What does it mean to be an Irish chef in London?

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

What does it mean to be an Irish chef in London?

Related tags: Food on the Edge, Ireland, Chefs, Restaurant

There’s no shortage of Irish chefs making waves in the London restaurant scene, with a number of recent and upcoming openings to watch out for.

Both Robin Gill’s Darby’s ​and Anna Haugh’s Myrtle​ launched this month while Patrick Powell, former head chef at Chiltern Firehouse, will oversee Allegra at Stratford's Manhattan Loft Gardens development​ when it opens in June.

So what does it mean to be an Irish chef in the capital? That was the topic up for discussion at the 2019 launch of the annual Food on the Edge symposium this week. A group of chefs sat down at the event, held at Darby’s in Nine Elms, to discuss what working in the London hospitality industry means to them.

Robin Gill – chef and restaurateur behind Darby’s, The Dairy and Sorella

In the past I was always trying to learn about other cuisines and what was going on everywhere else, but over the last few years I’ve been going home [to Ireland] and getting exposed to ingredients like sea urchins, abalone and razor clams, which you never see on an Irish menu. I felt almost a disgust at, why is it not being served in Ireland, why is it always shipped out? I’ve gone full circle from trying to learn about Mediterranean and French cooking to looking back towards my own country and how I can work with that produce. It’s funny I call London my home, but when I’m going back to Ireland I always say, "I’m going home".

Anna Haugh – chef-owner of Myrtle

When I first came to London I had no Irish community and I didn’t know anyone. There was Richard Corrigan, but he was busy in Lindsay House so obviously didn’t have time to be my friend. When I first arrived, I was just another worker. It was always clear that if you were Irish they wanted to hire you, because if you’d travelled over it was likely you were going to work hard.

Now there’s an incredible support network, and young Irish chefs coming over can see what they can become. The people who’ve stayed have created an interesting base. What it means to be Irish in London is very complex and emotional, but there’s a feeling of pride at being a chef over here. At the beginning it was just about surviving, but it’s different now.

L-R: Kevin Burke, Anna Haugh, Robin Gill, Shauna Froydenlund, Aidan McGee

Aidan McGee – head chef at Corrigan’s Mayfair

I came to London about 12 years ago. I was from the middle of Donegal and pretty naïve, so of course I went straight to Knightsbridge to a restaurant called Foliage at The Mandarin Oriental. I realised there was nothing wrong with me, that there were other guys that actually enjoyed cooking and that liked going for a pint. I think social media has helped that sense of community. Being Irish in London is like in any multicultural city, we all stick together.

Shauna Froydenlund – chef patron of Marcus Belgravia

I came over from home looking for a new opportunity. I never really thought about where I was from but being Irish did give you a reputation - it’s amazing how many people wanted to employ you. They knew you worked hard, and sometimes partied hard. It’s only over the last couple of years that this sense of community has grown, and there’s so many amazing restaurants opening up with a real focus on Irish cuisine. We get as good produce in Ireland as we do here and in Europe. 

Kevin Burke – head chef at The Ninth

At home [in Ireland] you start out learning a different cuisine like French or Italian and being Irish never really came in to it. Food on the Edge puts a big focus on Irish chefs and produce. This summer I’m moving back as I feel there’s a lot I can offer. You used to have to go to Paris or Australia for opportunities but now I’m really excited to go home. There are loads of doors opening for Irish chefs in London too, and I think it’s only going to get better.

The Food on the Edge symposium was founded by Irish chef JP McMahon and takes place in Galway, Ireland on 21-22 October 2019



Related topics: People, Restaurant, Chef

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