What is it that pushes people to the top tier of their field? Perhaps it is a little bit of luck, but generally that’s backed up by a lot of hard work - Hard work that often manifests itself as obsession.
“It’s an obsession, basically. It is just something I love doing,” unprompted chef Adrian Martin confirmed an opinion on how to succeed in a tough industry.
Be it staying up until all hours watching cooking shows, endlessly going over recipes or even making his own wine, there is a common theme running through our conversation; his profound love of food.
His genial good humour suggests an easy-going nature but as soon as he starts talking about his area of expertise his passion ignites. The last time I spoke to the Bawnboy native he was bringing his culinary creations to the Ramor Theatre as part of his ‘Fake Away Tour’.
That was just one way in which he brings his gospel of good eating to the public. Hosting a cookery demonstration in a theatre shows he’s not tied to convention. Before that innovation he did product development for companies, gave talks in schools, and went around the country working with artisan butchers.
At 23 Adrian presented cooking segments on the Six O’Clock Show on TV3, and has become a very popular addition to the programme. He also starred in RTE Player’s online shows Fakeaway and Chef Adrian Eats Ireland.
He has over a decade of experience working in some of the top restaurants in the country yet he is still only 27. Yikes.
The chef’s passion for cooking is readily apparent in the way he speaks of his craft. A natural flair for all things cuisine was nurtured in a number of restaurants including Neven Maguire’s MacNean House (where he worked for six years) and the Michelin Star ‘Bon Appetite’ restaurant in Malahide.
Adrian earned a degree in Culinary Arts from the School of Tourism, Killybegs and regularly contributes to The Anglo-Celt’s Chef’s Delight. So, as the CV attests, he’s no slacker.
Just to put a nice tin hat on it Chef Adrian’s new book ‘Create Beautiful Food at Home’ is coming out on in April. The aforementioned love of food and desire to show how anyone can create a meal that belongs in a fine-dining restaurant is the inspiration for the book.
In concept ‘Create Beautiful Food at Home’ is a book about aesthetics, but there’s more to it than pretty food. The writer points to the simplicity of the title: “It does exactly what it says on the tin. I have spent a lot of time on it. I’m two years working on it and am absolutely delighted with how it turned out. It takes me back to the days when I worked in restaurants like MacNean House or any of the Michelin star restaurants across Ireland. It’s a book for people who enjoy cooking, but want to take it up a level. If you want to do an important meal for someone special, or a nice Sunday lunch, then it’s covered in this book.”
An all-encompassing publication, the first part focuses on how to prepare ingredients, like shucking an oyster, breaking down a chicken and filleting a fish. Style is always a consideration: “When I started working in restaurants it was emphasised that one of the most important parts of the process is ‘plating up’, making sure it is a presentable dish. Making it look beautiful is a key element of cooking.”
“I’m the type of person who might come up with an idea on a particular type of dish. Even from a young age I would have posed the question: ‘What if we did it this way?’, or plated it this way, or put a particular ingredient in a dish that brought in a different flavour.
“When you work in a restaurant you have to follow the guideline of a chef. You have to be consistent and that is achieved by following those guidelines. It is about ensuring that every dish is at the restaurant standard. This book was a blank canvass for all the different ideas I had down through the years, while I was working in other chef’s kitchens,” the author explained.
Moving from an idea through to finished product requires the same attention to detail needed in the kitchen: “It took ages. I tried and tested everything over the space of about half a year. I spent a lot of time getting them right. The end result is a number of dishes that could be served in top quality restaurants, but it is accessible and possible to do at home.”
The second part is broken down into courses: Bread, Starters, Palate Cleansers, Mains, Desserts and Petit Fours: “There’s a full chapter on breads. Back in my student days I did a course in breads in DIT. It taught me how to make different breads from across the world. There are different folding methods, different baking methods, ways of making bread light or heavy. There are a number of different tips and they’re all in the book.”
What’s on the menu?
As the name suggests the book has images showcasing how the dishes should be presented, with step-by-step instructions showing how to recreate it. Dishes include Lobster Thermidor, Crab Ravioli, Blood Orange and Thyme Sorbet, Braised Beef, Venison and Barley Risotto, and Pear Tart Tatin.
The gestation period of the book was a process of refinement to determine what recipes made the final cut: “For the first book, I had a thousand recipes in my head and whittled it down. This book was a bit different.
The second book is the latest leg of Chef Adrian’s culinary journey. Like most journeys, the starting was the most difficult part: “I went to school in Ballinamore. I would have been the first to do home economics in the school, if I had done it. The fear of bullying put me off. I was in third year when I started working in Neven’s in Blacklion and I never told a sinner. The first time anyone found out was the first time I ended up on television. I started getting messages saying ‘where did this come out of?’”
His early foray into a professional kitchen progressed rapidly: “I had met him [Neven] at demos and just asked him could I work in his kitchen? It started off as a part-time thing, just Saturdays and Sundays, but I really fell in love with it. I used to go in after school and on weekends. I would stay there during the summer.
“My father would drop me down on Wednesday and I would stay ‘til Sunday. All the chefs stayed in the chalet. I was the youngest, the next chef was seven years older than me, I just wanted to learn about food. I would stay up until 3am watching cooking shows to get inspired for work the next days.”
That obsession hasn’t waned in the intervening years: “Netflix is brilliant, shows like Chef’s Table. My girlfriend says “Why do you always have to watch cooking shows?”, because there is nothing on television that I like to watch more!”
The premise of shows like Chef’s Table is to exhibit the most progressive restaurants in the world. The suggestion that Ireland lacks the innovation in the culinary field is shot down immediately: “No, definitely not! We are one of the most innovative places for food in the world. I just came back from a trip to San Francisco. I had asked people for recommendations for food on the way over. The recommendations, well... the food is very poor. They give massive portions, but the quality of the meat and vegetables are not a patch on ours.
“In Ireland you can recommend so many places. They will be some of the best meals you will have in your life. In the US everything is geared toward fast food, heavy portions, eating one meal a day, I think in terms of innovation Irish restaurants are miles ahead,” the chef explains.
He is a real advocate for Irish produce: “The quality of our grass-fed beef makes it the best in the world. I hear people propagate this myth, that because of its fat content, Wagyu beef is but, when you put it up against Irish beef, there’s no comparison. Irish beef will always come out as the winner.”
The obvious pride of place is even more pronounced when he talks of his home county: “If you walk around Cavan you would be very surprised what you can eat out of a hedgerow. We did a foraging day in Bawnboy recently and you can make a full meal out of a hedgerow in Ireland!
Grow your own
“We should plant our own potatoes, grow our own veg, shop locally. We have such an abundance of produce sitting on our doorstep. I know people are attracted to convenience but, if you look at it from a chef’s perspective, Cavan is one of the best places in Ireland to source food, bar seafood and Killybegs is only a short distance away.”
Climactic considerations are even dismissed: “My mother always said if you want something, then dig and grow. I wanted grapes to try and make my own wine, I know this sounds mad, but my Mam said: ‘There’s a greenhouse – go ahead’. So I planted them, they grew perfectly and now we have made wine. In September we will have about 25 bottles,” Adrian delights in his achievement.
Which leads on to his next project. Possibly the most obvious extension of his talent: “I would love to open a restaurant in the near future. I would love to do it in Cavan. Please God, and fingers crossed, it will be something we can do.”
Chef Adrian Martin’s new book ‘Create Beautiful Food at Home’ was lqaunched yesterday.