Bringing the Delights of Asia to Dublin – Chef Ciaran Crawford of Ukiyo Interview
Sitting in a prime location on Dublin’s Exchequer Street, Ukiyo is a recognisable place. From its daily bento boxes, Asian/Mexcian mashups and some incredible sushi, Ukiyo is a firm favourite in our city. When we recently dined at Ukiyo we tried out some of the new dishes in the refurbished downstairs lounge. The man behind these delicious delights is Ciaran Crawford. A graduate of DIT Cathal Brugha Street (my alma mater), his journey to the kitchen wasn’t set in stone.
He undertook a physics degree which he subsequently dropped out of and it was his mother who suggested he try his hand at a cookery course. He had racked up many hours in his family kitchen cooking and baking from a young age.
It led to a scholarship to DIT Cathal Brugha Street – and that was it, I was hooked.”
Running a busy restaurant is no easy feat, and Ciaran is in the kitchen by 9 am each morning, setting up for the day.
“My day always starts early with my two year old – so I get to Ukiyo around 9 am. I check in with my morning crew chefs and set the menu and lunch bentos for Ukiyo bar. I then head downstairs to the Ukiyo lounge kitchen to meet with my prep chefs, to go through all deliveries, set up for lunch downstairs and begin prepping for the day.”
Committed to maintaining a high quality of food, Ciaran regularly sits down with his chefs throughout the day “to make sure we’re all singing from the same songbook”. This involves checking that the kitchens upstairs and downstairs are set up, making sure the chefs know the menus and then he is preparing lists and orders for the following day.
If all goes to plan, Ciaran hopefully is home by 6pm, where he spends quality time with his partner and two and a half-year-old son Dillon, “He’s great at making me forget about any hassles.”
Creativity is essential to any chef, and luckily for Ciaran, he can be really flexible with his dishes. “Being a Japanese/Korean restaurant the ability to be creative is endless and I like to push it as much as I can, I like taking common menu items and working them up in an Asian way that still makes them accessible to an Irish palette.”
Working in an Asian restaurant Ciaran tries to use as many local suppliers where ever possible, he tells me “I work closely with suppliers I’ve used for many years to get as local a produce as an Asian restaurant will allow.”
Continuing on Ciaran says, “I’m currently working with Trevor Harris, a biodynamic farmer for my beef, and Crowes farm, a sustainable free-range pig farm. Both businesses support great animal husbandry and a farm-to-table approach. Our fish suppliers source sustainable yellowfin tuna from inside the EU.”
Separated into two dining areas, the upstairs Ukiyo Bar, is a dining area where Ciaran tells me they have fine-tuned the menu, “catering to our regular and extremely loyal fourteen-year-strong-and-counting customer base.”
Downstairs in Ukiyo Lounge, Ciaran says they “wanted to do something a little different”. This newly refurbished area is a slick laid-back venue where they have “built upon the unique neighborhood feel Ukiyo captures.”
“I work closely with owner Duncan Maguire to create a constantly evolving menu of Japanese-Korean comfort food, sushi, and small sharing plates that are more seasonal and local in its approach to ingredients and flavors.”
AS we are coming to the end of this year, I ask Ciaran what he feels about food in 2019 and any food trends that might occur he says he thinks a growing number of people will become “semi-vegan”, “not veganism strictly in the lifestyle ‘all-in’ sense, but more as a healthy eating trend – people are choosing to consume less meat and dairy in reaction to increased awareness of factory farming practices and effect on the environment.”
Currently, Ciaran’s favourite dishes at Ukiyo are the latest additions to the menu, tuna loin, and duck breast. With an ever-evolving menu, this savvy chef also thinks of flavour combinations that will pair with the drinks on offer. Ciaran says “I guess for me just comes down to understanding flavours – achieving balance in the dish and complimenting it.”
After years of working in a kitchen, he says both his favourite and least favourite part of the job is service time.
Service is where the battles are won or lost – as every chef will appreciate all too well.”
To make this hectic time a little easier he tells me they have “a couple of cheat sheets that explain a lot of our sauces, marinades and sushi garnishes, as well as regular staff briefings and tastings.”
This consistency Ciaran says is incredibly important to Ukiyo, a restaurant that “has been built on an ethos of good food done well, so we strive to maintain this.”
It seems every member of staff from the chefs, to the front of house, understand the menu and are able to easily transfer this knowledge and passion to diners, “I guess we’re lucky most of our staff have hung out and eaten here regularly before they joined the team, which always helps.”
Teamwork seems to be a recurring theme at Ukiyo and when I ask Ciaran what makes his job fun at the restaurant, he answers certainly “the people I work with, for sure.” He goes on to say “Ukiyo is a family and I think people see that and relate to it from its busy lunch services to its karaoke and late night DJs.”
I ask Ciaran has he ever graced the doors of Ukiyo’s famous karaoke rooms, “I’ve definitely done my fair share of crooning over the years – not so much anymore though, having children will do that to you!”
I take this opportunity to ask Ciaran about his thoughts on the current chef shortage that Ireland is facing, “to be honest, I feel its all down to a failure of foresight within the industry that is affecting us now. With the government dismantling of Leaving Cert and apprenticeship schemes, we’ve been left with this vacuum due to a lack of trainees.”
Shining a positive on being a chef he says that “wages are returning to where they were pre-crash”, mostly for those who have good experience and training. I wonder what advice an accomplished chef like Ciaran would give to someone starting out in the industry.
“When I was just starting out, a French head chef I worked for told me if I wanted to learn as much as possible I should read everything – cookbooks, magazines, newspapers – to the point that if I visited the dentist I would rip out recipes from random magazines and bring them home with me. I have dozens of folders full of these tearsheets and I still read everything to this day.
Looking to the future, I wonder what it holds for Ciaran Crawford and Ukiyo, to which he replies, “good times, good food, and hopefully some good reviews and maybe, just maybe, some Michelin recognition.”
Sinéad is a Culinary Arts graduate from DIT. She is a passionate cook with a love of fine dining and modern Irish cuisine. A gin lover, Sinéad loves seeking out cosy new pubs and sampling a variety of craft beers.
If she’s not dining out, Sinéad loves travelling the world exploring new cultures and cuisines. Working with TheTaste allows Sinéad to fully immerse herself in the Irish food industry.