Monday 8 October 2012

Enda’s Michelin star is a great Galway stew!


 All power to Aniar restaurant proprietors Drigín Gaffey, Jp McMahon and head chef, Enda McEvoy. Being awarded Galway's first Michelin star is a massive achievement. While they deserve no end of credit, this success is the result of a wonderful Galway stew, with contributions from patrons, entrepreneurs and talented people from several continents.

Apologies if I forget one or two of the stew’s ingredients. This is more an anecdotal memoir than a fact-perfect account.

I’ve always got on well with chefs. Passionate, vibrant and all just slightly crazy, they speak my language.

Long-serving colyoomistas will remember my very excellent friend Grumpy Chef, who is now neither grumpy nor a chef (if one can ever truly un-chef oneself!) but happy and a father with a family in Hobart, Tasmania.

But one night back in 2000, whilst drinking in the back of the sadly-still-missed Taylor’s bar, he met another young chef called Enda McEvoy. They did what chefs do - they drank and talked about food and drank some more, so when Grumpy was heading off to India, he suggested that Enda fill in for him as downstairs chef at Harriet Leander’s Nimmos, which with her approval he did.

As my friend explained to me:
“Over the next few years we worked together at Nimmos and became firm friends with plenty of banter and piss taking of each other. Since my departure to Australia I have worked with him every time I’ve been back, on weddings, game dinners and other functions. I’m also very blessed to be Godfather to his lovely boy Fin.”

Nimmos was a fantastic place back in those days. The tiny downstairs kitchen turned out great bistro food, while upstairs, chef Jacky Lelievre pretty much singlehandedly introduced fine dining to Galway City. Jacky had already worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants in France, so it must have been great for Enda to encounter such a combination of flair, experience, passion and charm as offered by Harriet’s unique influence and Jacky’s imagination and shining professionalism.

After Harriet sold Nimmos, Enda went to work for her friend and erstwhile colleague, Seamus Sheridan, at the restaurant above his eponymous pub on the docks. Seamus could see Enda’s potential and gave him all the staff, time and financial support he could to bring out the young chef’s talent.

By now Enda was passionate about foraging, and would be out each morning at dawn, prowling woodlands and beaches, collecting local wild produce for Sheridan’s kitchen.
There he worked alongside a talented team including John McInnes, Jeremy Hunt and Pawel Karnafel, some of whom would later move with him to Aniar, when Sheridan's was sadly forced to close.

We now take a slight sideways step to recognise the work of another young chef, Alan Williams, who years before had taken the bold step of opening his own restaurant, Abalone, in what was then the culinary desert of Dominick Street.

Williams’ success attracted Jp McMahon to open the incredibly successful Spanish restaurant Cava next door to Abalone, and subsequently the street, and indeed the entire West End, has become a stroganoff of culinary delight, with Rouge, Creole, La Fine Bouche and Jess Murphy’s award-winning Kai Cafe added to the mix.

When Abalone closed, Jp seized the opportunity to continue the work that Seamus Sheridan had started. Aniar was born.

Inbetween Sheridan’s and Aniar, Enda collaborated with John McInnes on the Cook Wild Project, a pop-up restaurant offering degustation nights. When chef René Redzepi then offered him the chance to work a stage at what many consider to be the world’s finest restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen, Enda leaped at the opportunity to contribute to the natural home of foraging cuisine.

Inspired by his experience in Denmark and lucky once again to have a visionary patron behind him, Enda and the Aniar team worked their socks off to create their own terroir-based menu, inspired by the wild food of the West of Ireland. Enda’s recognition comes well-deserved and timely.

Last month the Snapper and I were lucky enough to be invited to Co. Offaly, to celebrate Enda’s marriage to his better half, the mother of his children and frequent foraging widow, the wonderful Sinead. It was a beautiful event, strange only because we found ourselves at the bride’s family farm, far culturally and geographically from Galway, yet surrounded by the entire restaurant workforce of the city.

Pity the poor punters who tried to find good food and service in town that night!

As the bonhomie and alcohol worked their magic, all the hard work the bride’s family had done paid off. An atmosphere of a mini-festival started to imbue the Midlands air.

The respect that Enda has earned from those who influence our food in Galway was evident everywhere. In the garden Jp McMahon was supervising the pulling of a huge pig that had been roasting on a spit for several decades. Inside the marquee there stood the most sublime and bizarre wedding cake I’ve ever seen - built entirely of rings of Sheridan’s cheeses, it caught the eye and brought a smile to our lips, more as an art installation than traditional sliceable.

Later in the evening, as the music started to play, I sat at a table and watched Enda dancing, eyes closed, his little boy clasped to his chest. Lost in an exhausted joyous reverie, he’d just married his sweetheart, been nominated Food and Wine's Best Chef in Connacht and been awarded 4.5 stars out of 5 in that day’s Sunday Times review.
I sent him a silent pulse of love, hoping that he appreciated how it felt to be at the top of the tree.

But I was wrong. The best was yet to come.

Thanks to the talent, spirit, faith and hard work of all the ingredients in this massive stew, Galway has a star. Michelins may come and go. Hopefully Enda’s will only rise.

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