In the kitchen with... Audrey Farrelly

Jan Norris, Florida Weekly, August 7, 2014

The difference in European diners and Americans is the speed with which they eat, says Audrey Farrelly, a native of Ireland.

“We go out to eat for the experience — to enjoy our food. Americans go out to eat because they’re hungry. They’re used to the ‘dash and dine,’” she said.

At her Serenity Garden Tea House and Café in West Palm Beach, she intends to correct that. “I want a place where someone can come in with a book and have a pot of tea in the afternoon and linger,” she said. “I don’t want people to feel so rushed.”

She bought the teahouse a year ago when the former owner wanted to move on. “It was something that appealed to me.”

Ms. Farrelly had been working as general manager for O’Shea’s Irish Pub — after several years of managing food and beverage programs in hotels from Ireland to Australia and London — and back to Dublin. She graduated from a hospitality school that trained her in every aspect of running a restaurant — from the kitchen to the bookkeeping and front-of-house management.

She arrived in the U.S. with the former Roly’s — a branch of the Dublin restaurant that opened in Palm Beach Gardens. “I had worked with their two other restaurants in Dublin, and I was offered a position that opened up here. I was only intending to stay here six months — a year at most. And 13 years later, I’m still here,” she said.

She’s still trying to bring the taste of home to the traditional teahouse foods served at Serenity. The difference is in the freshness of the foods, she said.

“The food at home is very fresh — everything must be bought every day. There’s very little preservatives in everything. You bought fresh milk and bread every day. It’s all fresh cream and butter in the desserts — not canned cream — and it makes a difference.”

All the cooking and baking is done inhouse — by her, she said. “Yeah, back in the ’80s, in that school training, we had to do it all. They showed you everything from shopping, baking, cooking, working with servers, accounting, economics — they cover everything.”

The training gives her an edge up on some chefs trained only in the kitchen, she said, though she has considerable admiration for them. “Chefs have a very pressurized job. I tip my hat to them. It’s a lot of time-management skill. Their organization skills are key. When those tickets keep coming in and don’t stop — you’ve got to keep your cool.”

Today’s chefs are even more under pressure with social media constantly an issue. “They have to keep on top of that, too and keep it updated. No one goes anywhere without the internet today,” she said.

She added wireless to the teahouse to encourage those who want a quiet place to get out of the rat race and not feel pressure to leave.

“It’s one thing I’m much encouraging — bring a book, and sit with a pot of tea, and relax. I’d like to see the place used as much as possible.

“This not the type of place to dash and dine. Obviously if someone is in a hurry, we’ll do our best to accommodate them. I think, though, when someone is being rushed — either a guest or a server — something gets lost along the way. It’s not an enjoyable experience and dining should be a pleasure.”

A few of her customers come in a couple of times a week to get some work done. “For whatever reason, they don’t get anything done in their office. Here, they can be in a quiet setting and work without the rat race — they actually get a lot more done.”

The menu is steady as a teahouse — small sandwiches, soups and salads — using as many local ingredients as she can get. But desserts are where she’s blossoming and adding her own touches to the mix: Cheesecakes and bread puddings, brownies.

“I didn’t want to change too much at first,” Ms. Farrelly said. “I didn’t want the former clients to feel alienated. Now, they’re getting used to me, and I can experiment more. I know what they like.”

She’s attracted wine groups, and book and garden clubs who hold meetings in the semi-private rooms in the back of the old house near the Norton Museum. A few charities — animal shelter and relief funds for dogs, special to her heart — are selling teas here as an auction item.

The image of the teahouse is still one of romance and civility — a time out in the middle of the day to regroup over a cup of tea, she said — not really a bad thing.

“Yes, the teahouse is seen as a romantic spot and most of my clients are women, but now, more males are coming in — dads bringing their daughters for tea, or a husband bringing his wife or mother. They do enjoy it and some have come back on their own. They’re not as afraid of the idea as they once were.”

Name: Audrey Farrelly

Age: 46

Name of Restaurant: Serenity Garden Tea House and Café, 316 Vallette Way, West Palm Beach: 655-3911;

Original Hometown: Dublin, Ireland. 

Mission as a chef or restaurant owner: “To bring the fabulous experience of the teahouse to everyone. It’s a magical place sure to bring serenity to all.”

Cuisine style: European.

Training for your job: “I have a degree in hotel and catering management from Dublin College of Catering. I’ve held management positions in high profile restaurants in Dublin and worldwide. I was a general manager of O’Shea’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, West Palm Beach.”

What’s your footwear of choice in the kitchen? SAS.

What’s your guilty food pleasure? “Chocolate, butter and cream in no particular order or all together. I do have to say I am very excited that Kerrygold butter is now readily available to my fellow Floridians.”

What advice would you give someone who wants to be a restaurateur or chef? “Treat your customer as if they were coming to a visit to your home. Have everything as you would like it. Relax and enjoy yourself. Your guests have chosen to come here to enjoy the experience that you prepared for them. Make them feel special and loved.” ¦

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