Jeni Glasgow & Reuven Diaz

17th April 2015

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Emile Dinneen

17th April 2015

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Emile Dinneen

Shortly before we visit Jeni Glasgow and Reuven Diaz at their home in County Meath, Jeni emails us with an apology. “Our kitchen is of the very temporary kind,” she says, explaining that they have big plans for it but, right now, she’s not sure it’s fit to be photographed. The couple, who run the hugely popular Eastern Seaboard restaurant in Drogheda and the Brown Hound bakery next door, live with their two sons on the grounds of a big country house near Slane. When we arrive there on a beautiful Tuesday morning – the early-morning mist over the flat expanse of farmland has lifted to reveal an immaculate blue sky – our visions of disarray quickly fade: it turns out that Jeni’s idea of a presentable kitchen is very different to our own.

Their home, a section of an old coach house arranged around a square courtyard, is wonderful and surprising. A giant wooden horse greets us in the hallway. In the sitting room, taxidermied birds peer out of glass cages and stag skulls glower at us from the wall. The kitchen, far from being a disaster, is attractive, spacious and full of curiosities – including a wooden arm from the Philippines that turns out to be a back scratcher – and wonderful ingredients. Next year they plan to move the whole kitchen to the far end of the house so that it opens onto the back garden, where they’ve planted an array of fruit trees: apple, pear, damson, quince and cherry.

We settle down with a coffee and chat about New York, where they met in the mid-90s, and how they ended up opening a restaurant in Drogheda. Then Reuven finishes off a shoulder of lamb that’s been slow-roasting in the Aga for the past 12 hours and serves it up with a superb asparagus, tripe and lentil salad. It’s a treat for them as well as us: the restaurant is open 362 days of the year and they hardly ever find time for a lazy lunch at home together. Afterwards we stretch our legs in the grounds of the estate, the winter sun beaming down on us. Then it’s back to work for both of them: Reuven motors off to the restaurant in his vintage Merc and Jeni says goodbye so that she, too, can get on with a busy day ahead.

Continued below...

How long have you lived here?

Jeni: We opened the restaurant in November 2008 and moved in here the following January or February. So six years. But I grew up here in the courtyard, and my mum still lives on the other side. We moved down here when I was 11 or 12.

Where were you born?

Jeni: In Dublin, but I spent all my childhood and teenage years around these parts. I moved back to Dublin when I was 18, then went to New York for five years… I came home with a little extra baggage [laughs].

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Are you from New York?

Reuven: No, but I spent a lot of time there. I was born in Israel. It’s always a difficult question to answer because my parents moved quite a lot – my father worked for the UN so it was like every couple of years, different country. The place I’ve lived in the longest is actually Ireland. I’ve been here 14 years.
Jeni: It’s time to call it your home.

Had either of you worked in food before you opened Eastern Seaboard?

Reuven: Well I was originally in finance…

Really?

Reuven: No [laughs]. We’ve been slogging in the food world for a while…
Jeni: But Eastern Seaboard was our first major adventure.

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Did you train as a chef?

Reuven: There was no formal training. I studied design and worked in kitchens as a summer job. It didn’t really come to anything till I moved here and decided to give it a proper go.

What about you Jeni?

Jeni: I worked in PR and events in Dublin. When I moved to New York, I worked in various bars and restaurants and then got a job with an events and catering company. I started out in the kitchen, prepping whole boxes of herbs and things, then moved on to managing events. It was so good back then in 1995 doing parties for Donna Karan and Blondie. I was like, Woo, this is it!

Did you have interesting food experiences out there?

Jeni: Reuven didn’t really have a kitchen in his apartment so it meant eating out all the time: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Which was great. So much revolved around food for us.
Reuven: You could eat really well for not much money in New York.
Jeni: I remember when I was working in Soho, for a milliner. At that point budget was pretty tight and you could get this big box of ho fun noodles, the big flat wide ones, on the street for a dollar.

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Where else were you eating?

