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Meet the new faces of the Irish food and drink scene
Image / Living / Food & Drink

Melanie Mullan

Meet the new faces of the Irish food and drink scene


by Ali Dunworth
21st Jun 2024

Within a thriving Irish food and drink scene, Ali Dunworth gathers together some of the new faces joining the ranks.

Alex is co-founder of Bahay, one of Dubin’s most exciting new food ventures, along with her partner Richie Castillo. Richie is a chef, while Alex is a computer science graduate who has worked in IT for most of her career (and still does). It was while doing a master’s in digital marketing that Alex saw the potential in developing a food business in the online space and in tandem, they had been inspired by the food of Richie’s Filipino heritage and his dad’s impactful cooking. Alex says she “just couldn’t get over the flavours”. Bahay was born.

Opening as a traditional restaurant was never the plan – they began with successful events at Roe & Co Distillery and Taste of Dublin and went on to travel Ireland, doing the festival circuit and popping up in all sorts of places. Bahay has since become somewhat of a poster child for eschewing the traditional restaurant route to market and Alex is happy to keep it that way for now. “Doing it in other people’s spaces allows us to pay people fairly, it allows us to do one-offs, and we can utilise our friends and family to help when they are available.”

They made such a name for themselves that in 2023 they published their first co-authored book, Masarap, which explores Filipino food through an Irish cultural lens. They have also tentatively launched a new sauce product, their banana ketchup, driven by Alex’s obsession with condiments. “I am really passionate about spreading Filipino flavours so I love the idea of making a sauce that people could bring home, using this flavour bomb themselves.”

Alex’s advice for anyone considering starting their own venture? “First work out the ‘what’ – what you want to do, what you want to create – but then think about the ‘why’. Why do you want to do it? The why is needed to achieve the what.” bahay.ie

Ngozi Elobuike grew up in the Californian wine region of Lodi, where wine was part of everyday life and agriculture, but it wasn’t until studying in London and working at Vagabond Wines that she began to think about the experience around wine. Then while in Dublin, completing a master’s, she worked at über-cool wine bar, Note. “It was a phenomenal place to work, but the thing that struck me was when I brought my friend in for a wine tasting. She’s this gorgeous creative, but she stood out like a sore thumb in the room. Not because she wasn’t as equally interested in wine, but because there was no one else in the room that looked like us.” That moment started a train of thought for Ngozi that resulted in Hi Spirits, a Black-led wine club in Dublin that celebrates diversity and culture through curated wine experiences.

Hi Spirits is now a collective of more than 100 members. “It’s meant to introduce new forms of gastronomy to communities that may not think they have access to it. And it’s about creating unique, bespoke events and a collective cultural memory.” All of this came together perfectly for her sold-out supper club in 2023, The Renaissance Room, in collaboration with Victory Nwabu-Ekeoma, founder and creator of Bia! Zine, who Ngozi cites as “a huge help and support”. For 2024, Ngozi is planning more events and hopes to partner with a wine shop. “I don’t just want our members to discover wine with us, but to also see themselves as participating in the community and going to these places themselves.”

Her advice for anyone starting out? “This isn’t your practice life – that’s what I tell myself and that is what compels me.” hispiritswineclub.com

People were so interested in food, everyone was buying local. It gave me great freedom to try new things. I loved that.

Jess Kelly grew up in and out of the family business of butchery. There were summer jobs, or it was a way of making money, but it was always a stop-gap. It wasn’t until Jess embarked on what these days is an Irish rite of passage – heading to Australia to work – that she started to look at the business differently. In Melbourne, she worked at a new-wave butcher called Peter Bouchier. “I got a bit of a shock. It was so fancy, and everyone was so passionate about their jobs, even the servers on the counters. They loved what they did. I had the freedom to be creative and try all these new techniques and the different ways they were doing everything resonated with me. I thought, ‘Oh, I really like this.’”

Jess arrived back in Dublin during the pandemic and her family business, The Village Butcher in Ranelagh, was busy. She was put to work. “People were so interested in food, everyone was buying local. It gave me great freedom to try new things, which I loved.” She realised what they were doing was not far off the scene in Australia, and it was the push she needed to commit. Last year, Jess became a fully qualified butcher. She’s now taken on the head butcher role, a “busy but satisfying job” and along with it, Jess has been making a name for herself outside of the shop too, taking part in food festival demos and contributing to newspapers and radio.

“Butchery can be a career now. I think it was just seen as a job, you know you’re just in the shop, there’s no other options, but I’m starting to see that change. There are opportunities for collaborations, people are asking for masterclasses. It’s great and I’m happy to do all these things, it’s just finding time to fit it all in.” thevillagebutcher.ie

What do you do when your interests and skill sets straddle two worlds? Why, create your own niche, of course! That’s what Jane Gleeson has been doing since her school days, when she was first torn between art and home economics. Instead of choosing, she’s managed to forge a career that has included them both, working in the world of arts and events but always incorporating food wherever possible.

During the pandemic, Jane embarked on a master’s in Gastronomy at TU Dublin, where she really got to delve into the food world, writing lots and making connections in the industry – all the while, laying the foundations for Guzzle. She wanted to ease the disconnect she felt during the pandemic. “I was looking at ways to bring people together and obviously, literature is one of those ways.” Along with designer friend Shane Bonfield, she got to work on the magazine. Starting with commissioning a photographer, Jane then reached out to contacts and people she admired in the food, drink and arts world to contribute to the magazine. Issue One: Mementoes of Food shared stories from chaotic kitchens to dining traditions and was launched with a Potato and Pints party at Hen’s Teeth. Issue Two: The Intimacy of Eating arrived in 2023 and this May she will bring some of the imagery from this issue to Berlin for an exhibition. She’s looking forward to running more events around each issue of Guzzle, making it so much more than just a magazine.

It’s taught her plenty, too. “Don’t get too wrapped up in being a perfectionist about a project, just throwing ideas onto a page or chatting to people who are in that world can be so beneficial, and it can inspire you and motivate you to get out there and pursue your project.” guzzle.ie

Photography by Melanie Mullan. This article originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of IMAGE. 

The Summer issue of IMAGE is here, and we’re taking the longer days as an opportunity to slow down, take stock, and luxuriate in the lull that summer brings. From laid-back looks to in-depth reads, there’s everything you need to set you up for the season. Plus: * Warm-weather style * Boho is back * In studio with Irish designer Sinéad O’Dwyer * Career success stories * Growing and foraging * Women in music * Reframing divorce * Tackle your tiredness * Summer beauty favourites * Bringing the outdoors in * Irish eco escapes * Garden getaways * and so much more…

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