THE farmers and producers that make up Cork’s reputation as host county to a cornucopia of incredible foods came long before its reputation for also hosting some of the best chefs in the country.
The early pioneers understood Irish food was world class: Myrtle Allen, Declan Ryan, Gerry Galvin and Michael Clifford.
Then came those that pushed boundaries, including Denis Cotter who, in establishing Paradiso almost 30 years ago, was Ireland’s only vegetarian restaurant. Or Kevin Ahern, whose 12-mile ethos in the first incarnation of Sage paved the way for hyper-local and seasonally changing menus to become the norm rather than the exception.
In more recent times, there has been glorious marriages of ingredients and chefs all around our county, instilling a confidence in modern Irish cuisine.
As chefs become more emboldened and enthralled to the incredible larder at their disposal, so too are growers and producers willing to grow or make foods that sing of where they are from, feeding the idea of an Irish terroir.
Between chefs returning home, chefs pushing boundaries, and chefs combining culinary flavours of their homeland with local produce, the following foodies are making Cork a diverse, exciting and delicious place to dine out.
Meeran Gani Manzoor, Rare 1784, Kinsale
Originally from Chennai in India, Meeran came to Ireland in 2018, continuing a career working in kitchens of high-end fine dining restaurants, including London’s Dorchester Hotel and at two Michelin star standard in Belgium.
In 2020, he became head chef at Rare 1784, a decadent restaurant experience and part of The Blue Haven Collection in Kinsale. It’s a move that has enabled Meeran to combine his talent and flair for fine dining cuisine with the impressive larder of Cork ingredients, presented in a contemporary and fun way.
Meeran moved to Ireland for a change in pace of life, it seems he has found a balance in career and food ethos that continually inspires him and his team to offer an exciting dining experience in the heart of Cork’s gourmet capital.
Dan Guerin, CUSH, Ballycotton
After earning his stripes at Campagne in Killkenny and Sage in Midleton prior to its post-Covid reinvention, Dan Guerin was appointed head chef at CUSH in 2020 and is already recognised as one of Ireland’s culinary rising stars.
Originally from Ballycotton, CUSH represents a homecoming in both the literal and culinary sense. Taking inspiration from the local area has been a signature of Guerin’s throughout his career. Applying that to a place he has been familiar with his whole life means the heavy influences of coastline and seasonality are super focused: fish and wild foraged elements sit happily beside locally grown seasonal vegetables and pasture-raised meats.
In 2022, this careful attention to creating plates of great quality and delicious food earned CUSH a Michelin Bib Gourmand award which recognises “friendly establishments that serve good food at moderate prices.”
Given rising food prices, this is no small achievement, matched only by the ambition of this chef.
Christopher Braganza, The Spice Genie, Midleton & various locations
Although it was a passion for football refereeing that brought Christopher to Cork from Goa, it’s food that made him feel at home. Working as a pastry chef in high end restaurants and hotels in Cork and Waterford, it was lockdown that sparked an idea to set up a food truck cooking up regional dishes from all around India.
Starting with just a gazebo in Midleton farmer’s market, Christopher, with a little help from his brother, bought his food truck and began working markets and private events all around Cork.
Hot on the heels of his success, Christopher entered RTÉs show Battle of the Food Trucks this year, winning with a mix of classic Indian dishes and inventive own creations.
Now he plans to set up another food truck to service more markets, including branching out into Kilkenny, and to increase capacity for bookings for private events, too.
Aishling Moore, Goldie Fish & Ale, Cork City
She makes everything seem effortless, but don’t let this fool you, for Ms Moore rarely stops working. Whether in the kitchen, or outside of it, the cerebral work of questioning how to make everything better is ongoing and pervasive.
Going from nose to tail at Elbow Lane to gill to fin in Goldie, Aishling quietly works through the problems facing her industry: sustainability, gender balance, work-life balance. She reads widely, thinks deeply, emerging on the other side with a clear idea of how to achieve it all.
She does so whilst presiding over a daily changing menu, working with fish that doesn’t land into her restaurant until late morning on the day of service, yet somehow devising plates of food that are deeply delicious, serious, playful, unforgettable.
A recipient of a Michelin Bob Gourmand, Aishling has serious ambitions for her restaurant. But her reputation precedes her; invitations to talk at symposia and festivals, headline sell out pop-up events, or command a kitchen takeover on a different continent - all arre taken in her stride, leaving a trail of admiration everywhere she goes.
Suzanna Melinn, Banana Melon Kitchen, Mahon Point Market & pop-ups
Suzanna Melinn started Banana Melon Kitchen because she couldn’t find a great deal of tasty vegan food in Cork so started to make it herself. She completed a stage (an internship) at famed vegetarian restaurant Paradiso in 2017 and soon after launched ‘BMK’, using her combined interests and talents in art, design and computer science.
Suzanna can be found weekly at Mahon Point farmer’s market selling her vegan chocolates and cashew-based nut cheeses. Her deeply artistic nature means Suzanna’s food is all about beauty - treats that are as beautiful to look at as to taste.
