Chef Enda McEvoy says he is honoured to have been awarded a Michelin star for Aniar restaurant but admits that, for the small team at the Dominick Street restaurant, it feels like they have won a race they never entered.
There has been a touch of confusion as to who actually won the Michelin award. Was it Aniar or was it the head chef? It’s a “symbiotic relationship”, explains Enda.
“The one star is based solely on what arrives on your plate, so theoretically if you were serving food in a petrol station, you could still win a Michelin star. But, in saying that, one can’t exist without the other.”
Enda maintains that he will not devote too much energy to keeping the status, preferring to keep doing what he’s been doing.
“I think you’d drive yourself insane trying to figure out what it is they’re looking for,” he says, noting that the Michelin inspectors are like “mysterious ninjas”. “It’s just food at the end of the day.”
The chef, originally from Virginia, Co. Cavan, did not always harbour ambitions to be a chef. In fact, his career in the kitchen started almost entirely by chance when he took a job as a kitchen porter while visiting friends in Germany.
“I fell in love with the trade then and started working my way up,” he says.
After travelling around the world, he worked for a time at Nimmo’s restaurant at the Spanish Arch, before becoming a partner in Sheridan’s on the Docks. It was here, he says, that he first had the opportunity to really flex his culinary muscles.
When Sheridan’s closed, he had a stint in renowned Danish restaurant, Noma, which has two Michelin stars. He was then approached by Jp McMahon and Drigín Gaffey of Cava Restaurant to head up their new restaurant.
Explaining Aniar’s concept of terroir-based dining Enda says: “All we do here is try and use food from West of the Shannon. We don’t use pepper, we don’t use olive oil.”
Salt and lemons are the only exceptions he will tolerate in this strict discipline. His belief is that these constraints encourage creativity; too broad a palette only increases the chances of re-hashing what’s been done before.
“Salt is necessary, pepper isn’t necessary. Pepper is a spice that we’ve just grown accustomed to having on our food. I prefer to get really good ingredients and let them shine and speak for themselves.”
Among the ingredients he does use are wild Irish herbs, weeds, mushrooms and berries. Anything he can get from foraging, he will try and find a use for. For example spruce or Christmas tree needles work well as a rosemary substitute.
Of course, not all foraged ingredients work, and Enda won’t simply shoehorn an ingredient into a recipe for the sake of his philosophy.
He’s also a firm believer that our current consumption habits are not sustainable in the long-term and believes the role of meat must be re-evaluated.
“People have to stop thinking about the big lump of meat in the middle of the plate, surrounded by a few little bits of vegetables and just think more about meat as a garnish as opposed to meat as the main player.”
This ethos, he says, has not met as much resistance as you might expect from the dining public in Galway, but the awarding of the Michelin star has, he says, shifted expectations.
“[Customers] have different expectations because you get compared to places like Paddy Guilbaud’s or Chapter One or Thornton’s, which have white tablecloths and many, many waiters and people comb the table and everything like that and we don’t do that,” he says. “It’s kind of like a café in here.”
With the acclaim that comes with being a Michelin-starred chef, opportunities to monetise the award will inevitably come, but Enda has enough on his plate for now.
“None of it really interests me, to tell you the truth. My life is quite full at the moment. I’ve got two kids, this thing, loads of picking weeds in the woods. There’s loads of stuff going on rather than having to sit down and write a book!”
Visit www.aniarrestaurant.ie for more information.