Since I was nine years old, I knew I wanted to be a chef. I had to wait until I was 20, though, before I left New Zealand, with nothing but a suitcase and 1,500 bucks, determined to forge my future in food.
I landed in Dublin on my travels and saw those Failte Ireland posters featuring West of Ireland beaches, and I knew that’s where I needed to be. I got a job working in Bar 8 in Galway and loved it. It was so special, so ahead of its time.
It was by fluke that the opportunity arose to open Kai Restaurant. While I was working in Bar 8, one of my friends came here (the building that Kai is located in) for a takeaway coffee and told the owners, Frank and Alan, that I was looking to open my own place. “She can have this one,” they replied. I begged a bank loan and the rest is history.
I love Galway. We are located on Sea Road, and anyone who knows the West (that’s how this area of Galway City is known to locals) will be familiar with the unique energy and atmosphere of this spot. Kai‘s ethos is embedded in the Sea Road West community, celebrating our local farmers, cheesemakers, artists and eager local eaters.
I’m really impressed with the quality of the drinks on the Irish market at the moment. Kilkenny-made Highbank Drivers Cider is brilliant, as is Justin Green and Antony Jackson’s Bertha’s Revenge gin.
My top piece of kitchen kit is my knife made by Fingal Ferguson. Made with Connemara bog oak and native New Zealand wood, it reminds me of my first home while I’m cooking and living in my second home, Galway.
My favourite places to eat in Ireland right now would include Cloud Picker Cafe at The Science Gallery (cloudpickercoffee.ie). Co-owner Peter Sztal makes his mother’s pierogi recipe, and it is just class – like love on a plate. Govinda’s food stall in Galway’s Saturday Market (galwaymarket.com) is one of my all time favourites, while The Greenhouse in Dublin (thegreenhouserestaurant.ie) is always on my wish list for a blowout special occasion. Not only do I love chef Mickael Viljanen’s cooking, but combined with Julie Dupouy’s wine selection, this place is my kind of heaven.
At the moment, I’m loving mallard. I used to go shooting with my dad, and we would fight with our neighbours over who was a dry or wet plucker! This year, I’m focused on cutting right back on food waste; we’re making curries with turnip tops and cauliflower leaves and having lots of fun experimenting.
On my global gourmet bucket list is to go to Slovenia to chef Ana Ros’s restaurant Hisa Franko (below, if you’ve never heard of her, check her out on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, season 2). She is my ultimate food hero. Then I’d travel on to Norway to explore the islands off Trondheim. I was there recently for a brief visit and can’t wait to get back.
To anyone else thinking of setting up their own restaurant, I would say: Know your strengths and weaknesses, never be afraid to ask for help, and be open to getting help. As a working chef, sometimes I need to remind myself to lift my head up from the pot. Give back to the community you are in, be part of it – this will come back to you tenfold.
My midweek meal to cook at home is a good old-fashioned coq au vin, cooked long and lazy in a slow cooker. Make sure to use a free-range Irish chicken – preferably one from Ronan, The Friendly Farmer (thefriendlyfarmer.blogspot.ie).
One of my favourite chef’s shortcuts is one I learned from my mum. During the summer in Kai, it’s all about tomatoes, but they’re a pain to cut. To save time, we get two large flat pot lids, place the tomatoes in between them, then get a bread knife, apply pressure on the top lid to hold the tomatoes in place, and slice.
My last meal on earth would be rib roast, dauphinoise potatoes, gravy and salad. All washed down with a really good, natural red wine.
Up next for me in 2017? There are some really exciting things in the pipeline for Kai, but on a personal level, I’m going to make more of an effort to improve my work-life balance. That’s the secret to a good life, in my book.
Featured image: Nathalie Marquez Courtney