It’s more usual to do this kind of blog at the end of a calendar year, but few years were as busy or as full of change as 2016, with a momentum that propelled Chapter One into 2017 at what felt like full throttle. There just wasn’t time to stop and take stock.
But now, with our revamped website and key new staff well settled, we’re ready to go.
Here are just some of the highlights from a busy, exciting year
1. New blood – Danny Desmond appointed General Manager
Who better to run a Dublin restaurant than a blue-blood Corkman!
With our legendary Maitre D’ and co-founder Martin Corbett gone, a gap opened up for someone who could not only take on the responsibilities of overseeing the restaurant and its front-of-house and wait-staff, but also contribute to the business side of things too. Danny fits the bill perfectly, combining great experience in the industry with an outgoing personality and an eye for detail.
2. Food on the Edge Festival 2016: THE food event of 2016
In 2015, Ross was a speaker at the first FOTE festival, founded by Galway chef JP McMahon of Aniar. The energy, passion and knowledge of the many chefs who responded to JP’s impassioned call-to-arms to put the future of Irish food on the global agenda were truly impressive.
The 2016 festival proved even better. It’s rare for any new event to feel well established after such a short time, but in 2016, FOTE proved beyond doubt that 2015 was no one-off. Now with a devoted, vocal and passionate following, it was positively humming with possibilities, debate, ideas and energy. It’s also great to see so many Irish chefs who recognise and champion the very high quality of our produce. We are now confident to stand on the world stage and shout about what we do. Even better, people are listening!
This is a gathering that showcases the best of what the world’s leading chefs have to offer, not from the kitchen but from their head and heart. It’s a densely packed smorgasbord of ideas, bugbears, opinions and large swathes of grey between all the black and white arguments for and against this or that. But either way there’s no denying that in just two short years, Food on the Edge has become a compelling new platform – a crucible for chefs to learn, share and engage in dialogue in a way that seems fresh and exciting.
And if it has become a fixture, it’s because Food on the Edge attracts chefs who are always curious – happiest when operating at the edge of their comfort zone and straining their grey matter. These are people – men and women – who share an insatiable desire for knowledge about everything from big-picture stuff like sustainability and food security, to the minutiae of snail breeding and mussel farming.
To a person, they believe strongly in the need not just to preserve and celebrate our global and local food heritages, but also to explore new ways of thinking about, producing and cooking food.
And that is what it’s all about – not just at Chapter One, but in the industry more generally. FOTE is one to watch. As is this stunning video they launched on St. Patrick’s Day: – Food on The Edge: Breathtaking Ireland
3. Michelin stars – celebrating our own and others’
We’ve been lucky enough to have one-star status since 2007, but in 2016 we were thrilled to see that not only had we yet again retained our star, but also that the very talented Damien Grey had secured his first star for his Blackrock restaurant Heron & Grey.
Damien worked in Chapter One for a while, and his talent and dedication were clear from the start. His cooking at Heron & Grey is fantastic: innovative, surprising in all the right ways, and thought-provoking. Go and try it. Huge congratulations to Damien and his partner Andrew Heron on their success.
Heron & Grey article by Marie Claire Digby
4. Keeping Irish Design Front and Centre – and firmly on the Table (ahem)
Chapter One has always championed and supported Irish craft, art and design. And in 2016 we engaged Irish designers to complete two major projects for us.
Dublin-based fashion designer Deborah Veale took up the challenge of creating bespoke uniforms for our front-of-house staff, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Shift dresses with fitted jackets for the women, and for the gents, sharp two-piece suits – all in a deep midnight blue. The new uniforms bring a cohesion and chicness to our front-of-house staff that we love. Thank you, Deborah.
Almost at the same time, Chapter One commissioned new designs from Dublin 1 design duo Designgoat for a dish and a combined espresso cup-and-saucer that would showcase our coffee and petit fours.
The finished designs are tactile and streamlined, with an overall look that is fresh and unfussy yet still polished, which is exactly what we’d hoped for. And even better, the designs have proven a big success with both staff and customers. We look forward, too, to working on further projects with Designgoat in the near future.
