Danni Barry, Head Chef, Deanes EIPIC

The Staff Canteen

Danni Barry started her career with Michael Deane and has come full circle to head up his Michelin-starred restaurant Deanes EIPIC.

She is one of an elite group of female Michelin starred chefs in the UK and only the second female chef ever in Ireland to gain a star. Danni spent four years travelling around South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and mainland Europe, after leaving Deanes, and then went on to Simon Rogan's l'Enclume, in Cumbria. She was appointed to head up the kitchen at Rogan & Co in Cartmel, where she remained until Michael Deane persuaded her to come back to Belfast to take the helm at Deanes EIPIC.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Danni about being a woman in the industry, what keeps bringing her back to work for Michael Deane and the Belfast food scene.

EIPIC's Michael Deane
EIPIC's Michael Deane

Why did you decide to get into the industry?

I actually started washing pots at a local restaurant to see if it might pay for a car. I just got the bug for the whole atmosphere, the kitchen and the industry. I like the whole machine aspect where everybody in the kitchen has to work together and the energy! That’s what attracted me initially; it wasn’t necessarily the food. I just liked the work, the atmosphere, watching the guys work and getting to learn from them.

Your first full time job was with Michael Deane and now you are head chef at Deanes EIPIC, what keeps drawing you back?

The restaurant is 20 years old this year so Michael has been there since 1997. Because I started there, he’s probably like a mentor. He wanted people to move on and learn more. We’ve always kept in touch while I was travelling or working somewhere else. It just seemed like a really good fit whenever I was ready to come home. Michael and I are more like a team than boss and employee.

How much input did you have in EIPIC before it opened?

From restaurant side, Michael and Kate, Michael’s wife and business partner, had already designed the room and took the name, and they knew what they were going for. I just needed to pick a team, the kitchen and the menu. From the food point of view, everything was mine. Michael is more concerned with the business.

Info bar

Rising Stars
Mark Abbott, Midsummer House:  already a star but will be a household name in the future.

Ciaran Sweeney, Forest and Marcy, Dublin: 
Years of experience under his belt and has just opened this restaurant to rave reviews and some of the best food I have had in the country

Douglas Mcmaster, Silo, Brighton: a pioneer in sustainabilty, zero waste, edgy, high end cooking

Ruth Hansom, Young National Chef of the Year 2016: has a very bright future ahead of her

Hollie Forde, pastry chef, Deanes Eipic: Very hard working, talented member of our team, the brightest of y bright young things.

Guilty pleasures
Tomato Ketchup, a secret ingredient when making bolognese or Bbq marinades etc..
Street food, especially really good grilled cheesey sandwiches
Kinder Buenos

Top 5 restaurants
The Ledbury, London
Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
Kai, Galway
The Greenhouse, Dublin
Deanes Eipic, Belfast

Favourite books
Too many chiefs, only one Indian, Sat Bains
Noma, a time and place
Simple, Diana Henry
River Cottage, Meat

Have you found him quite inspirational as a mentor, do you aspire to follow in his footsteps in terms of owning a restaurant?

Michael held a Michelin star for 14 years in Belfast. At that time it wasn’t the food scene that we have now so that in itself was huge. But he’s still incredibly ambitious – he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down or winding up and that’s good to be around because people worry about the longevity in this industry. He is a good person to be around because he never stops; it’s nice to be a part of that, constantly evolving.

EIPIC Beef low res
EIPIC beef

And how was working with Simon Rogan?

Simon is absolutely smashing it at the minute. While I was there, their business was getting bigger, and people were drawn to work there because of Simon and his creativity. So it was exciting and we were spoilt for choices with the ingredients from the farm.

Is that something that you have taken with you, the farm to plate ethos?

Yeah I think that’s the most I’ve taken out of it. I’ve built great relationships with suppliers over here, so we get the best of the local produce. We want to showcase the best of Northern Ireland’s ingredients and have a respect for the produce and its origins.

You travelled for several years, was that as a chef or for yourself?

A little bit of both. Being a chef is a portable skill; you can travel and work as long as you want to, so I did a little bit of both. I just needed to see a little bit more of the world, get a bit of a break and learn about different cultures - just see more and expand. If you just go into kitchens night after night, you’ll lose the love for it, so it’s good to take a break.

Do you think all chefs should travel then?

Yeah, absolutely. I encourage any of the guys in my kitchen to travel. The ingredients are all very much the same, but you can learn different ways of using it and adopt different cooking techniques, so if you see things around the world then that will make your cooking stand out from the next person’s.

EIPIC Asparagus low res
EIPIC Asparagus

You are one of two female chefs in Ireland to be awarded a Michelin star, is that your biggest achievement?

