Testing time for young Irish chefs

Inspiration is the theme for a competition to find the best new culinary talent in the country

What do Neven Maguire, Mark Moriarty and Gearoid Lynch have in common, apart from being chefs? They are all previous winners of the Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year competition, which pitches the brightest and best new kitchen talent against each other in a bid to be crowned the best young chef in Ireland.

British chef and restaurateur Nathan Outlaw, who earned his first Michelin star at the age of 25 and now has two for the restaurant that bears his name in the Cornish town of Port Isaac, is the guest judge for this year's competition.

He specialises in cooking seafood, and has written three books on the subject, including Everyday Seafood: From the simplest fish to a seafood feast, 100 recipes for home cooking, published in April. The winner of the young chef of the year title will be invited to do a stage (work experience) with Outlaw, as well as taking home a cash prize.

The theme for this year’s competition is Inspiration, and entrants must demonstrate which chefs and restaurants, in Ireland or abroad, have inspired them in their career.


"They can reference a recipe, a signature dish or style, a culinary innovation, or even something abstract that simply represents a chef, restaurant or culinary movement. All they need is their creativity and passion for food," said Graham Neville, Commissioner General of Euro-Toques Ireland and executive head chef at Restaurant Forty-One in Dublin.

It’s a challenging and thorough competition, which involves submitting a written entry comprising a recipe and an explanation of their concept, followed by an interview. There is also a social media engagement requirement. A panel of 10-12 semi-finalists is selected and this is further whittled down to five finalists after a practical skills test.

The final five will take part in a cook-off at DIT’s School of Food and Tourism, Cathal Brugha Street on November 27th, after which they will cook at a gala prizegiving dinner in the InterContinental hotel in Ballsbridge.

Last year's competition was won by Ruth Lappin, chef de partie at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin, who won a stage at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London with Northern Ireland-born chef Clare Smyth, last year's guest judge.

Neven Maguire, who now runs MacNean House & Restaurant in Blacklion, Co Cavan, won the competition 21 years ago, in 1995.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life as a chef. I was runner-up the first year I entered and won it the second year. It totally changed my career. I think it is one of the most important competitions for young chefs to develop their future career. I was lucky, I got to work with Léa Linster in Luxembourg, the only woman to ever win the Bocuse D’Or.”

Mark Moriarty won the competition in 2013, when Elena Arzak from San Sebastián in Spain was guest judge. He cooked a version of the celeriac dish that he further refined to become celeriac baked in barley and fermented hay, cured and smoked celeriac, toasted hay tea – with which he won the San Pellegrino best young chef in the world 2015 title.

Moriarty advises entrants to go for something creative and personal, rather than adapting a dish from the menu in the restaurant where they work, and to really sell the dish to the judges. His prize was a course at ALMA, the International School of Italian Cuisine, but even if they don’t win, he suggests young chefs have lots to learn from just taking part.

“The main thing about the Euro-Toques competition is it’s the first time, for most, that you’ll actually be cooking in your own name, with the pressure that brings. So without even winning it, just competing in it and cooking your own food, that pressure really brings you on.”

Entry is open to chefs between the ages of 18 and 26 and applications will be accepted until noon on Wednesday, September 21st. See euro-toques.ie for more information.