Her incurable passion for creativity often takes her from out behind her market stall and into professional kitchens to team up or collaborate with venues to showcase her distinctive approach to vegan food with sublime and intricate tasting menus. Such as The Glass Curtain, where Suzanna went head-to-head with chef proprietor Brian Murray in a nose-to-tail versus root-and-leaf “taste off” to promote reducing waste in restaurants.
Orla McAndrew, Orla McAndrew Bespoke Catering, Donoughmore
Orla set up her catering business in 2018 whilst pregnant with her third child and to help a bride in need of a caterer. Since then, Orla’s business has grown from strength to strength, even through the pandemic when she pivoted to at-home catering service of freezer meals and treat boxes using chemical-free and Irish ingredients. Orla is now a regular on TV, taking to the spotlight for RTÉs Today programme, cooking delicious food with easy recipes. She has become a master of her own social profile, using Instagram to grow her following with ‘lives’, cook-a-longs and podcasts showcasing people she considers heroes in the food industry she loves so much, paving the way for her winning a Network Ireland Businesswoman of the Year award in the Creative Professional category.
She is a one-woman powerhouse, balancing a bustling home life with her three daughters and husband with her busy, ever-growing catering business. She has achieved all of this, and yet there is never any sign of her slowing down, so watch this space for whatever she decides will come next!
Victor França, Nua Asador, Marina Market
Victor is a chef with huge experience in fine dining and molecular gastronomy, but it’s his deep love for the art of fire cooking that led him to establish Nua Asador in 2021 with Tom Durcan, Cork’s legendary purveyor of spiced beef.
While many of us will be happy to throw a burger on a BBQ and hope for the best, the true masters of fire spend a lifetime learning to master it.
From temperature control to drawing flavour from smoke and flame, this elemental style of cooking demands everything from the chef. But the rewards are immense.
Since opening at Marina Market in 2021, Victor has been working hard to establish himself on the Irish food scene. For his efforts, he has made it through to round two of this year’s Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year Award. Euro Toques is the European community of chefs and cooks established in 1986 by prominent names in European cuisine, including the late, great Myrtle Allen who founded the Irish chapter the same year.
Mark Moriarty, Grainne Mullins and Conor Halpenny are just three chefs who have won the competition and gone on to be shining lights in Ireland’s culinary scene.
Victor, with his Latin roots and love of fire cookery, brings a whole new exciting dimension to this prestigious competition, and winner or not, will no doubt shake up what is possible in Irish food today.
Davitt Conroy, Mosaic, Ballydehob
More of a new-to-us scenario here, Davitt has 25 years of experience as a fine dining chef from Michelin-starred restaurants to private yachts to cooking for dignitaries. But in 2020, Davitt and his wife, Anna, returned to his native West Cork from Anna’s native New York as the pandemic struck.
The plan was to create and curate pop-up dining events that matched the region’s wonderful ingredients with its breath-taking scenery. Given how incredible the summer weather of 2020 was, the events were the hottest tickets in town! Soon after came a foray in food retail, making seasonings, sauces and more using the local food network, Neighbourfood.
Two years on, and it seems the bright lights of New York are still no match for West Cork, and, at the beginning of summer, he opened their first bricks and mortar restaurant in Ballydehob.
Mosaic specialises in contemporary Mediterranean cuisine using Irish produce, inspired by Davitt’s time spent working on yachts. It’s a great move to set up shop in one of Cork’s quirkiest and most exciting locations for foodies.
Ruairí Melvin Dunne, Dillon’s Corner, Skibbereen
Dillon’s Corner reopened in 2021 under the stewardship of partners Ruairí Melvin Dunne and Dawn Price-Latorre, who returned to West Cork from London after stints at famed Italian restaurants Trullo and Padella.
Really tasty things made from carbs are to be expected here: organic sourdough bread and pizza bases fermented for at least 25 hours for healthier, gut-friendly, and tastier breads. Daily freshly handmade pasta with a many a seasonal topping can be expected too. But this is only half the story at Dillon’s Corner.
In the back corner of the restaurant is an enormous wood-fired oven, and they make use of it as much as possible: meats cooked until meltingly soft; slow cooked brassicas, smoked this and wood-fired that, as well it being their bread and pizza oven too.
Skibbereen has long needed a restaurant like this. Incredible that Dillon’s Corner is also a bakery, a deli, open for breakfast, lunch, and – three nights a week – dinner. Long may diners enjoy the fruits of Ruairí’s labour.
Laurentiu (Lawrence) Samoila, Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery
Originally from Romania, Laurentiu left to study culinary arts in France and since has worked in kitchens across Italy, France, the UK – including the Ritz in London, and now finds himself cooking beside the seaside as the Head Chef at the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery.
The hotel recently celebrated 25 years in business and was awarded a coveted fourth star; a nice welcome for the newly appointed chef to walk into.
A love of seafood and shellfish is writ large on Laurentiu’s menus, clearly revelling in all that the region has to offer. His many years of experience, as well as a love of food born from his early childhood growing up in Romania, are all coming together here where the quality of food is second to none and the hotel’s ethos is to support those who produce it. The prospect for what chef will cook up as he explores the region more is exciting.