Reuven: Oh my god, just all over.
Jeni: I don’t think at that time we did any high-end dining. I love all different kinds of food – Korean, Japanese – and Reuven does too. I was being brought on a huge culinary adventure to little hole-in-the-wall places, to places like Angel’s Share and Village Yokocho1. Eating takoyaki2 from a box on the side of the street… I loved it.
Reuven: It was a funny period. Jeni was vegetarian when I met her. I don’t know which came first, me or bacon, but suddenly it was like…
Jeni: …in the blink of an eye I was eating foie gras on toast [laughs]. Yeah, there was no stopping me.

Did you talk about opening a restaurant long before you actually did it?

Jeni: When we met, we realised we both had a big interest in food, and yeah we talked about a restaurant. But it wasn’t our original intention when we came back to Ireland. Did you see the orange van in the courtyard? We bought that van so we could convert it into a food truck and we were full-steam ahead trying to organise that when the opportunity of the restaurant arose. And I tell you I look back on that moment sometimes and go, oh, if only – if only we’d taken the little van! Because now we have this restaurant, the bakery and 70 staff. It’s insane.
Reuven: We’re open seven days a week from noon to close, so you need a lot of people.

Do you ever have a day off together?

Jeni: Thursday evening if possible, Reuven will try to come home early. I do a half day on Wednesdays and Thursdays so I can pick up the boys from school. So occasionally on a Thursday evening, we’ll have a moment.

“We go for the occasional good pint of Guinness up at Mrs O’s. It’s a tiny little pub on the Hill of Skryne – 10 people and it’s crowded.”
Jeni & Reuven on their favourite food places in Ireland – see Address Book

Do you cook then?

Jeni: Either myself or my mum will – she’s a really good cook. In fact she primarily sustains us. Often we’ll come home and there’ll be plates in the oven ready to go. She takes care of the boys too, feeding them.

That’s lucky. I’ve seen what chefs cook at home after a long shift and it’s not always pretty.

Jeni: We won’t open the cupboard with all the instant noodles in it [laughs].
Reuven: I’m a big fan of instant ramen.
Jeni: Yeah, but you’ll chef it up a bit, drop in an egg or some fresh spinach.

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What are your hours at work?

Reuven: I’m in for 11ish and then I see service till the end. Honestly I don’t think it’s absurd. Sometimes when I read about chefs and kitchens, I feel almost lazy.
Jeni: Because your 14-hour day is not like their 16-hour day?
Reuven: Yeah. It’s like, Jesus you’re telling me you get up at 6am and finish at 2 in the morning? I must be lazy.

Jeni, are you more front of house?

Jeni: Yeah, but – I don’t know if it’s a threat, but I said to Reuven that I should get in the kitchen a bit more. I think it would be good for me, maybe early in the week when it’s quieter, to go in to the starter section.
Reuven: No, I think it’s a great idea, a great idea.
Jeni: But I think there’s a fear that if I got in there, there’d be real trouble. “Not this way, we want it that way.”

Are you very organised in the kitchen?

Jeni: Definitely not super-organised, no. Things everywhere. If my mum’s over here cooking, she’s super-organised – everything’s cleaned down, bowls stacked up to go. I find myself covering 12 miles in this kitchen, back and forward.
Reuven: People don’t realise how much walking is involved when you work in a restaurant. Out on the floor, you could easily walk 10km in an evening.

Had you ever been to Ireland before you moved here?

Reuven: No, and I had this kind of corrupted view of what this country looked like. It was a mix of The Commitments, where the whole country was tenements, and Waking Ned Devine.

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But the reality was a little different?

Reuven: Yeah, but when I first moved to Meath it would have really helped if there were subtitles when people were speaking. They tend to push all their words together up here. But then you realise it’s actually very coherent, you’re just not used to the punctuation.

How did you find the food?

