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The new Irish stars for 2020, with Niall Keating, The Dining Room and legendary chef Raymond Blanc.
Events

The Inside Story: Irish Chefs React To 2020 Michelin Stars

Dee Laffan spoke to chefs just after at the ceremony in London on Monday to get their reactions.

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Monday, 7th October 2019, was the biggest day in Irish food history so far as an unprecedented amount of Michelin Guide stars were awarded to Ireland's chefs and restaurants. 

The Michelin Guide 2020 for Great Britain and Ireland Star Revelation Ceremony took place in The Hurlingham Club, Fulham, London and as all of the stars were awarded and everyone was reeling in the jubilation of what had just happened, Dee Laffan chatted to some of the stars that were in attendance.

Keelan Higgs, Variety Jones

"I got an email inviting me to the Michelin Star Revelation Ceremony and they didn't say you get a star or anything, so I was kind of half fearing that it wasn't true! It's incredible." – Keelan Higgs

"We've just been doing our own thing and trying to cook as good as we can with what we have. People really started to get what we were doing from the outset and responded to it and it has just really built from there.

[A Michelin star] It was never a goal but also never not a goal. You can't just say, 'ok we're going to go for a star', well, not from my point of view, so we just try and cook better every day and it's great that Michelin came and saw that and liked what we did and now, here we are.

But things won't change now, we'll just keep doing things the way that we're doing them and try to make it better every day. We might try and up our price on no-shows to ensure that those seats are filled with people who want to come and enjoy the food.

Michelin is like a black belt, it's the ultimate pat on the back, but we'll try to keep the egos in check as kitchens are places where that can get out of control, so it's best to try to stay humble and concentrate on your cooking."

Ross Lewis, Chapter One 

“I’m delighted to have retained our star. It’s one thing to get it, it’s amazing, but retaining it is that’s where the hard work sets in. I think every year you retain it, is a year of greater satisfaction. It’s a greater accomplishment to keep it for a long time than it is just to get it. You are chasing something when you get it and the chase is great, and then you get it. But retaining it takes a lot of experience, I think, and hard work.

I think you would have to say that Irish food and Ireland as a nation of chefs have come of age. This is probably the proudest day that I have ever had in my entire career to see five new one stars and two new two stars and that is something that I never thought would happen. The amount of restaurants with Michelin stars in Ireland is unprecedented and that's a very exciting time. I look around today and think, wow, we've fought the fight and won. It's been worth it. I never thought I'd see this day."

Garrett Byrne, Campagne

"It's fantastic. It's brilliant. I am especially so happy for Mikey [Mickael Viljanen] because I know how hard he works and what he puts into it is just phenomenal. He got his just reward today. I felt like I had won it myself I was that emotional when he won it and went up on stage. 

For Aimsir, brilliant for them too and only open a few months, it's incredible. A very, very good day all round for Irish food and for Ireland. 

[On being a great mentor] We've had some great staff throughout the years and if they've all gone off to different restaurants and done different things. If chefs come into us for a few years and then go off and do their own thing then I am as happy for them as can be. I want them all to open their own restaurants. I am happy out with that, it's brilliant."

John Kelly, Lady Helen, Mount Juliet Estate

"It's great for Ireland, not before its time, it's super. we're all so excited for the lads and what they've achieved. It's just so good and it's great for everyone; the standard just keeps getting risen in the country and that's what we need to just all keep doing together as a group." 

Mike Tweedie, The Oak Room, Adare Manor

"Yeah I was a little surprised; you always have that moment where you think, 'am I good enough or not?' Even when you've been invited. I'm delighted though. I've always been clear that I wanted a Michelin star for my career, it's something that I've always worked for, but at the end of the day, customers are first and foremost, before any stars or accolades, they come first.

[Producers/ingredients] They are the most important thing, working with someone like Kevin from Urban Farmers, you know he tells me when things are in season and it dictates what's on the menu. Meeting all of the suppliers on our culinary road trip was incredible, putting a face to the name means you have a better relationship." 

Jordan & Majken, Aimsir, Cliff at Lyons

"I think surprised is the biggest understatement of the year. We didn't see it happening at all. I mean, we think we're great and you need that self-belief but, no, we thought it was way too soon for anything. Even to get an invite to be fair, as with the judging process and timing, I was just very nervous that we didn't even get in. It's a massive team effort, our team are amazing and I'm so happy for them." – Jordan

"We've only been open four-and-a-half months so we were really not expecting to get two stars. The host mentioned a couple earlier in the ceremony that is getting one-star today, but is close to the two... and we thought, ok, that's us, cool, next year we'll work hard and go for the two. So, when our names were called, we were in shock. We didn't see it at all."  – Majken

Rob Krawczyk, Restaurant Chestnut

"I've over the moon to have retained our star. There is a certain pressure the first year because you want to get through the first year and retain it so you can continue to keep pushing forward. It's just been amazing for Ireland, what was achieved today and what is going to be achieved, it keeps us all pushing harder and puts us further on the map. For such a small country, it's just fantastic." 

