As this year’s Michelin stars were announced in haste a day early on twitter, due to a leak, Danni Barry was busy at work, unaware of the breaking news. A phone call directly into the kitchen at EIPIC from the head chef of Midsummer House in Cambridge offering congratulations was the first communication Danni received on the matter. This was swiftly followed by a visit from all the chefs at Deanes Meat Locker, who baled into the restaurant during lunch service; and another phone call from Alain Kerloc’h of Ox restaurant (which also received a star). “I was in shock. I was hopeful but I really wasn’t expecting this to happen so soon,” says Danny. “Michael (Deane – owner of Deanes EIPIC) made no secret that this is what he wanted to happen for the restaurant – it was something we were working towards, but I thought we would have to wait another year.

So, in real terms, what does this accolade mean? “Personally, it’s a massive achievement, it’s the holy grail. For the business, it has meant that we are so much busier across the board and the city has been really supportive. Everybody has celebrated it.” Danni adds that it means a lot to other people as well, who are part of the success, such as the suppliers and other businesses in the area.

This success has come full circle for Danni, who began her career in 2003 at the then Michelin starred Deanes in Howard Street. After four years, Danni left Ireland to work abroad, travelling to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and mainland Europe. “I wanted to see everything in my 20s and once I had learnt something new I moved on”.

A job at Simon Rogan’s famed l’Enclume, in Cumbria, was followed with a move to the top position in the kitchen at Rogan & Co in Cartmel. “We achieved three rosettes at Rogan & Co and working there had a huge influence on me. I became more thoughtful about what ingredients I was using and why”. It was at this time that Michael Deane got in touch once more and persuaded her to come back to Belfast and lead the team at his new restaurant EIPIC. “I was ready to come home and was excited about the opportunity at EIPIC.”

Danni cites both Derek Creagh and Michael Deane as two of the biggest influences in her career. “Derek was the first chef to teach me to taste as I cooked. And he encouraged me to travel, eat, read and keep learning. Michael has always been very encouraging”.

Danni grew up on a beef and dairy farm as a child and, as such, had a very good understanding of where her food came from. Her mother, she says, was a great cook and a good work ethic was instilled in her and her siblings as children. “The girls had to do what the boys did – we were all baling hay together.” Today, Danni works in quite a male dominated environment, but says this is not something that she has ever felt hindered her journey. “All the male chefs I have worked with have supported me and given me motivation to continuously improve. If you feel you have to work harder then work harder. I’m not just a woman, I’m an Irish woman and I think we are a bit fierce.” Does Danni think the environment is changing however? “I think it is a timing thing. In the 80s and 90s kitchens were headed up by macho men and food was heavy with big rich flavours. Today, I think, with the Nordic influence, people want something more balanced, refined. Kitchens are more welcoming to women already. It is essential to hav e female chefs in the kitchen – you want balance and women bring that.

So what next for Danni? “I’m very happy now in my position in EIPIC, and having achieved a star so quickly I want to keep it and build on it. I want to continue to work on the service and I still want to work on the food nad build a team that is an established restaurant. We have the star now, but we have to grab it and see what we can do with it. I have not other plans – but every chef wants to work in their own place some day…”

This interview originally appeared in FOOD&WINE Magazine, January/February 2016

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