10 minutes with: Mark Moriarty, San Pellegrino Young Chef of The Year 2015

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd July 2015
With so many well-known chefs born there and such a popular tourist destination it's somewhat surprising Ireland still has no restaurants in the world's top 50. The Staff Canteen talked to Mark Moriarty, 23 year-old winner of San Pellegrino's prestigious Young Chef of The Year 2015 who vowed: if it's up to him, that's going to change. mark & other contestants & judgesAfter a week's celebrations, the focused, passionate young chef is determined to use his recent triumph to put his country's cuisine on the map for more than just Guinness and stew. "This title represents the UK and Ireland. They don't win many things on the world stage like young chef's competitions. Ireland in particular certainly doesn't," Mark said. "It's not known as a food destination. There's an idea it's just potatoes and alcohol over here. I'm hoping to use the title as an ambassador and go to certain world events and say: 'There's a creative revolution happening in Ireland. It's a place to visit and this is a small example of what's going on.' Then hopefully, in the next five years Ireland 's going to be one of the world's up-and-coming food destinations." Mark won the event in Milan on Friday, seeing off 19 of the world's other top young chefs with his vegetarian dish, celeriac baked in barley. Ironically integrating the very things he wants people to forget about Irish food, it also played on the competition's Italian location. "You have the smoking tea, the use of hay, the pieces of cured celeriac designs that look like a truffle - this tied in with the whole Milan final," Mark explained. "The celeriac was baked in barley and fermented hay - broken down elements of Guinness. So not cooking in Guinness but using it in an illiteral way - toasted barley produced Guinness flavour, the fermented hay symbolised yeasty alcohol flavours." The four months preparation between winning the London heat and last week's final, involved tremendous organisation and preparation. First, he needed to find sponsors to raise the considerable money to pay for everything necessary to prepare a banquet for 300: ingredients; equipment; crockery; cutlery, all of which had to be flown to Milan.mark & clare in action Working on his own projects until the week before the competition, Mark then flew to London to meet with Clare Smyth, his mentor for the final and also born in Ireland, albeit in County Antrim. He clearly enjoyed working with Britain's first female chef to win three Michelin stars. Finding her support invaluable, for Mark though, the best part of working with a chef of Clare's calibre wasn't her culinary skills. "Clare was absolutely fantastic. I was taken aback by how much time she gave and how committed to winning she was too. What other 23 year-old chefs can say they work with Clare Smyth for a week then win a worldwide competition with that standard of judging?" Mark said proudly. "Clare's very down to earth and will tell it as it is, which I like in any person. The insight into how to run a business and conduct yourself on a stage where you're in the spotlight is what I gained most from her - more than cooking advice or anything else." After ensuring everything was in order he arrived in Milan last Tuesday to meet the other competitors, something he enjoyed. "That was the best part of the week: working with all these other chefs my own age from around the world. There were some very, very sound guys. I really, really enjoyed the camaraderie between the 20 of us during the week," Mark said. After Clare arrived Thursday the hard work began in time for Friday morning's judging, the result justifying his hard work. Most people would expect a cookery competition at this level would involve more than a few nerves but not, apparently, for Mark. "I was quite confident all week. Again, that had a lot to do with having Clare working with me - if you always feel you've got someone of that calibre backing you up, it certainly helps. "The dish I did I've actually been doing for a while and this was the third competition I've won with it in a row. It started when I was at Euro-toques Young Irish Chef of The Year in 2013 and the brief was to come up with a vegetarian dish. Guest judge, Elena Arzak, had already given it ten-out-of-ten, so I knew it had been judged and backed by some world-class chefs who got the whole message behind it," he explained. the dishesAlthough not famed for cooking, Ireland does provide particularly premium produce - its fish and meat for example. It was therefore surprising Mark chose a vegetarian recipe to showcase his country's cooking, something we asked him about. "Part of the reason for choosing a vegetarian dish - and I don't mean any offence - but if produce, like a piece of beef or fish is really good, you don't have to do much to it. The dish will still sing. But it takes much more effort and thought to reach the root vegetable. So we use the celeriac in lots of different ways to showcase not just a really tasty dish but Ireland's food culture and traditions," Mark said. Previously claiming to channel creativity through his food Mark was always creative. Interested in art since childhood he spent it drawing or painting and feels he transfers these skills to his cooking, especially when plating up. He claims creativity is one of three main elements behind good food, the others its taste and ideology. Certain his country is experiencing a culinary renaissance Mark believes Ireland's recent recession forced the industry to become creative to survive. This, plus social media, meant high-priced restaurants serving poor quality food were wiped out, really good small restaurants replacing them, something he sees continuing. "What you've often found is extremely good chefs coming out of Ireland but they don't stay. They're all over the world: Singapore; London; South Africa, producing really good food but not in Ireland. "For years Ireland's had a meat and two veg mentality. That's changed in the last five years everyone, especially with social media's, now a food critic. I'm hoping now you'll see Irish chefs not leaving the country but producing world-class food in Ireland - cuisine Irish people want to eat. Hopefully tempt chefs to come back - 'expats' as I call them." said Mark. With such a determined talented young man proudly flying Ireland's food flag, there seems little reason to doubt him. By Rob Whitson

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd July 2015

10 minutes with: Mark Moriarty, San Pellegrino Young Chef of The Year 2015