The 2019 Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year Final was held yesterday and after beating off very high competition this year, Gráinne Mullins of Lignum restaurant in Loughrea, Galway took home the accolade.
Year on year, the standard of culinary skill from the contestants in the Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year competition, presented by La Rousse Foods, rises and the 2019 competition saw some of the finest young chefs take part in the challenge.
The eight finalists were: James Dobson (Potager), Attila Galambos (Aniar), Daniel Hannigan (Mr S.), Karan Mittal (Ananda), Gráinne Mullins (Lignum), Gareth O’Brien (Bastible), Matthew Stafford (The Greenhouse) and Alison Tierney (Dax).
The final was held in the professional kitchens of Dublin Cookery School in Blackrock and this year’s winner, Gráinne Mullins, was mentored by her head chef Daniel Africano of Lignum. Each finalist was requested to devise two original dishes — a starter or dessert using Irish buttermilk and/or Jersey milk and Irish honey, and a main course using a whole chicken from Regan Organic Farm. Each created an imaginative and sophisticated series of dishes for the judges to taste, discuss and score.
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Reactions on the night
Gráinne was announced the winner at a gala dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin yesterday evening and we spoke to her and some of the judges to hear their reactions to the result...
Gareth Mullins, The Marker Hotel and Commissioner General, Euro-Toques Ireland
"We have the difficult job of picking a winner. It's so cliché to say that they are all winners, but it's true. However, Gráinne cooked with such poise today and her dishes were so complete and made sense. I just think she cooked beautiful food today. At the semi-final she was nervous I would have said, with the mystery basket, but today there was no sign of that and she executed her food incredibly well. Her Dad made the board she served it on... She thought about where the seaweed was from... Every single component of the dish was so well thought out, but more importantly, it tasted amazing. It wouldn't be the style of cooking that I love, that not only surprised me but it was unanimous among all of the judges. For everyone, Gráinne was the winner today."
Danny Africano, Lignum and Gráinne's mentor
"It's an incredible result. We've only known each other for maybe two months, we've only been open in Lignum for a month, and we've been working on this final that whole time. Gráinne didn't enter it to just come second or third, we entered it to win it. Since she got into the final, we wanted it to be an Irish theme and that really shined today as looking at everyone else's dishes there wasn't as strong an Irish theme. Being from the west of Ireland, we really went back to tradition when Irish people would make roast chicken and then a soup from it. We took that and brought it to a new age, with new techniques like fermentation and Koji.
Gráinne is actually a pastry chef and for her dessert we knew they would expect something amazing, but we decided to go back again to tradition and one of the first Irish desserts is with Carrageen. At first, being honest, our trials with ancient recipes were dodgy, but we kept adapting it until it was something unbelievable. A mentor is just someone in the back, it's the person on the day and obviously Gráinne did a great job today.
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Michel Roux Jr, La Gavroche, London and Guest Judge
"I certainly wasn't surprised by the talent because I know that there is talent everywhere, up and down this country, but what I was surprised about was the passion and the diversity of the different ways of cooking and the different styles. Gráinne's dish was amazing because it had such a story and such a heartfelt story behind it and great respect for local ingredients."
Margot Janse, Isabelo charity feeding project in Franschhoek, SA and Guest Judge
"Gráinne was the last one to present today and so she the last one to join the circle, because they all do half an hour each. I felt for her because she had to wait the longest, so when she joined I said to her, 'so you're finally allowed to join the circle?' and she was just full of such excitement. She spoke through her food and I thought, wow this is so interesting because there is so much depth in her story, and her heritage and where she's getting it from. Then I watched her work and I was really impressed. In fact, everyone was great and there were some really outstanding things today. But I was waiting for Gráinne to present, I was really curious. It was really outstanding what she did, it had meaning as well. Obviously there were her techniques, but it was the full story she was telling about where it came from and for me, it was grounded Irish in the way she did it. It's brave to be unique and push your own story and she did.
I know there are some seriously good levels of food and chefs in Ireland, so that wasn't surprising, the surprise comes in when you see the produce and the dedication to the produce. That is really great."
Gráinne Mullins, 2019 Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year
"I didn't feel confident that I'd won today. I mean I was happy with what I plated up. Every time I had practised I had been over time, or there had been mistakes, but I made it up on time. I don't know what kicked in but that adrenaline rush must have been it!
The overall experience has been amazing. The last few weeks there was a lot of stress, obviously, as we get closer to the final, but stress is good too, it pushes you. But before that, every single week we were being inspired by someone or something, being brought somewhere, meeting new people... The opportunities it has brought and the people we have got to meet so far has been amazing.
I have always been inspired by things that are around me, so growing up my parents always grew food in the garden, so we always had fresh food and they cooked with us. I loved baking, I have always loved it. I think I drove them mad making meringues every Saturday morning! But, we always used was local, what was in season, always. That's stayed with me.
My dish has evolved quite a dish from the start. Especially since opening Lignum, we've got to go around and meet so many producers and that was inspiring. I haven't lived in Galway in years, I've been travelling, and to be able to go and visit those producers that have popped up in that time that are producing such amazing things, and to be able to showcase that is incredible. You should be able to do that if you can, not everyone has the knowledge of what's going on around us and I am really proud of what's happening in Galway, so for me to be able to do that is amazing.
What's the craziest is that I'm from Loughrea, I was in school there, I had my very first job there and my boss Nigel inspired me from a very young age and we used local produce then. There was nothing fine dining at that time. To be able to come back now to Loughrea and work in a fine dining restaurant, creating great food, showcasing local produce, showcasing everything that is local, in my hometown is absolutely incredible. I never thought that would happen. It's a massive sense of pride."