Dreaming of the day when your food is cooked by a chef, your wine is poured by a waiter and you don’t have to do the wash up? In the toughest year the hospitality sector has ever experienced, the Michelin Awards were a much-needed glimmer of light on a cold January evening.
A new addition to the awards this year was the Green Star award, celebrating restaurants who embrace sustainable practises, and all three winners in Ireland are based in Galway; Kai Restaurant and Loam in the city and Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites on the Aran Islands.
“I was in complete shock”, says Jess Murphy, the energetic and passionate head chef who runs Kai Restaurant with her husband Dave.
“We watched the awards online to celebrate our colleagues and friends in the industry and when Kai Restaurant appeared on the screen, I couldn’t believe it. I said to Dave, ‘Is that us?’ There is a Kai in London and I presumed it was them.”
Despite her modesty, the award is well deserved. What is apparent when talking to all three restaurant owners is that sustainability isn’t just about what type of cleaning products are being used in the kitchen or whether their toilet paper is recyclable. It is a holistic sustainable approach to their business, the concept of an environmental full circle.
Enda McEvoy, head chef at Loam explains: “So much of our sustainable approach comes down to the farmers and suppliers we work with.
“When my wife Sinead and I were setting up Loam, we realised that there were some extraordinary local suppliers with an unusual and niche focus on food and we wanted to give them an outlet for their products.
“For example, we work really closely with husband-and-wife team Fergal Anderson and Emanuela Russo from Leaf and Root Farm in east Galway.
“We work with them in planning what they will sow for the year and then commit to buying that produce. From their three acres, we get so much of our vegetables – kale, pumpkins, garlic, leeks, chillis.
“The list is diverse and they work with us as they understand the quality we expect. We have a similar relationship with Brendan Allen and his brother Derek in Castlemaine Farm in Co Roscommon. Similarly, Steve Golde supplies our herbs and salad leaves and Stefan Gannett has been supplying our fish since day one.”
This farmer-chef relationship is very strong in Galway as Jess also gets supplies from Steve and Stefan. “These are relationships and friendships going back 10-15 years now. And Steve is really innovative with his elderflower and wild strawberries.
“I also work with Joachim and Jeannette Kochen from Sloe Hill Farm outside Ballinasloe, a German couple who do the best pumpkins, beetroot, courgette flowers. The menu and style of food served in Kai and Loam are very different but that supplier focus is solid.”
And then Inis Meáin is very different again. Run by Ruairi and Marie-Thérèse de Blacam, Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites sits on the small offshore island which is essentially a concentrated patch of the Burren, surrounded by sea.
They have had to work harder than most to be sustainable in terms of their food supply. Speaking to Ruairí and Marie-Thérèse they say: “The restaurant and suites are located on a three-acre site where we grow our own vegetables, fruit and herbs in a tunnel and outdoors. In recent times, we have also purchased a more substantial landholding on the island, which we hope to incorporate further into the business in the future.
“The farm takes in land over the 5km from the north to the south coast of the island. We also have had great people work with us over the years, Pat Hanrahan our island neighbour who does some of the heavier gardening work and Roger and Olivia Goodwillie, our regularly visiting gardening friends and advisers from Lavistown House in Kilkenny.”
Positive for People
However, this level of sustainability doesn’t just focus on the food and suppliers. The sustainable nature of maintaining people and place is also something that all three businesses value. “For us, it is a great sense of pride and honour to be running a business in this special place where Ruairi grew up and to provide employment on the island,” says Marie-Thérèse.
Jess adds that during lockdown, Dave has done a course on mental health in the workplace and they have provided first aid courses for staff.
Enda concludes: “I guess these are the kind of invisible elements of sustainability, being a good employer, providing long-term opportunities for people in the community. It is great that these elements of sustainability are also celebrated.
Overall, 21 Irish restaurants received Michelin awards, 18 in the republic and three in Northern Ireland. One newcomer was added to the list this year, Dede at the Customs House in Baltimore, Co Cork, led by head chef Ahmet Dede.
Speaking to Irish Country Living Ahmet said: “After such a difficult year, it feels like we really earned it.It would have been so easy to quit, but I’m so proud of the staff and our hard work. There’s always something good, even in these terrible times.”
Three Irish restaurants held onto their two Michelin stars – Patrick Guilbaud and The Greenhouse in Dublin city along with Aimsir in Celbridge. For the full list of Michelin restaurants to add to your “must-visit” list once restrictions lift click here.