Chef celebrates century of French haute cuisine eateries in capital

Sat, Oct 31, 2009, 00:00

PROFESSIONAL DUBLIN chef Mairtín Mac Con Iomaire has been awarded Ireland’s first PhD on food history. A lecturer in the school of culinary arts in DIT for the past 10 years, he is the first Irish chef to earn a PhD for his thesis on the history of Dublin restaurants. His degree will be conferred on Saturday in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

From Blackrock, Co Dublin, Mac Con Iomaire did his professional training in DIT Cathal Brugha Street and from there started working in restaurants specialising in haute cuisine such as Clarets in Blackrock and Polo One in Dublin.

In the early 1990s he travelled around the world, working in the Park Lane Hotel in Sydney for three months before returning to Ireland to take up positions in the newly opened La Mere Zou in Stephen’s Green and later in the Conrad Hotel.

He furthered his education by completing a number of advanced cookery courses in DIT while lecturing part-time and working as an executive catering chef. In 2001 he graduated with a first-class honours degree in culinary arts and has been a staff teacher at the college ever since.

His three-volume thesis, which took five years to complete, investigates the development of French haute cuisine restaurants in Dublin from 1900 to 2000.

“I started by talking to older chefs who had all sorts of stories – people like Liam Kavanagh who worked in the Dolphin and the Shelbourne and Bill Ryan who worked in the Savoy under a chef who had trained with Escoffier.”

Dublin had a proud culinary reputation in the 1950s and 1960s, and places like the Russell Hotel and Jammet’s restaurant “were beacons of gastronomic excellence, two of the best restaurants in the world”, he says. Guilbaud’s restaurant in Dublin “has carried the torch ever since”, earning a Michelin star in 1989, the first since the Russell closed in l974.

Today’s celebrity chefs are a far cry from their predecessors. “One of the older chefs told me that when he went to a dance he couldn’t tell a girl that he cooked for a living because it wasn’t manly. I was fascinated by their stories, by the lives they have lived and the experiences they have had. It was like detective work”, he says.

He now plans to turn his thesis into a book.