The late Myrtle Allen’s name is synonymous with peerless quality ingredients and culinary imagination. No wonder most of the young Irish head chefs and restaurateurs in London, of which there are plenty, see her as a role model.
When her name is brought up, established chefs and budding culinaries alike rhapsodise her legacy.
Shauna Froydenlund, the Chef Patron at the Michelin-starred Marcus restaurant, who trained and worked under Allen as a young chef, believes she has inspired countless Irish chefs, many of whom are now working in London’s bustling food and drink scene.
“She changed the way we thought about food all those years ago at Ballymaloe House by making the absolute most of the abundance of produce on her doorstep and educated others with how to use it all,” Froydenlund says.
A testament to Allen and other Irish chefs who broke down barriers, Ireland is now viewed, in international terms, as a conveyor belt of sorts for quality chefs.
“Myrtle Allen saw what our beautiful country had to offer in terms of vegetables, animals and fish and used these produces to showcase Ireland nationally with her work on the Farmers Journal and globally with Euro-toques,” says Marguerite Keogh, Head Chef at the The Five Fields restaurant, which received its first Michelin Star in 2017.
“This work opened the door for Irish chefs.”
Kevin Burke, Head Chef at the highly-regarded The Ninth restaurant at Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, agrees: “Myrtle Allen has touched almost every Irish chef, whether in her philosophy of sourcing food from local farmers and producers, or through the brilliant institution that is Ballymaloe House.”
With Anna Haugh’s new restaurant, Burke says, her name will be “touching a new generation again”.
Modern chefs, taking equal inspiration from traditional Irish food and innovative global trends, are making their presence felt. Many have emigrated to the capital in recent years, seeking out new opportunities, staking their claims as culinary torchbearers overseas.
There’s a general sense that Irish fingerprints are smudged all over the city’s food scene across a wide variety of pubs, gastropubs, restaurants, hotels and eateries.
One reason Irish chefs have been having such success in London, according to Keogh, is because British and Irish cuisine “do not differ so much” and both concentrate on “seasonal, national products”.
“Irish cheese, butter, gin, beef, lamb and seaweed, to name a few, all play big roles on top London restaurant menus,” she explains. “I think the increase in the number of Irish chefs and bartenders in the capital is a big reason for this.
“For example, we use a number of Irish products at the restaurant, St. Tolas cheese, Collar of Gold oil and I make my mother and grandmother’s soda bread everyday.”
It’s difficult to single out the specific way in which the Irish are impacting the London food and drink scene as they are completely intertwined, argues Burke.
“The Irish are well represented in nearly every sector of the food industry, from Clare Smyth in Core to Gearoid Devaney in ‘Flint Wines’,” he says.
“The UK is a very demanding market, with the best of the world’s ingredients available to it. Irish products are cherished here and are always viewed to be some of, if not the best in the world. I’m proud to use Irish oysters, beef and seaweed in my restaurant, not because it’s Irish, but you simply can’t beat it.”
Keogh, who visits her native Clare every month, views Allen as someone who broke down generation-old precepts about women in kitchens outside of the home.
“Myrtle helped females by changing the view of women cooks when she won her Michelin Star, women no longer were just looked at as house cooks,” she adds.
“Myrtles passion and love for all things food was infectious and sparked a nation wide love affair with Irish food.”
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