Cobh chef calls time on his career

After a lifetime working in restaurants — and 27 years running Jerome’s in Cobh — Jerome McCormick tells CHRIS DUNNE about his decision to hang up his chef’s apron
Cobh chef calls time on his career

On Jerome’s last day, from left, Jes Walsh, Louise McCormick, Breda Houlihan, Rebecca Flanagan, Susan McCormick, Jean McCormick, Jerome McCormick, Mike Walsh.

JEROME McCormick is an old hand at cheffing. Since he was a young fellow he’s been observing, slicing, dicing, drizzling, boiling, and cooking in the kitchen.

“I loved every minute of it,” says Jerome, aged 73, who has now hung up his apron after 27 years operating Jerome’s Take Home Meals from his home in Park Gate, Cobh.

“It is like the end of an era alright,” says Jerome, who has retired to enjoy his garden and cycle his bike, after cooking thousands of roast dinners for the people of Cobh and beyond.

“I’ve been in the catering trade since I did my inter-cert,” says Jerome. “My mother, who lived in the family home next door, was a fabulous cook and used to cater for the German tourists that regularly came here to Cobh in the ’60s and ’70s.

“When my older sister asked me what I was going to do after repeating my inter-cert, I thought of training as a chef. My sister said, you’ll always have a job.”

It was a good call. He had the cheffing gene, a good pair of hands and a keen interest in food.

Jerome’s became a popular venue for people who wanted cuisine like their granny used to make. And he had his right-hand woman, daughter Louise, working with him. She is also a good cook who has a head for business and an appetite for hard work.

“We made a good team,” says Jerome. 

“We worked long hours in the kitchen. Most of our customers became regulars and friends.”

Even with all the fancy new kids on the block providing spice bags, burritos, vegan, Thai and Mexican fare, the old staple, the good old fashioned roast dinner with smooth, rich gravy, stood the test of time.

“The gravy is the secret, I’ll tell you my gravy recipe before you go,” says Jerome, who cooked his last fish supper and his last Sunday roast in his kitchen on the last day of April.

Here goes... 

“When roasting, the meat I use a little water to keep it moist and prevent burning.To the water, I add home-ma de chicken stock made with chicken bones from the butcher shop. I double sieve the chicken stock and add it to the meat juice.

“Simmering the juices to reduce the liquid and ladling off the fat, when the stock is concentrated, I rest it first before adding vegetable juice from the carrots, or other vegetables, and then tomato puree.

“I think my favourite meal is lamb’s liver with this rich dark gravy.”

How did Jerome’s career begin?

“My first stint was in The Haven Hotel in Dunmore East. Gerry McQue was the general manager and I worked with Pat, the chef, in the kitchen. We all mucked in together and it was my first taste of barbecuing.”

The team were innovative.

“Straightened coat hanger wires were used as the barbecue skewers!” says Jerome.

The first-year commis chef made an impression. 

“Mrs Balantine, who owned the hotel, sent for the manager one day and asked him who cooked the cauliflower,” recalls Jerome.

Jerome is looking forward to more gardening in his retirement.
Jerome is looking forward to more gardening in his retirement.

Did he think he was in the soup?

“She said the cauliflower was beautifully cooked!”

After returning to school to do exams, Jerome graduated to the newly-opened Silver Springs Hotel in Tivoli Cork.

“Mr Cassidy, the manager, was very formal and he was very chatty,” says Jerome. “We all had our stations to man and there was a rank organisation operated in the kitchen. I worked with a French chef who lived in Tivoli and I remember the great dinner-dances that were held at the hotel. The socials were top-class and they were fantastic occasions. Silver Springs was where I learned my trade.

“Mr Rank (of Rank cinemas), the owner of the hotel then, used to visit and showed us how to soften the butter, butter the bread, then scrape all the butter off the bread again; to spare the butter!”

It wasn’t always work and no play. 

“In our break, we used to play football out the back.”

Jerome had occasion to improvise.

 “A honeymoon couple ordered steak tartars on the first night of their honeymoon. Mr Cassidy got all excited, he was on tenterhooks and asked us if we could get the dish out any quicker?”

