The Letterkenny kitchen maestro has been jailed, made bankrupt, fought cancer and castigated by the critics.
But he has now bounced back and is running two restaurants in Dublin and in Sligo.
Now the Hawthorn Heights man says he is going to do things by the book.
“I know up to €100 what I owe. I know what needs to be paid today and tomorrow. I know what I am going to turn over today. I know what my budget is for the month and I work in a very different way.
“I sit here today at 39 years of age and I do not have a bitter bone in my body. What happened has happened. I wouldn’t have met my wife (Candice) unless it did happen. I wouldn’t have had my beautiful children if it didn’t happen,” he says.
And he says that fame is the last thing on the menu for him in future.
“I don’t think I am going to have any more drama in my life,” he says.
“I think you get back what you give out; and I was an arrogant little son of a bitch. There is no question about that. I was an arrogant little arsehole.”
Conrad says he spends his time “equally now between the kitchen, the business, the marketing and most importantly managing relationships — with employees, my customers and my suppliers”, he says, adding, importantly, “they are the three key elements.
“There was a time when I would spend 20 hours a day in the kitchen. I had no time or interest in anyone else. I had an attitude that the food would speak for itself and that the business would survive based on the quality of the food.
“It took me a long time to realise that the restaurant business is being in the sales business. You have got to be selling something that someone wants to buy.
“That contradicts everything I said 15 years ago: back then it was about what chefs wanted to sell,” he admits.
The low point in his life obviously came in 2003 when he was deported from the US on an Aer Lingus flight after being accused of stealing paintings from his former eaterie Peacock Alley.
“They [fellow passengers] were taking photographs of me. But listen – I was worried about what my daughter thought. I was worried what my parents thought. They were my main concerns at that time. I was already battered black and blue.
“What else they were going to do to me wasn’t going to matter now. But I remember that flight back to Dublin from New York like it was yesterday,” he said.
Six weeks earlier he had been strip-searched at the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn. Prisoner No. 6I685-053 was told to remove all clothing.
He was lined up against a wall with 11 other inmates. “Then came the command – Lift your sack’ to ensure nothing was secretly stowed – further indignity for me because of having only one testicle after the cancer.”
“It was a very difficult time. It is sometimes so far-fetched that I find the whole thing hard to believe,” he says of how he ended up in a grim detention centre in New York with drug dealers and hardened criminals.
“But at the time I found strength and I found the ability to deal with it. Although it was all very hurtful I knew it was a big storm in a teacup. I could very clearly see the end of it. I knew that the truth would prevail.
“First of all, when the whole thing happened my survival instinct kicked in because I was in a very, very dangerous place — federal prison in New York — with a lot of very dangerous people. There was the survival of that. I had to use my best skills in there to stay safe.” He was beaten up by a Colombian drug baron on one occasion. He says he genuinely feared for his life.
It was a far cry from feeding Bono, Madonna and everybody else worth their salt in Dublin at the time.
What Conrad Gallagher is selling, people clearly want now because his restaurant, Salon Des Saveurs, is doing flying business.
“We built up a lot of regular customers at Peacock Alley. And rolling on to Salon Des Saveurs today; part of the success has been down to the loyalty that we have built up with customers from Peacock Alley. Guys who say to me: ‘You know I asked my wife to marry me in Peacock Alley, we celebrated our wedding anniversary in Peacock Alley.’ There was so much of that sentiment that helped us kick off the restaurant,” he says, referring to the restaurant on Aungier Street that opened on January 15, last year.
He opened up Conrad’s Kitchen in Sligo on September 15 — in the “middle of the worst recession and against all the odds”.
And his mum is still his biggest fan…..and his greatest critic.
“My mother is probably my biggest fan. Her criticism of my cooking has always been constructive. With regards to baking, my mother would be critical of my breads. ‘The dough is too fresh. You should have left it over night. Allow it to rest and get the flavours better. There’s too much salt and the crust is not crisp enough.’ She is always full of wisdom.”
Perhaps that wisdom is beginning to rub off the enfant terrible as he looks forward to another year.
Back On The Menu: My Rollercaster Life, by Conrad Gallagher, published by A&A Farmar, priced €14.99. www.salondessaveurs.com