IF there is one word that defines the Irish relationship to food, it is: Survival.
From tenement farmsteads to An Gorta Mhor, from home cooking to fine dining, food is a battle of wits where only the resilient prevail.
On Monday this week, the UK and Ireland Michelin Guide revealed its newest recipients of prestigious Michelin Stars. This year, there were no thronging groups of chef brigades, no champagne corks popping left of stage or illustrious fanfare. Instead, the Revelation Ceremony was virtual: streamed live via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
But the virtual felt incredibly real as, one by one, chefs who were bestowed their stars expressed disbelief, relief, then waves of emotion. Be under no illusion that, this year, it means so much more.
Amongst the glinting assembly of talent, Cork can claim another Star in its own Michelin studded firmament: Ahmet Dede for his new fine dining restaurant, Dede, in Baltimore, West Cork.
Following the demise of Mews, Ahmet decided Baltimore was where he wanted to stay.
“Baltimore is in my heart, and I wanted to open up a restaurant with a very different style of food from before based on my Turkish heritage,” says Ahmet; a personal style that is an expression of love for his Turkish homeland and adoration for produce, people and place that is this bijoux seaside village.
Dede’s technical brilliance is as visionary as it is delicious, as beautiful to admire as it is to taste. The freshest produce complimented by frequent foraging trips that are as much about exploring the picturesque landscape as they are about new and exciting flavours, taken, played with, and incorporated into dishes.
As Covid permeated every aspect of our lives, so too did Ahmet have to adapt: a temporary move away from fine dining to deli and takeout – albeit with luxurious touches such as whole lobster.
“I had to do a lot of learning in 2020,” Ahmet says.
“It was a case of putting the ego in a box and getting on with whatever needed to be done to survive.
“My team did what was necessary and I’m proud of what we were able to achieve despite the challenges.
“When I opened, my goal was to achieve a Michelin star again, but this time is better than the first – it feels more intimate, more personal: this is my restaurant, my business, my name.
"The support of the local people has been amazing – West Cork is amazing; and as long as I can cook, I am happy!”
Restaurant Chestnut, Ballydehob; Ichigo Ichie, Cork City and Bastion, Kinsale all retained their Michelin Stars too – a quartet of restaurants, chefs and styles that showcases and reinforces Cork’s culinary status in Ireland.
Takashi Miyazaki retains his Star for the third year in a row for Ichigo Ichie, but this wasn’t something he was taking for granted.
“We weren’t sure how Michelin would be able to judge this year, especially as so many restaurants had to change up what they were doing.
"Really, I was quite anxious, so to be able to retain our star for this year is a huge relief,” says Takashi.
Miyazaki took the decision to reopen Ichigo Ichie as a dine-in restaurant for just a few weeks in summer, saying it wasn’t feasible with the style of food the restaurant is famous for (fermentation, curing etc). At Home Kits were how he adapted to the challenge, creating spicy Hot Pots before Christmas and now a selection of exquisite Sushi and miso broth.
Hope rests on reopening as a dine-in restaurant in April, an auspicious time of year for Takashi: Spring in Japan, when cherry blossoms are in full splendour – as they are too in Cork; and will mark Ichigo Ichie’s fourth anniversary.
2020 saw Bastion in Kinsale achieve its first Michelin Star, something husband and wife team Paul and Helen McDonald very nearly turned their back on.
“We had been offered a restaurant in Manhattan, but getting the Star kept us here. We would have been opened just as Covid hit, so we thought – well, didn’t we dodge a bullet!
“We had very little time to capitalise on our Star last year, but it is a great achievement and a life goal for me.
"The team are really happy and want to push harder when we do get to reopen. We’re absolutely pumped and full of energy, enthusiasm and ideas. We are not finished yet - our best work is still to come!”
Rob Krawczyk and partner Elaine, the duo behind Restaurant Chestnut in Ballydehob, renovated to create additional seating in the tiny restaurant during their winter break, but then found themselves offering Click and Collect Takeaway menu and very fancy picnic hampers. Keeping their Michelin standard with such portable offerings was no mean feat, but no doubt assisted in them retaining their star for 2021.
“Elaine and I are thrilled to retain our star in the 2021 Michelin Guide.
"The past year has been heavy going, this award is a real positive for all our team, as well as for our wider community of growers and producers we rely on for their exceptional ingredients.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming diners back to Restaurant Chestnut as soon as it is safe to do so, and to celebrate our Michelin star in the best way we know how - on the plate.”
Goldie Fish & Ale, Cork’s answer to sustainable and innovative fish cookery, has been awarded a Bib Gourmand – one of only four in Ireland. The Michelin Bib recognises restaurants for outstanding food at an affordable price.
Their whole catch approach, gill-to-fin ‘seacuterie’ and minimal waste ethos allows head chef,
Aishling Moore, and her team to get creative with their fresh-off-the-boat produce ensuring fish is affordable, sassy and flavoursome. An experimental, and successful, pop-up fish shop was their response to Covid restrictions, helping to support the day boats who supply the restaurant.
A woman of few words, the ones selected to express her reaction to this unexpected accolade say it all: “I’m just shocked and delighted – and very proud of our little team.”