Former Maaemo head chef Jordan Bailey on what it takes to open the restaurant of your dreams

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Jordan Bailey, the head chef of Aimsir at Cliff at Lyons in Co. Kildare has worked for the likes of Simon Hulstone, Sat Bains and three-Michelin-starred chef Esben Holmboe Bang at Maaemo in Oslo. 

But for the past two years, he has been arduously working to create a restaurant of his own. Surrounded by an A-star team - which includes former head chef at Melbourne's Vue du Monde, James Bevan and Tim Davies of Noma and his wife, Majken Bech-Bailey, who will run front of house and manage the restaurant - the chef is confidently setting forth in this new adventure. 

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Originally due to launch in autumn last year, the chef,  found himself faced with the realities of building and designing a restaurant from scratch in a structure dating back more than 300 years. 

"We were very optimistic about certain bits that we could take apart which we thought would be safe and would hold its strength but then it figured it wasn't," he explained. Having to reinforce the structure with steel beams set them back some. 

And if it was to be expected that renovating a centuries-old building would come with setbacks, the team encountered 

another problem with the new build, too. He said:  "When we started building the foundations we came across a big power cable to the closest village. All the foundations had to be refilled in again to make it safe - no building work could happen anymore."  

As fate would have it, this realisation came at Christmas time, delaying the work for another month. 

But finally, after a few more hiccups along the way, the restaurant finally opened earlier this month. 

Asked if it was more or less stressful an experience than he had originally envisioned, the chef  said that the things he expected to be stressful weren't, and vice versa. 

"It's amazing how many moving parts and items that you have to think about when opening a restaurant from complete scratch." 

"As a chef you only think of the plates, the cutlery, what dishes you're going to have - maybe the equipment in the kitchen and possibly, possibly the layout. Other than that, you don't think: "okay I want a wooden table." "Alright, what colour wood do you want it? What type of wood? How thick do you want it? How heavy do you want it? It's just so much." 

And as romantic as it sounds to have creative freedom over something from start to finish, being spoiled for choice can be a source of great angst. Ever the perfectionist, Jordan says he would change a few things given the choice - a few more inches of kitchen space, a slightly smaller bar. 

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Majken Bech-Bailey,
front of house manager at Aismir

"It's not a massive difference," he laughed. "It's just that I'm very very picky." 

Jordan's vision for Aimsir was partly shaped by his Cornish origins - where he always thought he would open a restaurant, but finally decided that proximity to a city was more important and would spare them the risk of owning a seasonal restaurant.

"Obviously all the backers know the situation as well so unless you're doing something that's a bit more approachable to the masses, or you have rooms, it just becomes too much of an investment. It's not as simple as "give me a space and let's open a restaurant."

He and his wife toured around the country before they chose the Cliff Lyons location, where both the quality of the produce and the culture - which afforded the couple support from locals and chefs, and for Jordan was highly reminiscent of his Cornish home - struck a chord. 

"I think the difference for most of the suppliers here is a kind of naivety to how good they are," he said. 

Almost all the ingredients on the 18-course tasting menu at Aimsir will comprise Irish produce, other than sugar, which, Jordan explained, is the result of a dying sugar beet industry. 

"But that's something we're working on at the minute. A couple of farmers in the county that we're in are looking to bring it back and they've been working on it for the past few years. That'll help us get closer to 100%." 

The focus and sense of purpose the chef gets from using Irish produce is something the chef learnt at Maaemo. He applies this rigorous and strict approach to every last detail, to the point of only using vegetables that grow with no artificial aid. 

"We don't even use citrus fruits or tomatoes or cucumbers. If you take that polytunnel away and it dies, you don't use it."

At Sat Bains' restaurant, Jordan had the world's best ingredients at his disposal, which is a privilege very few chefs get to experience, but he found this to be a distraction. 

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"I felt like a kid in a sweet shop, there were too many ingredients and too many different countries and I didn't know what to cook. You'd end up with fifteen ingredients on one plate which isn't my style of cooking." 

This was very different to how Scandinavian kitchens operate, where, he explained, "everything was almost pre-done. It's almost like a plating section during service." 

This is not to take away from the classical grounding Jordan learnt working with Sat Bains and Simon Hulstone, from butchery, fish prep and pan work to learning how to make "real proper sauces." 

Having recently turned 30, the chef said his age hasn't really been a concern when it came to pursuing his dream; "everyone hits their peak at different stages," he said, and what matters most isn't how old you are, but what you do with your time. 

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"Of course it holds some benefits, you need a lot of energy and focus to open a restaurant; if you're at a time of your life where you have lots of kids it just makes it a lot harder. I fully respect the people that can do all that in one go because I don't think I could. This is my baby."

All in all, he said, he is "very, very happy," both to have gone through the process of creating the restaurant from concept, to physical construction and design and of the resulting restaurant. 

"I feel very comfortable. I think that comes from the great team that I have around me. I definitely couldn't do this by myself. I think the biggest thing is having my wife as restaurant manager, it makes me focus even more just on the food because I know I can trust her with everything else, which is a huge responsibility. I don't think I could do it with anybody else to be honest. It would be too much for me."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 24th May 2019

Former Maaemo head chef Jordan Bailey on what it takes to open the restaurant of your dreams