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Ireland wins big: Irish chefs react to Michelin Guide 2021

Irish chefs and restaurants were awarded several important accolades at the 2021 Michelin Guide revelation.

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The Michelin Guide 2021 has been revealed and several Irish restaurants have been awarded top honours. 

Although many restaurants have been closed for almost a year at this point, the Michelin Guide for 2021 still went ahead - albeit later than usual, having been moved from autumn 2020 to January 2021 - and Irish restaurants once again came out on top. 

Uncertainty reigned supreme ahead of the awards, with many restaurateurs concerned that they would face deletions after a year of closures, but luckily, no Irish restaurants lost their stars this year. Instead, we had one new addition to the Guide with Dede in Cork and several new Bib Gourmands, alongside a slew of brand new awards. 

Ahead of the virtual awards ceremony, the Guide revealed four new Bib Gourmand awards for Irish restaurants. The lucky four are Aishling Moore's Goldie in Cork, Volpe Nera in Blackrock, Dublin, Spitalfields in Dublin and Table Forty One in Gorey, Wexford. These new accolades bring Ireland's number of restaurants with Bib Gourmand awards up to 18.

Speaking about the accolade, Barry Sun Jian, owner and head chef at Volpe Nera in Blackrock, told us how delighted he was to be recognised, especially during such a difficult year.

“We are thrilled to be awarded a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide," he said. "We opened our neighbourhood restaurant in November 2019 and while it certainly hasn’t been plain sailing since then, this incredible recognition, along with the unwavering support from our customers, industry colleagues and neighbours makes it all worthwhile. I’m so proud of our whole team.”  

Aishling Moore of Goldie in Cork
Aishling Moore of Goldie in Cork

This year, the Michelin Guide also announced a range of new awards including Chef Mentor, Young Chef of the Year, and Welcome and Service. Incredibly, two of these awards were given to Irish chefs: Saul McConnell of Noble in Holywood received the Welcome and Service award, while Ross Lewis of Chapter One in Dublin was named Chef Mentor.

Speaking about the win, McConnell told us how much he is looking forward to welcoming customers back to the restaurant. 

"Honestly, [I'm] speechless, just so happy for ourselves and the team to receive this award. What we’ve always set out to do is give our customers the most enjoyable experience in our restaurant that we can, so it’s such a great feeling for us and the team to be awarded this Welcome & Service award from Michelin. We cant wait to welcome all our customers back into the restaurant," he said.

"It’s what everyone misses the most right now, the service from hospitality. Like many other restaurants, we’ve moved to [email protected] meals, which fill the void while we remain closed. We just can’t wait to open our doors and welcome our customers back again. [This is] a great motivator for us and the team. And a good excuse for wine on a Monday!"

The first ever Chef Mentor Award was given to Ross Lewis of Chapter One in Dublin, which has held a Michelin star for 14 years. He has worked with and taught many of Ireland's best chefs, including Damien Grey of Michelin-starred restaurant Liath, Eric Matthews of Chapter One, Keelan Higgs of Michelin-starred Variety Jones and many more. 

Speaking about his win, Lewis told us how much this accolade means to him.

"I have a huge regard for the Michelin awards. The inspectors have been coming in my door for 28 years consistently and to not only have a star for 14 years, but to be acknowledged as someone who gives back to the industry means as much to me as the star," Lewis said. "When you start cooking you want to progress in your careet and want to be as good as possible. The last part is about the legacy you leave behind. I have been working in this industry for 33 years but I can’t think of any better award to have received."  

"It's one thing to take pride in your own success, but what gives me more satisfaction is seeing the people that have worked with create their own great success. This has been a very depressing time for the industry so to get this news on a dull day in January shows that there will be lots of bright days ahead. The industry will rise."