5. Nurturing the Next Generation: Judging for Eurotoques
It’s currently booming, but the Irish restaurant business will continue to do so only if it has a regular supply of fresh talent with new ideas and the enormous energy that comes with being young and hungry for success. There’s plenty of young talent in the Chapter One kitchen, and I know we’re lucky to have it.
So it was with great pleasure and interest that Ross agreed to be a judge for Young Chef of the Year for Eurotoques in February. After a tense but thrilling cook-off here in the Chapter One kitchen, Maeve Walsh (Chef de Partie at No. 41 The Residence in Dublin) as selected as the winner.
Walsh beat off serious competition to win, and was a deserving champion. It is really heartening to see so much talent out there – the future is bright.
6. Going live: Introducing Online Booking….finally!
In December we took a deep breath and finally introduced an online booking system that allows tables of up to 8 to book online. To ensure everyone has a reasonable chance of being able to book the most popular tables – tables of two on Fridays and Saturday nights – we open up dates for booking only a few months in advance.
What started as a trickle is now a strong, steady flow that is growing weekly. For those people who love not having to make a call to get a table, it’s a handy time-saver, but of course our reservations team is still happy to take calls from our many customers who like to book over the phone and have questions that a computer, for all its amazing qualities, simply cannot answer.
7. Chef Swap: Ross and JP McMahon at Aniar, Galway
Now this was an adventure. With typically crazy amounts of energy, JP invited Ross down to cook with him in his kitchen at Aniar in Galway as part of a series called Chef Swap. So on February 18th Ross headed west to prep for a full house for lunch and dinner on the Saturday.
Aniar is not a huge restaurant in physical terms, but it showcases some big ideas – not least, the diversity and versatility of seaweed as an ingredient in dishes both sweet and savoury. JP is a relentless and passionate champion of Irish produce, and this is very much evident in his food. The weekend proved a great success, and he is continuing the Chef Swap theme with other chefs throughout the year. Keep an eye on his twitter @misteratgalway for updates – he’s a busy man.
8. Rockin’ Robin: Our Robin Gill Pop-up on March 5th
Last year, Ross and London-based, Dublin-born chef Robin Gill (of The Dairy, Clapham and several other London eateries) hatched a plan. What about a pop-up?
The idea was for Robin to come to Chapter One and do a relaxed, weekend lunch cooking in his own inimitable style, with Ross cooking a few courses and him doing a few more. Together, they could treat Chapter One’s loyal customers to a great lunch cooked by one of our best chef exports.
Ideas for menus and themes whizzed back and forth over the Irish Sea for months until they settled, finally, on the idea of showcasing ingredients from Ireland’s lands and seas that rarely get a look-in – things like tripe, drisheen, razor clams, seaweed and eel.
As the plans developed, the crew involved grew too. From out west in Sligo, the excellent White Hag Brewery The White Hag Brewery came on board with some of their finest brews, which proved a huge hit.
And for balance – and because he is one of the best DJs around – Dubliner Billy Scurry agreed to man the decks for the day to ensure both kitchen staff and customers had a soundtrack that matched the quality of the food. He didn’t disappoint, with a rock star-worthy selection of tunes focusing on the ‘fallen heroes’ of 2016, especially Bowie, Prince and George Michael.
Taking over the two main dining rooms, the 67 guests relaxed over their six courses, staying into the evening whilst trying to guess what all the dishes were (it was a surprise). We were pleased to hear lovely feedback on the day itself and for days afterwards.
A big thank you to Robin, Billy, White Hag and the Chapter One team, and of course, to the customers who helped make it a really enjoyable day.
9. Lunch for Michael Colgan to mark his retirement as Director of Gate Theatre
It was a privilege to cook a lunch to mark the mighty Michael Colgan’s departure from the Gate Theatre after 33 years. Sixty of his friends and colleagues joined him to celebrate his remarkable achievements, and after a leisurely meal here, they strolled – full of food and conversation – down to The Gate for drinks.
This was followed by readings of excerpts from plays by Beckett, Pinter and Friel, read by some of the many great actors who worked with Michael at the Gate down the years, including Ralph Fiennes, Sinead Cusack, Jeremy Irons, Ingrid Craigie and Barry McGovern.
This lunch was a real highlight in Chapter One’s 23-year history. And the perfect way to cap a rewarding and exciting 12 months.