Meet the shining stars on Cork’s culinary scene

Two young chefs, two Bib Gourmand awards and plenty of ambition... KATE RYAN reflects on the recent Michelin Guide announcement and what it means for the Cork food scene
Meet the shining stars on Cork’s culinary scene

Chef Dan Guerin, pictured outside the Cush Restaurant in Ballycotton which was awarded a prestigeous Bib Gourmand Award recently. Picture: Howard Crowdy

MICHELIN Revelation Day is when the revered Michelin Guide unveil its new entrants, reconfirming stars, creating new stars, and adding stars to the Guide.

Ultimate prestige is reserved for the award of one, two or three stars. There are Green Stars, an addition to the Guide since 2020, awarded to restaurants that work to an ethos of sustainability.

Bib Gourmand is awarded to “friendly establishments that serve good food at moderate prices” and often the first port of call for any restaurant or chef with starry ambitions.

This year, just three Bib Gourmands were awarded in Ireland, one of which was for CUSH in Ballycotton. Open since 2020, CUSH is a family-run restaurant located overlooking the picturesque East Cork bay with its iconic lighthouse island just offshore.

Head chef here is Dan Guerin, a 28-year-old Ballycotton native who earned his stripes at Campagne, Kilkenny, and Sage in Midleton. The menu at CUSH is heavily influenced by seasonality and the coastline of Ballycotton: fish and wild foraged elements sit happily beside locally grown seasonal vegetables and pasture-raised meats.

Last year, a Bib Gourmand went to Cork’s innovative fish restaurant, Goldie, whose executive head chef, Aishling Moore, is 27 years old. The ethos here is gill-to-fin, whole-fish and whole-catch approach making use of whatever day boats land in and using every part of the fish. It’s an approach that reflects a traditional way of fishing that is sustainable: smaller boats fish for a day and bring back whatever ends up in their nets. Without targeting species of only higher value, access to a chef like Moore, who will take whatever is pulled up in the net, ensures a guaranteed income for the boat, and an unpredictable variety of fish that demands a chef creativity.

Aishling Moore, of fish restaurant Goldie, who was awarded a Bib Gourmand last year. Picture: Clare Keogh
Aishling Moore, of fish restaurant Goldie, who was awarded a Bib Gourmand last year. Picture: Clare Keogh

Two young chefs, two Bib Gourmands, plenty of ambition and talent to spearhead the next generation of food innovators that keeps Cork at the top of Ireland’s culinary and gastronomic map.

Just as sure as nothing gets in the way of Michelin Revelation Day, you can bank on those who tout the opinion Michelin is overrated or irrelevant.

“This list has zero credibility these days,” says one Twitter user in the UK citing two stars awarded to a pub – even if that ‘pub’ is Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers.

Of course, for every diner who is a Michelin dissenter there are many more who recognise the Guide and its awards as a time worn method that underpins reliability. The Guide walks a tight rope of doing right by diners and being aspirational and motivational enough for chefs and restauranteurs to work incredibly hard to achieve recognition in a fiercely competitive space.

What’s more, today’s chefs are expected to do more than just put incredible tasting food onto plates to a consistently high standard. 

In addition to their technical and creative ability, chefs now must be food champions, expert foragers for wild and unusual ingredients, and a voice for supporting local producers. 

They must be green warriors, too; finding ways to minimise food waste and strive to be as zero waste a possible, reduce plastics in the kitchen, recycle what waste they have – in Moore’s case, deep fried fish bones are a typical snack on the menu (delicious!).

Guerin’s food is inspired by the coastal landscape on CUSH’s doorstep. He grew up in Ballycotton and will be intimately knowledgeable of which boats land the best fish, the best local grower for veg, the best producer of grass-fed meats and pasture-raised eggs; the best local cheesemaker, and the nooks and crannies where the best of wild ingredients for his seasonally changing menu can be found.

Then there is diversity. It’s no longer the case to assume kitchens will be dominated by male chefs. Moore, who, when Goldie opened was Ireland’s youngest executive head chefs, has striven hard to achieve a 50:50 ratio of women and men working in her restaurant, both front of house and in the kitchen. Goldie opened in its doors in September 2019, so despite being around for nearly three years, the amount of time trading because of Covid restriction is significantly less. 

To achieve anything of significance at all in this time is a challenge, but somehow Moore has managed to establish a worthy reputation for her restaurant and meet her sustainability and diversity goals none the less.

Both Guerin and Moore are two brightly shining stars in Cork’s gastronomic firmament - and they are only just getting started. Whatever the naysaying punter might express about the relevance of Michelin recognition today, for our young chefs it means taking on the myriad challenges and raising the bar further still to show how everything – from the food on the plate to redefining the work environment and everything in between – can be better in every way that matters. And as diners, we are the ultimate winners of that ambition, determination, and talent.

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