Three things I learned from reading the debut cookbook by chef and TV presenter Mark Moriarty: you can make a restaurant-quality pasta sauce with just some bits of Parmesan, dried mushrooms and water. Using small chunks of stewing beef or lamb, as well as minced meat, makes a great ragu and cottage pie. And even chefs with Michelin credentials cook with tinned condensed chicken soup, if it’s in their mother’s recipe for chicken and broccoli bake.
Moriarty created the pasta sauce while working with Italian star chef Massimo Bottura at the Refettorio Ambrosiano project in Milan, a community kitchen that uses surplus or “waste” food to make meals for those in need. A bag of leftover Parmesan rinds was the inspiration for the sauce.
“One of the things I had to cook with was 35kg of Parmesan rind,” says Moriarty. “The water and the Parmesan emulsify and create this glossy, shiny sauce.” The sauce became a favourite staff meal in Michelin-starred restaurant The Greenhouse when he was working there and featured on his RTÉ TV show, Off Duty Chef, before making it into his cookbook, Flavour: Everyday Food Made Exceptional, which is published next week.
Moriarty is a highflier in a challenging industry and a former winner of the San Pellegrino Young Chef global culinary competition. But he has moved way beyond the confines of the restaurant kitchen since graduating from what was then Dublin Institute of Technology. His success in the San Pellegrino competition launched him on a journey that has taken him all around the world and made him Ireland’s answer to the celebrity chef.
Stanley Tucci wrote a glowing cover line for the book. “Mouthwatering. Literally. Buy it,” the endorsement reads
It’s not a title that would sit easily with the 31-year-old from south Co Dublin, but with several top-tier commercial roles, a TV career as both a presenter and a producer, and now a book, he ticks many of the boxes. He is brand ambassador for M&S Ireland and “chef-in-residence” with Diageo, which is how he met the actor and writer Stanley Tucci, who works with the Tanqueray brand of gin. He has cooked for him several times, and Tucci wrote a glowing cover line for the book. “Mouthwatering. Literally. Buy it,” the endorsement reads.
It has been a whirlwind year for Moriarty. As well as writing the book, he and his long-term girlfriend, Gráinne Quinn, got married last September, and finalised the purchase of their first home, in south Co Dublin, the same week. Earlier this year the pair added to the family when they became the owners of Ruby, a livewire puppy with whom he is clearly smitten.
No longer working in a restaurant kitchen, Moriarty describes himself as “a chef, a TV host, and an author. I basically tell stories through food.” He says he finds it difficult to explain his career path, when people ask what he does. “That’s something I’ve definitely struggled with, because for years and years, it was about being a chef, working in the best places. I’ve always had this burning, burning ambition to win Michelin stars, and have a successful restaurant. But I’m fortunate that I’ve had incredible opportunities, that some people would say have led me astray, but I would say have given me more balance in what I’m doing.”
A self-confessed perfectionist – “whatever I do, I try to do to the highest level” – Moriarty isn’t resting on his laurels, despite his achievements and the accolades he has earned. “I think what I struggle with most of all is I’m constantly focusing on what I haven’t done – haven’t opened a restaurant, haven’t won a Michelin star – even though there’s been so many other amazing things.” That may be about to change, as he intends to open a restaurant and events venue in Dublin next year.
“The plan is to open a counter kitchen and events space, which will run as a restaurant on Thursday and Friday, with two sittings. But then Monday through Wednesday, I will work with the different brands I am already working with to create exclusive events, and also do private dining, which I do a lot of around the country and around the world at the moment.”
I’m hoping that my way to attract and retain staff is, yeah, we’re going to work hard, but not have to work the weekend
He is looking for the right building. Something with an industrial feel is his preference, in the right location. New York loft-style is how he describes it, where diners will be seated close to the chefs. He describes the concept as bringing the TV show to life. “People want to chat to chefs, they want to see what’s happening. I’m constantly doing events now where I have to find a location and bring in a team. I want to bring that all in-house, make it even better.”
His aim is to have a business that is open Monday to Friday. “I’m hoping that my way to attract and retain staff is, yeah, we’re going to work hard, but not have to work the weekend.” Although he says he hates the words work-life balance, it is a concept he tries to adhere to and that his current schedule allows. There is time for golf, his favourite pastime, and he plays a regular Monday round at Hermitage Golf Club in Lucan, and farther afield, with a gang of chef pals.
But before the restaurant, there is a book to promote. “My mother has been asking me to do a book for years, because apparently all her friends want one. They don’t like downloading recipes off the RTÉ website, and I think it was a natural progression from the show. I’m proud of what’s in it. And hopefully people will engage with it,” he says.
What’s in it is a collection of really useful recipes, some of them with a bit of a twist, or a cheffy skill made simple, that will send you straight to the kitchen to cook them. “I think people are probably going to recognise most of the dishes, but hopefully the way I do it is slightly simpler, makes it slightly better and adds a touch more flavour. This book is no vanity project. Nobody cares when you try to show off. It has to be completely practical. I want people to be going back to this book for years to come,” he says.
The photography is by Cliodhna Prendergast, who shot the images in three locations, including Moriarty’s new house, using only natural light, thereby limiting the hours available. “That was the most intense thing I’ve ever done. We photographed every single dish in the book, all the filler shots and all the shots for the cover, in 5½ days. It was like a restaurant service that just went on all day long, for five days straight,” he says.
The results show on the plates, bowls and trays. This is (mostly), simple food done really well, with a few clever touches that make it an interesting and intelligent read. His brioche garlic bread is an exception to the rule. “It’s complicated,” he says. But I’ve had the pleasure of eating it twice now, and it’s the best garlic bread I have ever encountered. And I have seen the maestro roll and shape the dough balls, and they’re very forgiving. Next step: a Saturday morning in the kitchen following the recipe step by step. It will be worth it.
Three Mark Moriarty recipes to try
Flavour: Everyday Food Made Exceptional, by Mark Moriarty, is published by Gill Books, €24.99