A born and bred Dubliner, Anna was raised on her mum’s Irish home cooking. However, throughout her career she has been at the fore of fine dining and leading kitchens at some of the top eateries in London. In 2019, she made the bold decision to open her own restaurant Myrtle in Chelsea, which serves modern European cooking with a strong Irish influence and using the finest Irish produce.

Cooking with Anna, published this week, is a culmination of her life in food and includes 85 recipes from her childhood favourites to her passion for sourcing the best ingredients and bringing a professional elegance to dishes.

“It’s a strange feeling. I’m so proud of it, but I’m so nervous,” says Anna. “It’s my first cookbook. I always thought, ‘Sure why would I do a cookbook?’ I don’t have enough vanity to think anybody would want a cookbook written by me. In the end, a conversation with my sister Sarah spurred me to do it. It was before Christmas and I asked, ‘What are you going to do for Christmas dinner?’ She said she was going to start with Christmas Day soup. I didn’t know what she meant but it sounded amazing. Then she replied, ‘Are you kidding? You made up Christmas Day soup.’ So, apparently, one time I was at home for Christmas and I made a caramelised turnip soup with honey and seeds as part of dinner and they’ve been making it since.

“We talked about all of the recipes of mine that she and my family make and it got me thinking, maybe I should do a book about all these dishes that I pass around. So, in the book, there are recipes from my childhood, some that I make every single week, and then others that I pass on. That’s what the cookbook is about – a book that people will use, and hopefully all the time.

“It’s funny, the acknowledgement page is so long – it’s two pages. I wanted to acknowledge every single person who has helped me along the way. There are a lot. Let’s be honest, every success we have, you’re just a reflection of all the people who help you along the way.”

Irish food

Anna spoke to Irish Country Living when she was recently in Ireland for an event with the National Dairy Council (NDC), promoting an EU campaign: ‘Milk. It’s Good to know it’s Good’. The event was held in Airfield Estate, in Dundrum, Dublin.

The 38-acre farm and gardens showcase the cycle of food all the way from soil to society and Anna was cooking with their in-season produce as well as a rich offering of Irish dairy. Dairy is something she feels strongly about, whether she is cooking food at home for her son, Oisín, or customers in Myrtle restaurant.

“Dairy was always a huge part of our diet growing up,” she says. “Even if my mum was on a low-calorie diet, she always ate real butter.

“I use buttermilk throughout every single part of the menu in Myrtle. From the bread to the starters, main courses to the desserts. It changes all the time, sometimes it’s a dressing or an ingredient in a dessert, so it’s not mentioned all the time.

“Even when we whip our butter, I put buttermilk in it too as it gives it a nice acidity. I use it in the cakes, as opposed to using milk, and I use bicarbonate soda instead of baking powder. I also use buttermilk in the pannacotta.

“There are loads of different things that we use dairy for. If I couldn’t get buttermilk, I’d be in trouble. I do depend massively on it in the restaurant. It’s not like French cuisine, in the way that French things can be heavy; a purée made with butter is different from a purée made with cream. They both come from the same animal, but they’ve got different flavours and it’s my job as a professional chef to understand what’s going to balance a dish the best.

“I use the different forms of dairy in different ways to get different results. Even a marination with buttermilk is just incredible. Buttermilk is one of the healthiest things that comes from dairy and we should consume more of it, in my opinion. It’s a really good ingredient.”

Cooking at home

When Anna isn’t busy in the restaurant or on television shows, she is at home with her son, who she says greatly impacts what she cooks for their family table.

“Because I’m a chef, I can cook anything, so I try to make sure that I have an array of different vegetables and meats and different types of things,” says Anna. “However, I’m so influenced by what my son wants to eat.

“With children, as long as they don’t have like an ultra-processed diet, as long as you’re giving them real things, they will crave stuff that their body needs nutritionally. It’s mad, one day he’ll say to me, ‘banana, banana, banana’ and he gets so excited when he sees a banana.

“Then the next day I’ll offer him a banana and it’s like I’ve just offered him a bowl of muck! Even though, yesterday, he had two bananas in his hand, walking around the house and singing a banana song. Children have a much stronger connection to what they need because they’re not influenced by fashion, trends, diet or calories. They’re just listening to what their body is telling them they should have.”

A sustainable kitchen

In her work, Anna has always cooked with a sustainable approach in that nothing is wasted and ingredients are bought in season and local, where possible. However, this ethos isn’t just something she learned in professional kitchens, it started at home.

Chef Anna Haugh at the National Dairy Council's Sustainable Kitchen event in Airfield Estate, Dundrum.

“I cook the same way I always have. I cook the way I was raised. My mom grew up in Barnacullia, in Dublin, and they didn’t have two pennies to rub together, so I was raised in a household that wasted nothing. Everything was grown out the back garden, we only ate in season because we had no choice when we grew up; there wasn’t asparagus in the supermarket. It didn’t exist. It was just cauliflower after cabbage after cauliflower, because that’s what was available.

“I think people nowadays are more interested in what they’re eating and why they’re eating it. I believe fresh food that comes from the country that it was made in is really what you should be going for. But, most of all, when you look at the label to see what’s in it, it should be what you would expect. That’s what it all comes down to.

“Sustainability is about thinking, having a meal plan, and deciding you’re going to be cautious. You can stretch your budget, if you’re clever.”

Anna is looking forward to a busy year with her new cookbook and she’ll be back on our TV screens with a new show.

“I am filming a programme for the BBC about producers all around Ireland,” she says. “We started filming this month. It will be about 15 episodes. I’m excited about that. I’m going to open a wine bar soon as well. So, there is lots on the cards. You have to stay busy.”

Cooking with Anna is published by Bloomsburg Publishing, and out on 23 May, priced €21.19

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