The all-new Outstanding Champion Award, proudly sponsored by Kerrygold, was awarded to Gareth Smith, head chef and owner of Michael's and Little Mike's in South Dublin, at this year's FOOD AND WINE Awards and we can't think of a more worthy winner.
This year, for the first time, we decided to pay tribute to someone’s exceptional work in the Irish food industry. Creating the Outstanding Champion category, proudly sponsored by Kerrygold, for the 2019 FOOD AND WINE Awards, in association with Rémy Martin, was a decision from our editor, Dee Laffan. "I introduced this award this year because I wanted to turn the focus onto the amazing initiatives and extra work that chefs do, when they are going above and beyond their roles in the kitchen. It’s important for me to highlight this because we write about these people and what they do throughout the year and it's time to put them in the spotlight," she said.
A well-known face in the Irish food scene, Gareth – better known as Gaz – is passionate about seafood. Seafood September, his initiative to help kids eat more fish and shellfish, has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years and went nationwide in 2018. According to Gaz, the idea was simple and has even encouraged adults to expand their horizons.
“We actively engaged with the kids and made them a deal - if they don’t like the fish, we'd give them whatever they wanted to replace it, and it worked! Then we saw that the parents also started to try seafood.”
As a prolific social media user, the Michael's Twitter feed is often how Gaz communicates with his customer base. There, he highlights specials, offers guidance and interacts with the wider public, often in a humorous and honest way. Through Twitter, Gaz promotes the weird and wonderful seafood he gets from his suppliers, often allowing customers to try these more unusual offerings with a promise of no charge if they don't like it.
It's clear that the popularity of Gaz, Michael's and newly-opened Little Mike's will continue to rise. Last year, Michael's was awarded several titles at the 2018 FOOD AND WINE Awards, including Best Local, and Gaz was shortlisted for Rising Star. This year, he walked away with the title of Outstanding Champion, as well as Farm & Sea To Plate, showing that everything he is doing for Irish seafood has not gone unnoticed.
When we asked Gaz how he felt about this award, he told us he was delighted to be named Outstanding Champion.
"It was lovely to win and to be recognised for our efforts behind the scenes. Proper sourcing means an awful lot to me. The Outstanding Champion was so amazing to win as it gives a shot to people who aren't necessarily the best chefs, but put just as much effort into other areas of the trade and keeping transparent."
Photography by Paul Sherwood.