and talking to people when it relates to bread isn’t usually too much of a problem.
Getting me to shut up can be more of a challenge.
What’s your favourite way to unwind?
Friends, family, few beers. Still play a bit of rugby so that is always a great way to switch off.
What does the future look like for The Firehouse Bakery?
It is going to be interesting. The last few months has certainly changed what lies ahead but in a good way.
I am excited for what is to come.