IT’S a chilly Monday night. I should be tucked up in front of a roaring fire, but instead I am wrapped up against the winter chill and heading down along South Mall towards Sober Lane for a meal like no other.
Tonight, sustenance comes in the form of an experimental menu created by five talented young chefs from across Ireland, and mentored by some of our finest talented and experienced chefs. There is one menu, no table service, shared seating and one set of cutlery. Sober Lane is packed to the rafters, the place is buzzing and there is a definite sense of mischief in the air of being out, of all nights, on a Monday night.
This is The Chef Collab: a not for profit organisation built on a mentoring platform as a holistic approach to addressing the chef shortage in Ireland. It is about providing supports to up and coming chefs, to showcase their talent and skills and highlighting the positive experiences that can be garnered from working in an industry that so often has any little good news to shout about.
The chef shortage in Ireland hasn’t gone away; and restauranteurs are still tackling the enormous balancing act of providing a good working environment that encourages a positive work/life balance amongst their kitchen team against a background of rising ingredient prices, salaries, rents, rates and ever-increasing competition for diners hard-earned Euro’s. It is a relentless industry.
Every now and again someone comes along with a vision, the right attitude and a selfless drive to make a difference and change the pervading narrative. That person is Chad Byrne, head chef at The Brehon in Killarney, and the vision is The Chef Collab.
I guess you could say that collaborations and kitchen swaps are not exactly a new idea, but The Chef Collab has ditched the reverence and civility that usually attaches to such collaborative events in exchange for a no-holds barred, rollicking and raving approach instead.
Walking into Sober Lane that Monday evening can be best described as a deliriously hedonistic display of organised chaos. Any seating plan has gone out the window, “grab a seat anywhere you can and make yourself at home!” I am told.
There is no ceremony here. As I scrabble for a seat and hastily introduce myself to the other guests around the table, behind us a team of chefs are busy finishing the plating for the first course for everyone to see – no barriers, no hiding. As they plate, curious diners float up with their phones to take photos and slip away again. In the meantime, plates of canapes are doing the rounds and are gone as quickly as they come out. Cork is ravenous tonight!
As food is served, we are introduced to the duo behind the course, mentor and mentee, each dish described to us. Sometimes there is a personal story behind the desire to make the dish; on the dessert assiette, the glazed apple mouse with burnt apple gel and ginger crumble biscuit was an homage to the chef’s earliest memories of cooking apple crumble beside his mom as a child. For many chefs, it is these memories of home cooking that lays the pathway for their later culinary careers.
The entire chef crew seem to relish breaking down the walls between kitchen and dining room. Junior chefs are head chefs while the head chefs themselves become teachers, cover front of house, serve food to guests, host and collect crockery. In an industry where strict adherence to rank, file and role is the order of every day, there was something rebellious about the evening: a sense of throwing out the rule book and going with the flow. And what better place to showcase a turning of the tables than the Rebel City itself?
If you haven’t guessed already, I had myself a very enjoyable evening. The next time The Chef Collab rolls back into Cork, and it is my fervent hope that his happens sooner rather than later, I encourage you to be quick off the mark about it and get your ticket sorted.
Roasted Carrot Salad, Cheese Curd, Thyme Crumb, Tarragon Mayo and Burnt Onion Powder (my favourite course of the night!)
Mentor: Paul Brogan of Forest Avenue, Dublin.
Chef: Yvonne Coughlan of Lake Hotel, Killarney.
Cod, Lemon Dressing, Egg Tartare and Pickled Slaw.
Mentor: Gaz Smith of Micheal’s, Co Dublin.
Chef: Daniel O’Sullivan, Trade House, Ballincollig, Cork.
Ham Hock and Chicken Terrine, Apple & Fennel, Roasted Apple Gel and Truffle.
Mentor: Alberto Rossi of InterContinental Hotel, Dublin.
Chef: Marcin of Rose Hotel, Tralee.
Crispy Pork Belly, Braised Jerusalem Artichoke, Crispy Squid, Chicken Winglet Jus.
Mentor: Gavin McDonagh of Gather & Gather.
Chef: Amy Ryan of Carriage House, Adare Manor.
Apple Mousse & Crumble; Jam Tart, Brown Bread Crisp, Torched Italian Meringue; Choux Bun with Chocolate and Caramel Ganache.
Mentor: Liam Kirwan, Montenotte Hotel, Cork.
Chef: Tadgh Crowley, The Brehon, Killarney.
Find The Chef Collab on Twitter and Facebook or visit www.chefcollab.com for news on upcoming events.