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Image courtesy of RTÉ
Features

A must-watch: the new Irish TV series that explores the impact COVID-19 has had on the restaurant industry

After a hugely successful first series Beyond the Menu is back on our screens with a two-part special.

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In Beyond the Menu Reset, Mark retraces his steps over two episodes and finds out how restaurants have been adapting to the on-going pandemic.

It's been nearly a year since Mark Moriarty of the two-star Michelin Greenhouse, filmed the first season of Beyond the Menu. Throughout the six episodes, Mark travelled all over Ireland to spend time with some of the country's top chefs, both in and out of the kitchen. Highlighting each chef's incredible food, as well as how they have come to succeed in their careers, the series gave viewers an exclusive look inside the minds of Ireland's chefs. The series showcased the creativity and talent that is present in kitchens around the country. As well as showing the incredible highs associated with service.

Now, a year later since the series aired, Mark is revisiting the award-winning restaurants to see what's changed. And given the unpredictability of the past twelve months, it's safe to say a lot has happened. On March 20, restaurants all over Ireland closed their doors due to COVID-19. An entire industry ceased trading, bookings evaporated, with no idea how or if they'd be back. Since then, businesses have been opened, closed, opened for takeaway only, opened for outdoor dining only and re-closed entirely after a string of restrictions that were implemented by the government to control the virus. 2020 has changed the restaurant industry as we know it. 

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But in last night's episode, Mark caught up with some of the restaurants and chefs featured in the original series. Although some appeared a little different from the time we saw them last, all were determined not to be beaten.

The episode began with Mark taking a trip to the exclusive AIMSIR restaurant in Co. Kildare, where chef Jordan Bailey won 2 Michelin Stars after the series aired in 2019. Bailey was only open for eight months before COVID-19 put a halt to things. Quickly adapting to the Government restrictions and in order to keep his staff on the payroll, Bailey made a dramatic change. Speaking to Mark, he explained: “I felt like I had some sort of responsibility to keep the team in jobs, and still getting paid full salary and not to go back on the Covid payment, and it was just nice to keep that energy going, keep some sort of momentum going, no matter what it is.” The food truck which serves everything from kebabs to lobster rolls and chicken has been a lifeline for Bailey and his team. After the initial restrictions were introduced in March, he was forced to close AIMISR for a second time when heightened measures were introduced in Kildare. But while he’s closed for a third time under Level 5 restrictions, his food truck business is busier than ever.

Next, we visit Ciaran Sweeney who has perhaps changed the most since we saw him last. In the first season of Beyond The Menu, award-winning chef Ciaran Sweeney was longing to leave Dublin and make the move back home to Donegal to be with his family. Having worked in some of the best restaurants in Ireland and the UK, Sweeney was looking to the future and his next steps. Twelve months later and despite a global pandemic, Sweeney managed to land new and exciting opportunities in Donegal. Shortly after filming the first season, he made the big decision to leave Forest & Marcy. Then COVID-19 happened. He settled into the initial lockdown in Dublin before later leaving the capitol to join the team at The Lemon Tree in Letterkenny. The restaurant was rebuilding with big plans to re-open in the summer meaning exciting times are ahead for Sweeney. When asked by Mark if he had any regrets about leaving city life behind, Sweeney said: "Not at all. The only regret would not be moving home a year or two before."

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Finally, Mark pays a visit to Clanbrassil House to catch up with Grainne O’Keefe. Last year, she had Mark flipping burgers and shooting guns. This time, things were a little different. Swapping out frantic nights in the kitchen to relaxed evenings at home playing Scrabble, the result of the coronavirus pandemic saw O'Keefe slowing down. But not entirely. Bujo, where O'Keefe is the Culinary Director, were one of the first restaurants to adapt and change their business model. While offering takeaway, the team at Bujo took things one step further by creating at-home boxes where you could recreate Bujo's delicious burgers from the comfort of your own home. The show then saw Mark visit O'Keefe in Clanbrassil House where she is the head chef. The change of pace from when we saw the restaurant last is startling and one that has made O'Keefe reflect. "It feels completely different, it's a different vibe. We're just trying to get through" It's tough. it's impossible to know where restaurants are going - not just Clanbrassil House but all restaurants. We're definitely going to push on and continue what we're doing but it's hard to plan for the future."

Next time, we'll see Mark visit Dublin-based chef Holly Dalton to see how the past twelve months have impacted her life as a chef. Then, Mark heads to West Cork to visit the final two chefs; Robbie and Elaine of restaurant Chestnut and Mark Jennings and Sadie in Pilgrims Restaurant, who at the time, were hosting a pop-up dinner on a pier in Mill cove.

The second episode of Beyond the Menu Reset airs next Wednesday, November 25 on RTÉ One at 7.30 pm.