We wanted to just make a really good restaurant. At that point there were no Michelin stars in Belfast, so getting it back kinda puts Northern Ireland on that map. It’s a part of the UK but it gets forgotten a little bit. It’s huge for me and I’m really proud of the team and everybody who worked very hard to get it. People are talking about the food, that’s really one of the greatest things. It just opens up the restaurant to a spotlight and opportunities.

Is it a bigger deal as a women to get a star?

Not at all. Obviously it means a lot but there is no difference, there are just fewer females, because more females leave the industry. It’s not that they can’t achieve a star. It’s very much based on merit and your experience and all that can be available to anybody. It seems to be all that people want to talk about is your gender when really you should just be talking about the food.

Is that what you think ‘I just want to be rewarded the same as everybody else whether I am a woman or a man’?

I would agree. But I think that when you do get awards like Best Female Chef, it does encourage other females to get into the industry and overthrow the idea that it’s for men, it’s good to highlight and recognise the talent and other people need to see it. From a chef point of view, you go cooking every day, and you’re not going to be thinking ‘I want to be the best female chef’. You’re just a chef.

>>> Related: International Women’s Day: Celebrating Female Chefs

So how do you find the industry then? Have you found it tough or do you think it’s been the same as any other young chef coming through the ranks?

EIPIC Scorched Cod 3 low res
EIPIC Scorched Cod

I haven’t, but I wouldn’t notice because I’ve always been female so I don’t know. Now I’m a chef. I think I worked in hard places, and both sexes get a really hard time. It can be tough enough for anyone. I do think the industry is changing now and I think the next generation of chefs are going to change the industry for the better because they value their own time more and we have to be more adaptable for that. We have to change if we want to tackle the chef shortage; we need to make it more hospitable.

Are you seeing more women coming into the kitchen?

I have. My kitchen at the moment has three girls and one boy. But I don’t know if it’s because I am a female and girls see that and feel like they can come and work here, or just the way it worked out. I do a lot of work in colleges, and I am seeing a lot more female applicants.

Tell us about EIPIC, the team and how have you managed to make it so successful?

There are two set menus and I tend to keep the descriptions quite brief so there’s more interaction with the waiter. So they get to describe, and tell them what we do, and why we do it, so everybody gets an input. At the start we started with an a la carte and ran a tasting at the same time and most people just wanted a set menu so over the last three years we put it in place. The team’s quite small, and when I’m not there the restaurant’s closed, which helps with consistency and quality. A small team just makes the difference because everybody’s there 100% and focused. The restaurant menu focuses on flavour first, then textures – we want a balanced dish, and we want to get the maximum flavour out of the best produce that we can find.

Which are the more popular dishes on the menu and how often do you change them?

We tend to use a new menu every 4-6 weeks. Asparagus has just come in this week, which is nice this time of the year – the shellfish ice cream is popular too. I would say it’s ingredient-driven and we have vegetable courses on the menu as it’s good to have one or two as opposed to be focused on only proteins.

EIPIC Beetroot low res
EIPIC Beetroot 

What was the inspiration for the shellfish ice cream?

Well, everybody likes ice cream! The flavour’s enhanced and really heightened by the cold. It’s just a classic bisque but frozen - it just awakes your palette.

Is that something that you find quite exciting – new techniques with ingredients?

Yeah. The world’s become very small and you can see what’s going on in restaurants on the other side of the world because of social media. You keep educating yourself long after you leave college and it’s inspiring.

Do you think social media has really moved the industry forward?

Yeah, social media is fantastic for the industry as long as you use it correctly. It’s great for young chefs to follow whoever they like, that just leads to more knowledge.

Why did you want to do Great British Menu?

It just seemed like a good opportunity to represent where I’m from. It was overwhelming for me and it’s really intense. It’s really hard, but it’s a great experience. It’s not something I’ll be repeating but people really buy into the show and they love it.

>>> Related: Everything you need to know about Great British Menu

What are your plans for the future?

Pear and Elderflower custard tart
EIPIC Pear and Elderflower custard tart

At the minute I’m very happy in EIPIC. I am still trying to push and try to make it better than we were yesterday. I’d like to work for myself one day probably in five years but maybe not at this level. I’m from the country so I would move outside the city but at the minute Belfast is a very exciting place to be. I’m really enjoying being a part of it.

Has the food scene changed in Belfast?

When I left, there was nowhere to work and there were no Michelin stars. Politically we’ve had more stability in Northern Ireland and in the last 3-4 years there’s been a huge change in the standard of restaurants and the food. A lot of my customers are travelers, like they’d come from the Republic of Ireland or they’d come from the UK. They say there’s not enough meals in the day when they are in Belfast, which is really encouraging.

>>> See head chef jobs available on The Staff Canteen job board here

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th April 2017

Danni Barry, Head Chef, Deanes EIPIC