How’s this for starters ?

Less than a year after taking up his first head chef’s role, Stefan McEnteer is already the toast of the Irish culinary world. The Bishop’s Buttery last Monday became one of just 22 Irish restaurants to receive a Michelin Star, catapulting Stefan to the very pinnacle of his profession.

“It’s only sinking in today to be honest,” he admitted last Thursday, speaking by phone from the plush Cashel Palace Hotel in County Tipperary which houses the Bishop’s Buttery.

Stefan had received an official invitation to the Michelin awards bash for UK and Irish chefs at the Grant Hotel in Manchester a fortnight earlier, but he modestly said it still didn’t quite register until the actual announcement.

“All the big names were there - from other one, two and three star Michelin restaurants. It’s a bit surreal when you are in a room with people you have looked up to and followed, and you are from a small town in Cavan - it’s very surreal.”

Ever since the good news broke Stefan’s phone has been “Hopping! Absolutely hopping.”

“It’s just started to slow down a little bit today and it’s starting to sink in now.”

Understandably, Stefan reflects on his rapid ascent as “a bit of a whirlwind”.

The 32-year-old took up a sous-chef role, which is essentially the second in kitchen command, at the restored Cashel big house upon its opening in March 2022. Just over a year later was promoted to head chef. And now this!

“I always had that interest in it. “My mother would have done a bit of baking and cooking at home, so I suppose that’s where I got the interest from,” recalls Stefan, whose family include mam Stephanie dad James and brothers Craig and Reece.

Cautioned about the anti-social hours involved in kitchen work, Stefan initially enrolled in a computers course. But not enjoying he wisely packed it in after a year and began working front of house in restaurants which further piqued his interest in cooking. He resumed his studies, this time undertaking a Higher Certificate in Culinary Arts at Dundalk IT.

A work placement arranged by DKIT gave Stefan the chance to sample kitchen life in MacNean House, Blacklion alongside Neven Maguire.

“That period of time I had definitely had a massive influence on the kind of chef I wanted to be.”

“I always had an eye for the more refined fine dining. Going down there and working alongside Neven -and Glen Wheeler, who was the head chef there - it just hammered home, yes this is the route I want to take.”

The hellish way in which restaurant kitchens are portrayed on television would put fear of god in anyone. Stefan assures that the days of terrifying chefs berating their hard pressed staff have been consigned to past.

“It has changed massively over the years - the stories you would have heard years ago of people getting absolute dog’s abuse has gone, which is great.”

Using the example of MacNean’s he recalls admiringly: “Neven’s an absolute gent and it filters down through the team.”

Likewise Stefan has engendered “a great environment” in his current workplace.

“I want people to want to be in work. If you respect them and they respect you and they all buy-in to the same thing - that’s what got us to where we are today.”

He repeatedly stresses the importance of the team ethic.

“I just keep going back to the team, the team, the team - but none of it’s possible without a solid team.”

That team extends beyond the kitchen to his food suppliers.

“We’ve great suppliers down here and it’s a great boost for all them to get the recognition as well - it’s just a really really exciting time.”

The Celt wonders if Stefan knew when the Michelin inspectors were dining at his tables. Stefan confides they “had an idea” as the Irish community of elite chefs is “very very tight” so “word gets around”.

“We definitely had two inspections, if not three, over the last year.

“It is extra pressure, but they don’t get any special treatment. That’s not what they’re looking for. They’re looking for consistency - are they getting different treatment from another table just because of who they are?

“There is that little bit of extra pressure but you try to not let it get to you - you let it go as a normal service, treat them as just another person.”

Images of dishes from the Bishop’s Buttery menu look exquisite - each a petite parcel of perfection. Does it take a particular mindset to consistently attain that level of perfection?

“It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of sitting, thinking, planning. A lot of testing, and a lot of seeing what doesn’t work. I suppose that’s the main thing: finding out what doesn’t work.

“For us to put a new dish on the menu I’ll sit down and make a plan of X, Y and Z. Then the whole team will sit down and try the dish and see what we like and what we don’t like about it and then it will be back to the drawing board, make small changes. It could be a week’s work to get one new dish.

“It’s time consuming, it’s a lot of work, but it’s very enjoyable and very rewarding when something you have worked on for such a long time goes onto the menu and people enjoy it.

“Then in the long run it leads to this,” he says of their Michelin accolade.

Having scaled to these heady culinary heights, Stefan’s team is embracing the challenge of staying there. Table bookings, which were already busy, have taken off to a new level. “The phone’s been ringing off the hook,” he reports, adding, “it’s only going to be positive”.

“We’re looking forward to it - it’s all very new to us.

“I’ve worked in L’Ecrivain - with Derry Clarke who has a Michelin star, but this is very different now when you are in charge.

“I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge, we’re opening ourselves to a lot more scrutiny now - people will have a certain expectation but yeah, it’s really exciting.”