Jerome got his boss off the hook.

“Instead of mincing steak, we minced up a hamburger and it tasted no different!”

Jerome got himself into hot water a few times.

“I was out in a wooden building rendering fat and it went up in flames. I had to think quickly and I slid a serving tray over the edge of the pan and the flames slowly died down.”

Jerome, fuelled with a burning ambition, headed to the capital and the Intercontinental Hotel, Ballsbridge.

“I exhibited one of my dishes, shoulder of bacon and colcannon, at the Mansion House. I travelled on the train to Dublin and put the bacon on the rack overhead my seat. The UK judges doing the tasting at the food exhibition were very impressed with the Irish dish.”

In Dublin, Jerome checked into Cathal Bruga Street, renowned college of culinary arts. “They sorted me out with a job in the Intercontinental Hotel,” he says. Here, he entered the world of croissants, Danish pastries and cucumber sandwiches.

“People had pastries for breakfast! I made great pals at the Intercontinental,” says Jerome, by then a 3rd year commis chef.

“I loved Dublin life and going to the gigs by well-known bands at the weekend.”

But his heart was in Cork. 

“My heart strings were tugging me back to Cork,” says Jerome. 

“I worked in the Oyster Tavern and in Finíns in Midleton, both fine establishments. I remember in the Oyster Tavern, there were no numbers on the tables, but we always knew what table was reserved for Dr McCarthy or Mrs O’Shea; it was just the way it was.”

Before meeting his wife, Susan, in Krojack’s nightclub in Cork, Jerome spread his wings, working in a tourist resort in Salzburg, Austria, and in the upmarket Ritz in London. “I also worked at the African Missions, Blackrock Road, and in Yansen Little Island.”

But the yearning for his own business grew.

“You know, the time came when you got tired of working for other people,” says Jerome. He owes his next move to a humble invention.

“I discovered the microwave!” he laughs. 

“Mary McCarthy of UCC invited me in to the food manufacturing section and showed me into the library. I found magazines from the USA with articles in them about the merits of the microwave. In America, the microwave was being used for over 15 years.”

Jerome got a brainwave.

“I thought, what about making nice home-cooked dinners ready to go to heat up at home?”

He got to work on an old workshop adjoining his former family home. 

“I got double sinks no longer in use from the Commodore Hotel and I found a caravan sink in the Dublin Hill scrap-yard,” say Jerome. 

“The gas cooker had four jets. We used to shake the gas bottle to use the last of the gas! 

“I remember the rates man calling one day and he referred to me as the dinner man!”

Jerome launched in 1994.

“Our first customer was a Norwegian woman who lived here in Cobh, Mrs Rassman. She gave me with an old three-penny bit and told me that was my ‘hansel’ or good luck charm in Irish terms. I often served the next generation of Rassmans.”

“The first day we sold five dinners,” says Jerome. “Over the years my loyal staff were brilliant. We shared great times together and great stories.”

His customers cooked up their own versions of stories.

“Often, if someone was trying to impress the mother-in-law they’d tell her they cooked the dinners they got here themselves!” says Jerome laughing.

“Our clients were 100% regulars. I fed their kids, then I fed their kids. Christmas Day was always one of our busiest days with orders for turkey and ham dinners, stuffing and dessert. People loved that they could bring their own plates in to get the dinner served on. During Covid, we were sad people couldn’t come into the shop; but we had a window to serve from and a Perspex screen in front of the counter.”

His daughter was a chip off the old block.

“I just fell in,” says Louise, who is mother to Ryan, 13. 

“I studied Interior Design and when the crash happened; there was no work in that area.. It seemed like a no-brainer to work with dad. I lived here so I could work here.

“Dad trained me in. We always got on really well together.”

While she is concentrating on her new business as an online personal trainer, Jerome is looking forward to some down-time.

“A lot of my pals are in the churchyard,” says Jerome, who tragically lost his brother Neil in the Tuskar Rock air-crash tragedy in 1968. “I love gardening and I enjoy cycling. And I’ll always love cooking.”

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