Ireland is the new Denmark, Ireland is the new trend-setter for food across the world

Published on: 3rd May 2019 @ 2:28 PM

Original article on The Irish Times

In the last few years the transformation in the Irish food scene, that was building for over two decades, has finally blossomed into something special. Irish chefs have stopped looking outwards for food influences and dishes and realised the value of the natural, world-class produce we have on this island, and we all need to shout about it. Irish chefs are more confident than ever about promoting their food and the producers they are using. From cafes to gastro-pubs to the increasing number of Michelin star restaurants across the country, Irish food and cooking have never been better and people around the world are starting to notice.

Next week’s Irish Restaurant Awards, run by the Restaurants Association of Ireland, celebrates the “best in class” of the industry, and the passion and dedication they have shown in providing fantastic food experiences throughout Ireland. This will be the 11th annual awards and after the regional finals, the All-Ireland final is in Dublin on May 13th where more than 1000 guests will be treated to a five-course gala dinner cooked by five previous winners.

Ross Lewis

The diversity and quality of produce which Ireland provides is now being recognised. And while Irish food and ingredients might be having their day in the sun, it was not always the case. Ross Lewis, chef and proprietor of Michelin Star restaurant Chapter One in Co Dublin, was pioneering in his belief that if he told the story of Irish food as best he could, it would resonate. He took that risk and it is still paying off to this day.

Ross Lewis: "There is now confidence amongst Irish chefs." Photograph: Alan Betson

“What we endeavoured to do here [in Chapter One], and what I’ve been striving over the years to do, is to be an Irish restaurant of international standard in Ireland. For me, it was very clear from way back it was about reflecting what is good about Ireland and Ireland’s food and artistic landscape. We have Irish craftspeople making stuff for the restaurant, furniture, art from Irish artists and the artisan. It was always about connecting the artisan, arts and craftspeople and the food people, doing it through the prism of Chapter One. Authentic, tasty food with a heart and soul and sense of place.”

Lewis believes that local and Irish products left to speak for themselves were always what connected with people. However, when he first began, this was not the norm. He believes it is growing confidence that’s changed things.

“I would have been very influenced by Myrtle Allen. There are a couple of people that come along in your time that have a profound influence on what you do, she was one of them. We are a small island nation, we were always looking to the outside for influence. We were heavily influenced by France and then there was all this fusion cooking and confusion cooking and yet you could go to Clonakilty, Co Cork and nobody would serve you Clonakilty black pudding. What’s changed is that there is now confidence amongst Irish chefs.”

“I found that in the last four or five years chefs, because of the trend of buying local, are much more supportive of local growers. It’s something we can all be proud of. We’ve certainly turned a corner because I was on the sidelines looking at this for the last 27 years, and it’s nearly there now which is amazing,” said Lewis.

Rob Krawczyk

Rob Krawczyk is the chef and proprietor of Restaurant Chestnut which is a one-star Michelin restaurant in Ballydehob, Co Cork. He thinks we are very fortunate to have the produce that we do on our doorstep and this era for Irish food has been a long time coming.

Rob Krawczyk: "Our produce stands up to the best in the world." Photograph: Barry Cronin 

“I think we’ve been at it for years and years, the smaller producers and chefs alike. I just think now with social media, it certainly helps. It’s a slow progression and I think we are now developing our own food culture. If you go to Italy, it’s in their family, it’s in their genes for hundreds of years, but I think we’re developing that now. We are slowly getting it to that point where it’s being recognised that this is Irish food, Irish produce, Irish chefs. We are creating our identity, which is great. From poultry, meat, fish, vegetables, everything, we are incredibly lucky. Our produce stands up to the best in the world,” said Krawczyk.

Nicola Zammit

Nicola Zammit and her husband Josef Zammit own and runTwoCooks restaurant in Sallins, Co. Kildare. They have lived and worked abroad and are excited about how the Irish food scene is evolving. However, she would like to see more chefs and proprietors take risks with smaller menus.

Nicola Zammit: "Be famous for mussels and people will come back."

"Everybody comes here for hospitality and we are famous for it, but if we can just match amazing food experiences to that hospitality that people say 'we went there, it was amazing and I had amazing mussels.' I think if everyone just does a couple of things that they are really, really good at, which is what you see in Australia and South Africa and France and Italy. Just do amazing mussels and be famous for mussels and people will come back. Instead of doing 20 things that are average and maybe going off,” said Zammit.

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