JP McMahon, chef and restaurateur

 

TRUE CHARACTERS:I describe myself as . . . an obsessive educationalist, with an interest in food, literature and art.

I didn’t set out to be a chef . . .I studied art history and English at degree level and I am currently finishing my PhD in American art of the 1960s and 1970s. I still teach occasionally in UCC. But half way through my PhD (I was always chefing) we got the chance to open a restaurant.

I think there are massive parallels between art and cooking . . .I love photography as well. Cooking is very aesthetic, it has a history, there are trends – just like art. I come to food as an academic and I go to academia as a chef. It’s more interesting this way.

My cooking inspiration comes from . . .my own endless search through food. Because I didn’t study food systematically, I’m always finding new and interesting things and techniques with which to develop. I’m also very bookish (I have a library of more than 4,000 books), so I love buying cookbooks.

Ours is a family business . . .My wife manages our three restaurants, I cook and teach. My brother leads the front-of-house team in Aniar and my sister is our graphic designer. My father and my brother part financed Cava so we wouldn’t be there at all if it wasn’t for them.

It gives me a buzz when . . .I’m cooking in the middle of a busy service and things are going smoothly and to plan. I also love taking pictures on my phone to upload (this is the photographer in me). It’s not enough just to cook good food, I want to show it to people, tell them about it and teach them how they can do it. I’m also a pig nose-to-tail fan so I love butchering things whole (breaking them down) and using as much of the animal that I can.

The best advice I’ve ever been given . . .is to follow your own vision with integrity and purpose. It’s not an easy road and it may take 15 years and you may get side-tracked but keep going.

The next big thing in the restaurant business will be . . .smaller food plates and more focused (local/regional) menus. Not exactly tapas but places where you can go to get really good food, high quality, small bites.

My dream dinner party guests would be . . .Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, WG Sebald, and Caravaggio.

And I’d cook . . .a free range pig-on-the-spit, with duck fat chips with a salad of Stephen Gould’s leaves. And my own star anise and smoked paprika ketchup.

Five things I always have in my larder . . .sea salt, butter, olive oil, black pepper, and cream.

My ideal day off is spent . . .reading, writing and spending time with my two young girls, Heather (3) and Martha (6 months). Oh, and my wife Drigín as well.

I’m passionate about . . .food, art, literature and educating people about the interconnectedness of these three areas.

I wish I was better at . . .chess, I love the game but I never get to get to practise.

I often imagine myself as . . .a writer living in New York, eking out a bohemian existence.

Not many people know this about me, but . . .I went to singing college in my late teens, so I can sing a song or two.

My guilty pleasure is . . .ice-cream, I’m a demon for it.


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