Ross Lewis at the 2017 FOOD&WINE Awards
Ross Lewis at the 2017 FOOD&WINE Awards

Another new award for this year was the Michelin Green Star, which was given to 23 restaurants across the UK and Ireland, including three here in Ireland. According to the Michelin website, this award aims to highlight those who work closely with local suppliers and value sustainability:

"This distinction highlights restaurants at the forefront of the industry when it comes to their sustainable practices and who act as role models to us all. They hold themselves accountable for both their ethical and environmental standards, and work with sustainable producers and suppliers to avoid waste and reduce or even remove plastic and other non-recyclable materials from their supply chain.

Many work directly with growers, farmers and fishermen; forage in hedgerows and woodlands; grow plants and rear animals; and use regenerative methods such as no-dig vegetable gardens and successional cover crop growing. They also often go beyond environmental considerations to address the quality of life of their staff, as well as contributing to local, national or global charity and education projects."

The three Irish restaurants given this all-new award are all located in Galway - Kai and Loam, which are both in the city centre, and Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites, which is on the Aran Islands. All three restaurants are well-known for their commitment to local producers and sustainability, with Enda McEvoy at Loam awarded the Guide's first ever Sustainability Award at the last revelation. 

"I'm delighted, it’s so important that Michelin focus on sustainability," McEvoy told us. "It’s great that they are making strides to mainstream responsible practices into their criteria. It's great news and I'm delighted for our friends at Kai and Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites."

The team at Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites echoed McEvoy's sentiment, highlighting how special the Aran Islands are to the restaurant's ethos.

"We are delighted that Michelin have created this category, and to be awarded this accolade, as it completely aligns with what we do," the team told us. "Inis Meáin is essentially a concentrated patch of the Burren, surrounded by sea and crisscrossed by hundreds of miles of dry stone walls and archaeological treasures. Since 2007, we have added to the Island a place to dine and stay that is complementary and preserving of its special location in scale and quality. Much of the restaurant produce comes from the vegetable gardens around the restaurant, and the surrounding land and coast including our own island farm."

We were especially delighted to see Kai given the Green Star award. Head chef Jess Murphy, who co-owns Kai with her husband Dave, is our resident chef for FOOD&WINE Magazine, supplying us seasonal, delicious recipes every month, so we know first-hand how highly she values local produce and sustainability measures. When we congratulated her on the restaurant's newest accolade, Murphy told us how much the Green Star means to her. 

"This is the icing on the cake for me. I was blown away to win the Blas na hÉireann Producers Champion Award in 2019, it's a symbol of national pride for me," Murphy told us. "But this is all about small producers and local people. I'm from a farming background and I know how tough it is so I try to do the products justice. For a place as small as Kai to win this, I'm so chuffed. You look like a psycho when you're always saving parsley stalks and onion skin to use later, but to see sustainability valued like this makes it all worthwhile. These are the lessons my grandparents taught me.

"Now it's about new generation, it's not about us anymore. The new face of Ireland is being celebrated now, look at Ahmet [Dede] - he's a Turkish guy who only just opened a restaurant in Cork, making Turkish food with Irish ingredients and now he has a Michelin star, it's amazing. This star will help me to keep pushing and become a better representative for my UNHCR work and for local communities, i'm delighted."

Jess Murphy at Kai in Galway, photo by Emilija Jefremova
Jess Murphy at Kai in Galway, photo by Emilija Jefremova

In terms of Michelin stars, no Irish restaurants lost their stars this year. Under Ian Doyle's leadership, House Restaurant at The Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Waterford retained its star, a fantastic achievement during Doyle's first year as head chef. Derry and Sallyanne Clarke's Dublin restaurant l'Ecrivain also remained in the Guide, despite the fact that the restaurant will close for good in March - l'Ecrivain was initially supposed to close in summer 2020, but extended its final lap due to the pandemic. However, it's unlikely now that the restaurant will get to reopen this year before the Clarkes have to vacate the premises this spring. 

Ireland's newest Michelin star was awarded to Ahmet Dede, chef and owner of Dede in Cork which opened last year. The restaurant champions Irish produce in Turkish dishes, eskewing traditional Michelin-style multi-course menus in favour of family-style dishes and sharing plates. 

Tweeting about his win, Dede dedicated the star to his family and his business partner Maria Archer.

Congratulations to all the winners! Click here for more Michelin content.