The most frequent question I’ve been asked over the last few weeks is “Well, what was it like to start a pop up?”
I don’t think this piece will truly convey the effort that was put in by so many of my friends (a lot of friend bribing went down). Without their help, the pop up simply could not have happened.
Firstly, I must say thank you to Jess and Killian from Mamó, who not only entrusted me with their restaurant but put their well earned reputation on the line to allow someone else to send food from their kitchen into their dining room. I am extremely grateful for their trust.
OK, I won’t bore you guys with the simple logistics of the behind the scenes restaurant stuff. All I’ll say is running a pop up for an extended time is like running a new restaurant. I have personally never done anything like this before and the experience was definitely something I will happily never forget.
How did this all come to be? A random friendly text from Jess asking what I was up to for January, and if I would like to use their restaurant while they took a well-earned vacation. With January traditionally being a down month for restaurants after the slog that is December, I jumped on the opportunity to create a fun escape for people in this dark, cold month.
Stepping into someone else’s restaurant is very discombobulating for sure. How do I change the light bulbs…? And all that kind of thing.
The date was set and the tickets booked. Perfecting the menu was the next step. As a chef for nearly 20 years, I have a network of fantastic Irish suppliers that were more than happy to help (more favours), selecting the best produce to create a luxurious menu filled with incredible Irish ingredients and well yes, loads of black truffle. Sure feck it, it was January!
Creating a menu is the best part of being a chef, but to do that, you must form relationships in order to get the good stuff. I lived in London for a few years and though yes, there are long forged relationships with suppliers there, I never experienced the sense of community like we have here in Ireland. These relationships are what gives a chef the tools to create and inspire a dish on a menu. The process for menu creation usually involves lots of tea and coffee with farmers, fishmongers and veg suppliers. That’s exactly what I did to create my menu for the pop up. I have met some incredible growers and producers from all over Ireland and picking which ones to showcase was difficult, but this time around, I chose some of my absolute favourites.
Let’s talk suppliers!
Rings Farm, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny
Sean Ring is a maverick. In my humble opinion, Ring’s is the best chicken in Ireland. Sean walked in the back door of Chapter One 8 years ago and proclaimed he had “the best chicken in Ireland”. He wasn’t wrong. Just don’t get stuck having a chat with him, you’ll be talking for hours.
Wrights of Marino, Fairview, Co Dublin
Jonathan Wright sometimes gets confused with being my brother. I’m OK with that because his family’s seafood is second to none. The shop is in Fairview, but lucky for me, the main hub is located on the West Pier in Howth. I definitely didn’t mind strolling over in the morning to pick up my shellfish. He also loves a good chat!
Hugh Maguire and Son Smokehouse, Ashbourne, Co Meath
I first met Hugh when I was 20. I was a finalist in the Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year and I was tasked with creating a dish with pork. I googled the best pork butcher, and Hugh’s shop in Ashbourne came up. I spent the day learning how to make black pudding and well, I have worked with Hugh pretty much ever since.
Keeling’s fresh vegetables, St Margarets, Co Dublin
Every chef needs a good veg person, and for me that person is Kevin O’Leary. Kevin has helped me select the best Irish vegetables for years from beautiful sweet Irish celeriac, carrots and onions, to fantastic artichokes. Kevin always has a smile on his face, and will literally bend over backwards to deliver the most delicious fresh vegetables. I once travelled to the famous Rungis Market in Paris with Kevin; I have never seen someone so excited about an airplane hangar-sized room filled with the most beautiful fruits from all over the world.
La Rousse Foods, Cherry Orchard, Co Dublin
The kitchen larder is the most important arsenal any chef can have, and La Rousse foods is a company that supplies top quality ingredients essential to create exciting food. From 3 year old Parmigiano Reggiano, to exquisite truffles, to stunning Japanese vinegars and everything in between. It is a company run by chefs for chefs, what more would you want?
Redmond’s Fine Foods, Naas, Co Kildare
As the name suggests, Redmond’s supplies some of the finer things in life, such as caviar and superb smoked eel. Rocky (yes, that’s his name) Redmond is the man behind this swanky purveyor of the good life. Again, as passionate about what he does as any one above.
It’s time for wine!
