The Irish Times view on Ireland’s food scene: a dash of stardust

It’s puzzling how male-dominated the Michelin awards remain

Jordan Bech-Bailey and Majken Bech-Bailey, who run Aimsir restaurant in Co Kildare – which was this week awarded two Michelin stars. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Jordan Bech-Bailey and Majken Bech-Bailey, who run Aimsir restaurant in Co Kildare – which was this week awarded two Michelin stars. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A new generation of chefs looks to Scandinavia for influence but they still look to France for approval. This week they got it with a record number of new Michelin stars awarded to Irish restaurants.

Seven years ago, Michelin rated just six Irish restaurants worthy of a star, five of them in Dublin and none north of the border. Now we have 21 starred restaurants, three of which have two stars each.

A predicted downturn failed to happen despite January’s VAT increase, rising rents, the dominance of giants like the Press Up Entertainment Group and fears that Brexit would hit tourist numbers.

So are we in a golden age? Restaurants are a visible display of disposable income. The race for tables is rocket-fuelled by a star. The latest round of stars is a big achievement for the chefs involved. Yet it’s puzzling how male-dominated the awards remain. Not a single woman chef won a new star.

Irish food is both dazzling and dismal. The stars reinforce restaurant-led support for farmers and small food producers

Michelin is on a drive to capture territory in the social media world. Next year’s stars will be hand-delivered to each restaurant by fleet-thumbed marketing folk hoping for a plethora of hashtags.

Ireland’s rapid ascension from a mostly dark minor moon in London’s orbit to a food scene of its own has to be seen in the context of a century-old business clawing at our attention to maintain its relevance.

The guide is going digital, chasing the wider, younger consumer that has never leafed through the pages of the red book. More stars mean more shares and likes.

There is a ‘best-of-times and worst-of-times’ feel to the Irish food scene now. One in four adults is classed as obese, with one in four children overweight. Many children go to school hungry.

Asylum seekers live on a diet of fried food in direct provision centres. Beef farming is economically unviable for large numbers and vegetable growers struggle to compete with cheap imports.

Irish food is both dazzling and dismal. The stars reinforce restaurant-led support for farmers and small food producers. That ethos of craft, connection to the land and caring about where our food comes from is the sort of stardust that cannot trickle down fast enough.

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