When Damien Grey reopened the booking system for Liath after the restaurant’s refurbishment in 2019, around 3,500 people tried to book a table at the same time, causing the website to crash.
But while Liath, which is located in Blackrock Market in Co Dublin, is Grey’s primary project, his next might be even bigger than his Michelin-starred restaurant.
Before the pandemic began, Grey had begun to consider how he could host an interactive experience that would highlight the talent of other chefs around the country. He imagined The Chef Supper Club as a revolutionary virtual concept that would highlight Ireland’s best chefs, the producers they champion and the restaurants they cook in.
To get the idea off the ground, he teamed up with Sharyn Mitchell and Mark Wooderson of Another Avenue Productions, and Ann-Marie Sheehan of Aspire PR, and began to think about which chefs would be involved. Then the pandemic hit.
With hospitality around the country closed down, you might think that Grey had to press pause on The Chef Supper Club, but instead it gave him time to evaluate and refine the project. Liath Uncut, in which Grey put together a meal kit for guests to enjoy at home while he guided them through final preparations via Zoom, acted as a sort of pilot programme.
“We made every possible mistake we could with Liath Uncut,” Grey says. “It ran for six weeks, then we sat back and looked at everything that had happened so that we could make it better for The Chef Supper Club.”
But exactly what is this new project? Well, it’s a meal kit, but not really. It’s a documentary series, but not really. It’s a cookalong experience, but not really.
It has a number of different elements. The first one, and the core of the project, is the ‘Bring The Restaurant Home’ experience, which will kick off on September 11. This centres around five-course menus priced at €120 for two people, plus €6 delivery, created by exceptionally talented chefs.
Diners will be delivered a box full of delicious food, with approximately 80 per cent of the preparation already done, and a link to join a live, online cooking experience with the chef in question, who will guide them through finishing the dishes.
Where this differs from the online cookalongs we’ve become accustomed to is in the delivery. Some chefs may opt to cook live from their restaurants during service, others might base themselves in the new kitchen space that Grey has set up in Blackrock Market near Liath.
Interspersed throughout these live cooking experiences will be high-quality documentary footage of the chefs, allowing them to highlight what they are passionate about; it might feature a tour of their restaurant, or an interview with their favourite suppliers.
Ciaran Sweeney, formerly of Forest & Marcy in Dublin and now of the Olde Glen Bar & Restaurant in his home county of Donegal, will launch the project on September 11, followed by Gráinne O’Keefe on September 26.
O’Keefe, the culinary director at BuJo Burger Joint, will be broadcasting live from Mae, her new restaurant in Ballsbridge in Dublin 4, for her Sunday lunch experience. On October 9, Mike Tweedie of the Michelin-starred Oak Room at Adare Manor will be appearing live with an extensive, exclusive menu, while Killian Crowley, now based at Sonas in Luxembourg, will finish up the first round of experiences on October 23.
“This will be a way for people to sample the food of a chef that they’ve always been interested in. It’s a way for people to connect with food and chefs. With Liath Uncut, I discovered that you can’t fully recreate a restaurant experience at home, because it’s something special, but you can create an accessible experience for people to enjoy,” Grey says.
“Nearly 80 per cent of the people that joined Liath Uncut had never been to the restaurant itself. That was a real eye-opener for me. It told me that this is a good way to brand and market a restaurant, to show people who we are and what we do in an intimate, exciting setting.”
When choosing the chefs who would take part in the project, Grey was keen to highlight those he admires. Gráinne O’Keefe is high on that list.
“Anything I can do to be supportive of Gráinne, I will make it happen,” he says. “I have a lot of admiration for her because she’s so intelligent and creative, she is a serious inspiration. I’ve been leaning towards people that are not only amazing, but that I like and admire too.”
For O’Keefe, who counts Grey as a friend and a mentor, taking part in The Chef Supper Club is an opportunity that she sees as crucial to the launch of her new restaurant.