Reuven: Fourteen years ago, the food was surprisingly awful. There weren’t any market systems. You’d go to the supermarkets and get shitty vegetables and crappy products. Or you’d go to a fishmonger and all they’d have was yellowy-looking fish and red-looking fish. You’re surrounded by water and this is all you can offer? But it’s changed so much.
Jeni: It’s been a seismic shift really in the last 10 years.
Reuven: If we’d started the restaurant 14 years ago, we’d struggle. At the scale we’re doing it right now, I think it would be tough.

“This olive oil from Catalonia has got that crisp, clean grassiness – like sitting on a freshly-cut lawn. We drizzle it on our chocolate pots at the restaurant.”
Jeni and Reuven on their favourite ingredients – see Pantry

Did you have a slow start when you opened?

Jeni: No [laughs]. We hit the ground running. It was a very steep learning curve those first months. We’d be there when the door opened to when it was locked.

Are there things you wish you’d done differently? If I was starting a restaurant tomorrow, what would you advise that I don’t do?

Jeni: Don’t do it [laughs]!
Reuven: The one thing I wish we did at the start was close up two days a week.

When do you close?

Jeni: Christmas Day and Good Friday.
Reuven: And St Stephen’s Day now. So three days a year.
Jeni: But Good Friday is our deep-clean day, so we’re still working.

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Tell me about your eating habits. Is there anything you’ll have on a daily basis?

Reuven: Coffee is definitely still my thing. I used to drink it breakfast, lunch, dinner, middle of the night, but for the last two years I can’t drink it past six, which is insane.

You started getting a bit weird?

Reuven: Yeah. But coffee is a big thing in the kitchen at work. We don’t always have the opportunity to have a staff meal but we never miss a chance to have coffee. It drives the wait staff crazy if it’s a busy period and we’re suddenly ordering 14 coffees for the kitchen.
Jeni: My morning drink is a combination of local honey, cider vinegar, lemon juice and ginger with hot water. I have that every day, it’s like a restorative. Warm water to allow for the absorption, clean out your liver and kidneys of the nightcap you had the night before.

On The Menu

Lunch with Jeni and Reuven
Meath, February 2015

To eat:

Warm bread and Oleum Flumen de Finca olive oil
Slow-roasted lamb with tripe and asparagus salad »

To drink:

Filter coffee by 3FE
San Pellegrino water
Hooded Plover Shiraz 2013

What’s your nightcap?

Jeni: On a Friday or Saturday, it’s a martini – really dry, little olive, fancy skewer, the whole thing.

How do you make it?

Jeni: So I have my cocktail shaker and a little coupe glass.
Reuven: Much nicer to drink out of.
Jeni: I put just a little bit of vermouth into the bottom of the glass and let it sit there. Ice cubes into my shaker, then I do a free pour of vodka counting to five, then shake it up but not too hard. Then slosh the vermouth out of the glass, put an olive in and top it up, ready to go.

Sounds very civilised.

Jeni: It feels dignified and calming. And there’s a process to it, which I like.

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You mentioned when we arrived that you’re planning to move your kitchen to the other end of the house.

Jeni: Yeah, so it will open completely out onto the back garden. We want to make the back garden area an eating, living, working space. It’ll be really nice.
Reuven: Last year we got a dozen fruit trees to start it off.
Jeni: That felt very momentous actually when we planted that orchard.

What kind of trees did you get?

Jeni: Pear, cherry, damson, quince, apple. They’ve just started but last year there were tiny little pears on some of them. We used them in the restaurant, the first fruits of the orchard. But it will be nice when the doors open out to the garden. We have plans to get a pizza oven out there as well. For all the time we’ll be using it [laughs].
Reuven: The whole two hours a week.
Jeni: Yeah, but maybe by then we’ll have more time.

For more info on Eastern Seaboard and The Brown Hound, have a look at their website and Twitter feed

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  1. A brilliant concealed cocktail bar in the East Village and the Japanese restaurant next door
  2. A Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and typically filled with minced or diced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion

Posted 17th April 2015

In Interviews

 

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Emile Dinneen

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