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Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year 2013

With the theme of ‘Food Memories’ and a multi-stage competition culminating in a
5-course pop-up banquet (if there can be such a thing), the finale of the Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year Competition was played out this year in the slightly surreal surroundings of The Garage Café at Google Dublin – which one guest was overheard rather cheekily describing as ‘like a kindergarten’ with its primary colours and stimulating, funkily simplistic design mix…A fascinating backdrop anyway, and in sharp contrast to the salubrious surroundings of the very grown up Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud where it was held for many of its previous 22 years.

Rightly flagged as ‘prestigious’, winning the Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year title gives a talented young man or woman a great launching pad for a serious career  in the kitchen – a number of today’s top chefs owe their early success to the competition, including the nation’s favourite kitchen wizard, Neven Maguire.

Interestingly – especially given the determinedly casual setting selected for the final and the gastro-pub theme for the first skills test, which was also a pop up event – all of the five young chefs who successfully battled it through the written and interview stages of the competition to the practical tests were mentored by chefs in famous fine dining restaurants, all of them in Dublin.

Classical skills took pride of place, which is as it should be – especially as Elena Arzak,  joint head chef of the three Michelin star Spanish restaurant Arzak and World’s Best Female Chef in 2012, was on the final judging panel.

Elena Arzak also presented the coveted award, which was especially hard won this year as the winner, Mark Moriarty of Blackrock, Co Dublin, was not only the youngest of the finalists but also the oldest hand, having been a finalist last year. Chef de partie at The GreenHouse, Dublin (Georgina Campbell’s Restaurant of the Year 2013), Mark was mentored by the extraordinarily talented Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen and made some predictably entertaining and utterly delicious cocktail bites for his allotted course at the final banquet.

Organised by a hard working Euro-Toque team headed up by Manuela Spinelli, the event was hosted by Euro-Toques Ireland Commissioner General Wade Murphy (owner chef at 1826 Adare, in Co Limerick), compered by the inimitable Ross Golden-Bannon, with prominent Euro-Toques chef Neil McFadden overseeing the kitchen and Chapter One’s Declan Maxwell managing front of house.

In the currently popular minimalist style that so often makes eating out a real guessing game for diners, the strongly seasonal ‘Carnival of Memories’ menu offered plenty to exercise the imagination – and with no specifics about the ingredients or their provenance, which were taken as read, as local foods are the cornerstones of the Euro-Toques ethos.

The starter, for example, was simply entitled ‘The Farmer’s Vegetable Van’  and, while the dish made by 24 year old Wexfordman Brian O’Flaherty (Commis Chef at Restaurant Forty One) was one of the most appealing of the evening, it was anybody’s guess what it might be until the plate actually arrived at the table. Similarly with  ‘Beach Walk’  by 24 year old Dubliner Kevin Burke, Chef de Partie at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud; ‘Hunting’ by 22 year old Grainne O’Keeffe who is from Blanchardtown and Junior Sous Chef  in Piquet; and ‘Picking Apples from the Neighbour’s Orchard’ by 26 year old Paula Levy from Drumcondra, Chef de Partie at Locks Brasserie – so it was quite a relief to finish with something eminently identifiable: ‘Chocolates’, by the superb Dublin chocolatier Cocoa Atelier.

So what next for Mark Moriarty, the Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year 2013?  There will be plenty of challenges and treats in store, including a stage with world renowned chef Gualtiero Marchesi at ALMA, the international school of Italian cuisine in Colorno, Italy – and, judging by his charm and confidence when speaking about the win at the awards, he will be an excellent ambassador for Ireland and Irish food, which is an important element that the judges are looking out for when making their decisions.  One thing is for certain – the future is very bright for Mark Moriarty and, while the other finalists may be disappointed, the intensive training undertaken in the months leading up to the final, and the experience of intense competition at that level, will stand them in very good stead. And, who know, maybe one of them will go on to win next year, just as Mark did this time around.

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