Kernel Bar & Kitchen – Chef Maria Raftery Talks About Her Newest Culinary Venture

With a career in the food industry spanning 25 years, Maria Raftery, who has presented numerous cooking demonstrations on TV3 and was head chef of Kilkenny’s Zuni Restaurant for 17 years, is now owner and head chef at Kernel Bar & Kitchen, an exciting new dining experience in Kilkenny.

Maria gained her initial experience working in an Irish bar in Liverpool. After completing a course in Hotel Management at Liverpool Catering College, she went to London with the intention of becoming a food and beverage manager.

However, as soon as she walked into the kitchen, her world was turned upside down: “I went to work in London as a trainee food and beverage manager, but when I saw the kitchen I wanted to work in there, so I moved in and became a chef.”

Maria gained an immeasurable amount of experience in the years that followed, both in Ireland and abroad, and she spent 17 years as Head Chef at the award-winning Zuni Restaurant in Kilkenny:

“My 17 years at Zuni was such a great experience as I had great scope to produce the food I wanted there. I created a lot of the signature dishes which they still have on the menu and trained a lot of chefs down there, most of whom are now running the kitchen. It’s a very successful restaurant.”

Maria has been in the food industry now for 25 years and opened her own restaurant, Kernel Bar & Kitchen, in March 2017. The name for the restaurant was inspired by the hill at St. Canice’s Cathedral, which is the place from which Kilkenny City grew.

When you strip time right back, it’s the town’s true centre. Now that’s something that inspires us. Simplicity and originality. Taste it in our food and enjoy it in our atmosphere. It’s what we’re all about.

Located in the Kilkenny Inn Hotel, the restaurant is decorated with faux wood panelling, Moroccan style wall tiles and colourful lighting.

Kernel offers food throughout the day, with breakfast served until noon, followed by options like all-day brunch and afternoon tea.

Casual dining options are served on the lunch and dinner menu, with artfully presented dishes like Ham Hock Scotch Egg, Baked Hake, Irish Angus Sirloin Steak and a Halloumi Cheese, Aubergine, Tomato Relish, Creme Fraiche Burger appearing on the menu.

Describing her restaurant’s food, Maria says: “We serve casual food using the finest local quality ingredients. Dinner ranges from small plates to sharing platters, including Evening Tea and all dishes incorporate the best seasonal produce from our local suppliers.”

Kernel Bar & Kitchen also serves a number of delectable drinks: “We serve the finest craft beers & ciders and a curated selection of wines by the glass, not to mention a range of welcome cocktails too.”

Since opening five months ago, Kernel Bar & Kitchen has had a steady flow of customers and is enjoying a growing reputation within Kilkenny.

Utilising local produce, like Goatsbridge Trout, Dizzy Farm Goats Cheese, Vincent Grace Vegetables and Summerhill Farm Beef, the food at Kernel is “simple, tasty and high quality”, with Maria enjoying the opportunity to cook dishes that both “look appealing and taste nice on plates”.

She has found that the most popular dishes on the menu are the Trout Croquettes, the Kernel Burger and the Sizzling Chocolate Brownie.

Though long hours are a source of exhaustion, Maria loves having the opportunity to “create new dishes and see happy customers” enter and leave the restaurant.

With her extensive experience in the food industry, Maria’s best advice for a young chef starting out in the business is to “work in the best restaurants and learn as much as possible.”

Aspiring chefs might want to consider visiting the restaurants Maria really loves at the moment: “I really like Kai in Galway, Greenhouse in Dublin, Champagne in Kilkenny. They are all doing lots of fabulous dishes.”

While Kernel Bar & Restaurant has only been open for 5 months, Maria has big plans for the future, one of which includes opening another restaurant – watch this space!


Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.

Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with combines her love of food and travel.

Sarah Glascott Sarah Glascott

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