Jordan Bailey, Majken Bailey Bech, Rob Krawczyk and Elaine Fleming
Jordan Bailey, Majken Bailey Bech, Rob Krawczyk and Elaine Fleming

Takashi Miyazaki, Ichigo Ichie

"I didn't think about our star so much, I just like to focus on what we do. Using Japanese techniques but with Irish ingredients is still very new to me, so it is challenging me all the time. 

The food industry in Ireland is changing all the time, many things are changing, and also there exists great produce and it's not surprising that we have achieved great success as lots of chefs are using this produce to create amazing food, cooking different ways. It's amazing. There is more to come, next year, this is just the beginning."

Enda McEvoy, Loam

"When we had Sheridans on the Docks (with Seamus Sheridan), Rebecca Burr was actually the Michelin inspector who first came into us and put us in the Guide. That was a restaurant that was focused on developing a relationship with farmers and suppliers and ones that we still use today and I always thought when I opened up my own restaurant to have a low impact restaurant that I would be proud to stand over. I was really surprised and bowled over to get the recognition from Michelin for this new Sustainability Award, I am really happy. It's really great that they have an award for this because the kind of old optics on fine dining is that there is a lot of waste and a lot of cutting things into perfect squares, etc, but that's not the same any more. Chefs are more conscious of waste and that's great that they see a need to recognise those efforts.

[New Irish stars] I'm so unbelievably happy, I'm so made up for them. For the last few years, Michelin has been slowly building on their recognition of Ireland, so it means we're just finally getting recognised for what we're been doing all along really. I am so happy for the lads and for the country, it's a great result." 

Gareth McCaughey, The Muddlers Club

"I got an invitation to the event on Wednesday and I didn't really know what it meant. I thought, 'it couldn't be a star'. It's a big deal to get this star and it's the third star to come into Belfast and the city really needs it at the minute, it has come at the right time. There will be a lot of focus on the food in Belfast now again and I am very proud to say that I'm a part of. I am very happy. 

We try to keep the food as simple as possible in the restaurant. We have a lot of suppliers who come to us on a daily basis and we create menus around what comes through the door on the day. Things can change from lunch to dinner so we often don't do menus, and we just free-flow a lot of the dishes. It's our fourth birthday coming up now at the end of the month, so this couldn't have come at a better time for the team. It will lift everyone now. 

Paul McDonald, Bastion

"I am surprised, but also not. We knew something was coming but you just couldn't tell what it was going to be. They kind of played a wee trick on us by letting us keep the Bib Gourmand, but then we got an invite to the Star Revelation Ceremony, so we weren't sure what to think. Even with the invite, it doesn't say why you're invited, so I sat down and thought, am I getting a star? Or maybe they just want me to hold the door open for people? [laughs]

I started cooking when I was 14 years old in Glasgow and there were no Michelin star restaurants. The head chef I worked for had been in a restaurant that had won one, so I knew about them from him and from that age. I have worked in lots of Michelin restaurants in my career and the advice I've always gotten is don't chase it, you chase something you'll never get it because you're trying to manipulate things in a certain way that aren't manageable, so we have just been focusing on doing what we want, which is putting nice things on the plate and keep our customers happy. 

We almost went back to a la carte recently, but I saw this quote somewhere online that stopped me doing it that said something like, '90% of people give up 10 minutes before they're about to achieve what they set out to do' and I just kept that in my head all the time. You're always just an inch away, so we kept going."

Mark Moriarty, The Greenhouse

"Unbelievable is probably an overused word today, but to be friends with Mick [Mickael Viljanen] and have him as my mentor for eight years and to see all of his hard work come to fruition and get what he deserves has been brilliant. It's just a rare moment when hard work pays off in a very public way, and this was all to do with Mick. People will never understand how hard that kitchen has been to work in for eight years and it's just a credit to him and to now be a two-Michelin starred chef. 

He's an absolutely unbelievable mentor. I know people have all these mad stories about Mick, and he is mad, but I think the biggest credit to him is not only winning two stars but is that the kitchen is the most fun place to work in, it's hard work, but we all love coming into work every day and it's an incredible atmosphere because we've such a laugh. He's just a great teacher, I guess we're in his kitchen, that's his world and we're all very lucky to be there with him. I think we've seen today that people who have come from his kitchen have also gone on to achieve great things – Keelan Higgs worked with Mick and won his own star today. So, he's just a brilliant person. 

One of the big focuses for me was just being in the restaurant and helping to achieve what we've achieved today, but also just being able to learn from Mick and I am fortunate enough that I was there in 2012 when it opened to today (sporadically) and to learn so much on how he's trained himself to get to this level has been phenomenal to be part of it."

To get into this elite club, it's just unbelievable. To see the likes of Clare Smyth just walking past me today... It's a big deal... I am just going to embrace it."

Mikael Viljanen lifting up legendary chef Raymond Blanc at the 202 Michelin Star Revelation Ceremony
Mikael Viljanen lifting up legendary chef Raymond Blanc at the 202 Michelin Star Revelation Ceremony