Young chef Mark Moriarty and celeriac dishes win over San Pellegrino judges

23 year old named San Pellegrino best young chef in the UK and Ireland

Mark Moriarty prepares a dish under the watchful Stephen Gibson (Pichet), Neil McFadden  and Marc Amand (La Rousse Foods) back in 2012. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Mark Moriarty prepares a dish under the watchful Stephen Gibson (Pichet), Neil McFadden and Marc Amand (La Rousse Foods) back in 2012. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Mark Moriarty’s home economics teacher, Brian Dooley, told him he should start at the top if he wanted to be a chef. “So I drafted a letter with my mother, which is a very Irish thing to do, and sent it to what I considered at the time to be the top 10 restaurants.”

The letter opened the kitchen doors for the then 15-year-old transition-year student from Blackrock in Dublin into two-week work stints in three of those restaurants: with Kevin Thornton, Derry Clarke and Neven Maguire. “I was really well looked after and that inspired me even further.”

This week the 23-year-old won San Pellegrino best young chef in the UK and Ireland at a competition in London. In June, he’ll compete for the world title in Milan against 19 other young chefs.

On Tuesday night, in Harrods Georgian Restaurant, he turned a knobbly root vegetable into a star. His celeriac dish included a sauce of raw celeriac juice boiled down and turned into a cream with butter and lemon juice and topped with hazelnuts.

Celeriac and life

Judge Clare Smyth from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay took a deep sniff of the dish before tasting it. In a final flourish, hay-smoked tea was served in Moriarty’s grandmother’s teacup, a wedding present from 1956, he told the judges.

Judge Atul Kochhar had said he was looking for a dish in which vegetables were the star and meat was a garnish.

Oliver Dunne from Malahide’s Bon Appetit wanted to see something he hadn’t seen before. The fourth judge, Dan Doherty, predicted the winner would be “the guy who’s right on the edge”.

Several hours and nine dishes from nine other contestants later, Moriarty took the trophy.

Forty people who bought tickets for Moriarty’s pop-up will get to taste the dish tomorrow night in the Canteen at Blackrock Market. The Culinary Counter, which Moriarty runs with fellow chef Ciaran Sweeney, has popped up twice before,in George’s Street Arcade (“which was just crazy – no running water”) and in Forest Avenue. “We’ve been serving it [the celeriac dish] and people just said they really liked it and they couldn’t believe it was just vegetables.”

Spanish chef Elena Arzak was a judge at the Euro-toques young chef competition which Moriarty won in 2013. “And she really fell for that dish so I wasn’t coming blind with it.”

It’s been 18 months in the making. Moriarty got his interest in food from summers fishing with his father in west Kerry. He worked during school holidays in the Charthouse in Dingle. “Noel Enright was a really good influence. I learnt a lot there about simple food done well.”

Moriarty worked with Kevin Thornton while he was doing the culinary arts degree in Cathal Brugha Street and went to work with Mickael Viljanen in The Greenhouse when it opened on Dawson street.

“I loved the buzz of the two years there. We had the chef and the young chef of the year in 2013.” He describes Viljanen as “a stunning chef, with a palate like I’ve never witnessed. He taught me all about this style of cooking.”

A monthly pop-up and cooking stints during the week in James Sheridan’s Canteen restaurant are a quieter work rate than in recent years. “I love cooking but I also love family and friends as well so I’m trying to get a balance. It’s very hard to attract people to the industry when it’s all about crazy hours. There is a part of that but if you’re clever you can balance it quite nicely. And I’m trying to do that with the pop-up.”

Moriarty told the judges he wanted to “push on a new wave of modern Irish food”. Taking last week’s San Pellegrino prize is a great first step.