“I’m so delighted to have been asked to take part, it’s a really cool concept,” she says. “Damien is a huge mentor figure to me, I can always ask him for advice. In his eyes, this project isn’t about him, but of course everyone knows Damien and what he’s all about – he genuinely does care about highlighting other chefs and doing good in the industry.”
So far, O’Keefe is the only chef offering a Sunday lunch menu, inspired by the food her grandparents cooked. Mae, her new restaurant in Dublin, is named for her grandmother, and will pay homage to the happy memories she had with her family and the family stories that have been passed down to her.
Crucial to O’Keefe, as it is in BuJo and will be in Mae, is highlighting amazing Irish producers, something Grey also wants to showcase in The Chef Supper Club.
“Where possible, we will use the chef’s own suppliers – they know best. We’ll be working on a cycle whereby the chef sends us the menu, my team and I prepare everything and finish the dishes as per the recipe, then go back and tweak things if necessary,” Grey says.
“On the week of the experience, The Chef Supper Club team will prepare the food and box it up so it’s ready for delivery. Initially we’ll be starting with just Dublin and the surrounding areas, like Kildare and Wicklow, but eventually I want to build hubs around the country so that we can supply to more areas and hire more people.”
While The Chef Supper Club is based in Ireland right now, Grey has big hopes for the future – next year, he plans to bring it to Europe, then further afield, in order to allow customers to sample food from the world’s best chefs without leaving their own homes.
For Grey, the project is another way of improving the work-life balance of those employed in hospitality. Having made the most of life outside the kitchen over the past year and a half, he is aiming to offer staff a living wage and a job that doesn’t involve working all the hours God sends.
“I have a team of eight starting with me; all of them have Michelin experience and have had the full Liath training. Part of being a mentor is supporting the next generation of chefs. I don’t ever want to be in competition with other chefs again, I want to embrace the community,” he says.
“Before the pandemic, we were on the cusp of becoming known internationally as a real gastronomic destination, just like San Sebastián or Copenhagen. Now that we’ve gotten through the pandemic, we have to focus on training and teaching chefs properly.”
Those on The Chef Supper Club team will be in a unique position in their culinary careers. With so many contacts in the hospitality industry – Grey counts Ross Lewis of Chapter One and Patrick Guilbaud of Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud as mentors – he is determined to connect those working for him with others to complete stage programmes, or help them find jobs with some of the world’s best chefs.
“The team will be making connections with all of the amazing chefs that take part in The Chef Supper Club,” Grey explains. “They will be in a unique position to get properly trained at a high level, while also advancing their careers in whichever direction they desire.”
Also launching as part of the new venture is a programme called From Scratch. Not to be confused with masterclasses or online cookalongs, From Scratch will see members of the hospitality industry host live demos in Grey’s test kitchen.
Ahead of the event, attendees will be delivered the necessary ingredients in the quantities needed for the class.
Tara Gartlan, the talented gluten-free pastry chef who will be joining the opening team at Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen in Dublin, will be one of the first to host a From Scratch course, but the line-up won’t just be limited to chefs. Grey hopes that drinks professionals, producers and more will all join the roster down the line.
Potions, Grey’s drinks offering, is another element of the new project. Headed up by sommelier Cathryn Steunenberg of Wine Rover, formerly of Aimsir in Kildare, it will see curated wine pairings offered with the food boxes, along with cocktails and other drinks.
It all sounds like a lot of work, after a very stressful year for the sector. But for Grey, creating something separate to Liath - a project that wouldn’t just be about him, but would be more about the very best of the industry - was important.
“It’s a massive project and it will be a lot of work, but I’m excited about it,” Grey says. “I can’t get wound up about the amount of work I’m undertaking because it’s all about breaking ground and making sure that chefs and restaurants get a huge amount out of the project. There are amazing people out there, and we can tell their stories.”
Bookings for the first two The Chef Supper Club events are now open at thechefsupperclub.com with tickets available for the next events every two weeks. Tickets for the From Scratch experiences will also be opening soon – keep your eye on The Chef Supper Club website.
All Images by Ruth Calder-Potts. This article first appeared in the July 2021 issue of FOOD&WINE magazine. You can subscribe here.