The Staff Canteen: Menu Watch

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Enda McEvoy, head chef of Loam Restaurant in Galway, Ireland is no stranger to working in Michelin-starred kitchens having worked for the likes of René Redzepi at Noma and retaining the star for Loam in the Michelin Guide UK 2017 for the second year running.

Translated as ‘rich, fertile soil’, Loam is a seasonally driven restaurant which focuses on modern cooking rooted in tradition. After leaving Aniar in 2013, where Enda earned his first Michelin star, he and his wife Sinead decided to set up their own establishment. Since its humble beginnings, Loam has gone on to achieve phenomenal success, winning its first Michelin star in 2015. Enda was also recently named Best Chef in Ireland at the 2016 Irish Restaurant Awards.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Enda to find out why travel is important in the industry, how René Redzepi has influenced his kitchen at Loam and having a close relationship with suppliers.

You were voted best chef in Ireland 2016, how does that feel?
Oh, it’s great to get an award like this, it’s great to be acknowledged by the industry but these best of lists are a bit ridiculous, it’s best not to take them too seriously. The ceremony was fun though and the publicity does help keep the restaurant in people’s minds.

How did you get into the industry?
I went to Freiburg in the Black Forest one summer back in 1995 where I was visiting friends. I was planning on busking, playing trad music but it wasn’t as lucrative as I thought it might be so I got a job as a kitchen porter in a restaurant up the hills, it was a really good restaurant. I loved it, being part of a machine, a really well organised machine, it appealed to me the precision of it all so I stayed for a year working through the sections before I came home.

Had you always known you wanted to be a chef?
No. I went to university where I got a degree in English literature and Sociology. I also wanted to be a cabinetmaker. I always wanted to work with my hands.

Having travelled the world to learn and train how has this influenced your food style?
Travel is important in this trade. We all use the same ingredients more or less, alliums, brassica, citrus, nuts, grasses and seeds so it’s good to culturally approach them in a different way. It’s important to explore different cuisines and techniques to become a stronger cook.

What was it like working with René Redzepi in Noma?
It was such a great experience. Noma is a very unique restaurant. It has attracted a great group of people who just wanted to give their all to this restaurant constantly pushing forward. It was a very enjoyable time and very eye opening at the same time.

What did you learn from working with René?
I suppose the biggest thing was how to interact with the customer as a chef, to come out of the kitchen, break down the traditional roles of a chef, server and customer. This has been carried over to Loam, the chefs come out to deliver a lot of the dishes. I also learned how to organise a potentially haphazard sourcing and delivery system.

How would you describe your food style?
I guess we are modern Irish, progressive, unpretentious and rooted in tradition.

You source your ingredients locally, how difficult do you find this?
It’s actually quite easy, we have everything we need here. Amazing shellfish and seaweeds, just off the coast, great lamb in the hills, amazing game and fungi in the forests, fruit and nuts in the hedgerow and our dairy is as good, if not better than anywhere. We are spoilt for ingredients.

Why do you think growing your own and sourcing locally is important?
Local sourcing just makes sense, the produce is of the environment we work with and can literally be picked on the farm and be on the plate that evening. We can see the cattle/pigs on the land and we get to form relationships with the suppliers. I have used the same farm to supply all of our meat in the last three restaurants I have worked in. I have a lot of trust in them.

How important is it that your meat and fish is 100% Irish?
Absolutely important. All our meat is reared on one farm by two brothers, Brendan and Derek, who are old friends of ours. I know their farm well, I know their families, I understand their processes and in return they understand what I need. They butcher their meat on the farm and we have a strong relationship with them. It’s the same with our wild game, its shot by one man, Eamon and his small team in Co Clare. Again, we always go back because we understand each other. I trust what he can deliver to me will be of the quality I expect every time.

How often do you change the menu?
Certain elements change daily. Ingredients come in and out of season constantly through the year so the menu is quite dynamic and changes constantly.

What is your process of menu and dish creation?
We have a sit down three times a year, early spring, autumn and late winter with our vegetable suppliers, Leaf and Root Farm to decide on what seeds to set for the coming year, how much to plant, when to plant and when we will harvest. This forms the beginning of our menu creation for the following year. From then on it’s what vegetables are available and for how long what dictates what will be on the menu. We try not to repeat dishes from the previous year even though we use pretty much the same ingredients. We try different varieties of the same plant to see what works for us.

Do you have a favourite ingredient you really like to work with?
We have a new pumpkin dish on at the moment with barley milk, charred pumpkin skin and seaweeds which I really like. Ingredients come and go through the year. We have 200 pumpkin planted, when they are gone they’re gone until the next autumn so it’s important we do something great with them.

What are your future plans?
We are on the lookout for a piece of land where we can build a home for our family and grow produce for the restaurant, my wife and I both love the countryside and feel at home there.

Favourite ingredients

1. Cabbage – we plant around 11 different types of cabbage through the year, from hips to york to a type of loose leafed red cabbage and 5 different types of kale, all to be treated differently throughout the year with vastly different flavours. It’s an immensely versatile vegetable.
2. Woodruff – a herb that grows in the woodland here. It has an amazing flavour somewhere between hay, tobacco and vanilla.
3. Shellfish – the shellfish available around here in the winter is incredible. Especially beautiful native oysters and wild mussels. Mussel stock and clam stocks are two of the indispensable stocks we use year round in the kitchen.
4. Monkfish liver – I love monkfish liver in the winter months when it’s fatty and luscious. It’s a very versatile and luxurious ingredient that’s often overlooked.
5. Mushrooms – we use mushrooms all year round, endless varieties come through the kitchen doors all with varying uses. We have an amazing couple of people in the Ballyhoura Mountains growing shiitake and namiko and pom pom for us. At this time of year, we have a regular troupe of characters dropping in chanterelles, hedgehog and lobster mushroom amongst others. We ferment, salt and dry mushrooms of all sorts all year round. I love mushrooms!

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