New to the Parish: ‘He was very nice. We hit it off. The tequila helped’

The couple behind Twisted restaurant in Kinsale left good jobs to follow their foodie dream of expanding Irish diners’ palates

Maushmi Arun and Christophe Moreau in Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Maushmi Arun and Christophe Moreau in Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

 

Maushmi Arun and Christophe Moreau say you need to be slightly crazy to leave a stable, well-paid job to open a tapas fusion restaurant in west Cork.

The Fijian and French restaurant owners decided in October 2014 to leave the corporate world and follow their dream of setting up a restaurant. Their landlady in Kinsale told them they were mad, and their accountant warned that most restaurants closed within a year of opening.

“When we told our landlady the name of the restaurant was going to be Twisted, she said, ‘You’re twisted all right’,” says Moreau. “We called ourselves Twisted for three reasons: the first is because we’re doing Spanish cuisine with a twist, the second because when you have a glass of wine in Ireland you say ‘I’m twisted’, and the third one is that both of us are a bit twisted.”

The couple have shared a life together in Ireland for three years, but they developed love affairs with Ireland separately.

Moreau, who is from Antibes in the south of France, first came to Ireland on a holiday with friends in 1986. He fell in love with west Cork and decided not to leave.

“I was supposed to go back to France to continue my studies, but I was only 19 at the time so I told my parents, ‘I’m going to stop for one year and learn English in Ireland.” He ended up spending 3½ years in Cork, where he studied electronics. In 1990 he returned to France and began an assortment of jobs, including fixing cable cars in ski resorts. However, he struggled to get Ireland out of his mind, and in 1998 he returned to west Cork.

“I knew Ireland was booming so I was very interested to see what it was like. I was only back two years when I started something I never thought I would do in my life: I started working in the corporate environment.”

After a few years working at Siemens, Moreau moved to an internet security software company, Trend Micro. “Not only did I work in the corporate environment, I went fully high up the management. So I was really submerged in the system.”

Little Island, little comprehension

Arun had left her home in Fiji to study politics in Germany. Her first encounter with Ireland was through her Irish boyfriend at the time, who ran an Irish pub in Bonn. In 2006, Arun agreed to move to Cork with him.

“The first person I met, apart from my ex-boyfriend, was his brother, who had a Cork city accent. He was from Little Island and I didn’t understand a work he was saying.”

Arun spent three years working for a financial services group. Then, in 2010, she applied for a job at Trend Micro. There she met her new French manager, Moreau.

“He came across as a very nice, engaging person. We felt comfortable talking, so at some point – one of the events, I think – we hit it off. The tequila helped.”

As Moreau continued to rise through the ranks at work, he began to feel restless about the direction his career was taking. “I was travelling a lot, I had an interesting job and I was earning a lot of money. But we both loved food and wine, and there was too much politics involved in work.”

In October 2014 the couple began to investigate the possibility of opening a restaurant, and by December they had signed a lease on a building in Kinsale.

“I had always wanted to have my own place,” says Arun. “We had been thinking about a restaurant in the future in Spain or France. But then we thought, Why should we delay our plans? We’re in Kinsale, it’s amazing, the food scene is good . . . Why don’t we give it a go here?”

The initial plan was to focus on Spanish and Basque cuisine, so the couple hired a Spanish chef. However, the restaurant’s culinary focus has evolved significantly since last year.

“[The chef] started with Basque, from there he went to Spanish, to modern Spanish, to fusion with influences from Peru and Japan. There’s no boundaries at the moment.”

On the day of the restaurant’s official opening in February 2015, Arun worried that no one would turn up. She had spent weeks posting on the restaurant’s Facebook page in the hope that they could attract about 20 diners for the first night. In the event, more than 70 people turned up.

“We were hoping to get 20 people to be able to manage the crowd and manage our mistakes,” says Moreau. “The till machine broke down, we didn’t even know how to change the paper for the receipts.”

“I don’t know how many orders of food we gave away for free,” adds Arun. “At a certain point you’re like, ‘I’m not charging you because this is a nightmare.’ ”

“The next morning we got up and I said: what did I get myself into?” says Moreau. “But we learned from our mistakes, and things kind of settled down after a few months.”

The couple hopes the adventurous menu at the restaurant will encourage Irish diners to challenge and develop their taste buds.

“We’ve found that quite challenging in Ireland,” says Arun. “A lot of people here are meat-and-two-veg people, especially in Cork. For example, we use truffle in our food, and some people look at us and say, ‘What is that?’ ”

However, the recent upturn in the economy means people are more interested in eating out, she says. “The recession coming to an end means there’s a bit more money for people to eat out and experiment different things. We’re all about small plates, trying different tastes, combining different flavours that you wouldn’t usually get in traditional Irish cuisine. I think in that way there is a food revolution going on: people are more willing to try things.”

They continue to enjoy travelling abroad whenever they get the chance, but are always glad to come back to their “amazing home” in Kinsale.

“The Kinsale community has been so supportive,” says Arun. “It’s such a bubble here; you don’t feel like ever leaving it.”

  • We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish
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