With the menu sorted, I needed to enlist the help of a sommelier. Colm Douglas is an encyclopaedia of wine knowledge. Colm works for a wine importer called Le Caveau in Dublin. I first met him almost 18 years ago, when as a young chef, I wanted to learn everything about hospitality, and wine in particular was something very exciting to me. I begged him for a part-time job and the rest was history; we’ve been friends ever since.
I asked Colm to ‘help’ me for a few weekends. This is an understatement – without Colm’s help, I would have been lost. We tasted dozens of wines of different styles, and eventually, after many long evenings of incredible wines, we were set on a list of interesting matches, and ended the menu with a dessert all comprising of one particular style.
So what was the menu?
The beginning of the year is usually a hard time for cooking in general. Every chef gets excited about spring – greens are the star. Think fresh asparagus, peas and wild garlic. Autumn gets my juices going; beautiful game, mushrooms and the thought of rich comfort food.
The meal began with a few small snacks. First, a Mini Quail Scotch Egg using sausage meat from Hugh Maguire and his son Hugh Jr, topped with Dalkey mustard and Espelette pepper. The second snack was a 3-year aged Parmesan Gouger filled with a puree of Hokkaido pumpkin, pickled walnut and grated Young Buck cheese from Mike Thompson in Northern Ireland.
Winter always means root vegetables feature heavily on menus, which I absolutely love. However, for me, there is only one star root in the winter, and it has to be the Jerusalem artichoke. My first course after the snacks was all about this amazing vegetable. The artichoke is roasted in a bath of foaming butter with loads of woody herbs. A dressing is then made from the butter with hazelnuts, Coolea cheese and loads of black truffle. This was served with Jamon Iberico, fresh pear and more truffle.
The second course was a celebration of the sea. A much lighter dish of chopped mussel, raw diced scallop, smoked eel, kohlrabi, Taramasalata and Ossetra caviar, with a dressing made of the juice from the mussels, Bonito vinegar and Yuzu. I know, try explaining that to 37 people all night! On the first night, this was accompanied by an ‘Irish Muffin’, but after trying the dish again, I felt it didn’t need it. The dish is something I loved eating, and I thought it would be a nice, light dish to put peoples’ palate in another direction. Top quality seafood is honestly one of my favourite things in the world.
The third course was a pasta course, ‘Uovo in Raviolo.’ Ok, the only reason this dish was on the menu was simply, it is one of my wife’s favourite dishes. It originated in Emilia-Romagna in a restaurant called Ristorante San Domenico in 1974. It is simply a pleasure to make and equally pleasurable to serve to guests. Cut the thin pasta to reveal the liquid gold inside. And of course, a bit more truffle (don’t be at-ing me!)
The main course was Sean Ring’s amazing chicken, smoked bacon from Hugh and marinated foie gras pie, made fresh before each service. They must be glazed with egg wash 6 times before they get scored. This was my favourite job every day and was always just completed with minutes to spare. The sauce was a deep rich chicken jus finished with foie gras butter made with the foie gras scraps and chopped black truffle, Sauce Perigueux. The chicken is marinated in oxidised white Rioja for 2 days before being carefully placed in the pie. This dish obviously takes a lot of work but is so worth it.
The dessert was a marriage of the kitchen and the wine cellar. Myself and Colm wanted to create a dish that used only one main ingredient. We decided to make a dessert using a wine from Jurancon, a region in the south west of France near Toulouse. The wine is produced by a gentleman named Charles Hours and the grape is Petit Manseng, so we basically loaded the dessert with as much of this as possible. I am very fortunate to have the recipe for Guy Savoy’s creme caramel which is made with an obscene amount of Sauternes, which is the Semillon grape, but swapping them made a super result. Serving this with a fresh jelly of the wine and golden raisins poached in the wine made for a temperature and textural onslaught of the same ingredient.
I must admit, I had not cooked for a full restaurant since my departure from Chapter One over 18 months ago. To say I was nervous was also an understatement. Jess and Killian kindly loaned some of their incredible Mamó staff for service each day, which was definitely a relief and they were absolute professionals. It was a pleasure to work with such a team of hard working people. Each service was from 7pm and was broken into seatings at 7pm, 7.30pm, 8pm and 8.30pm. Lunch was from 1pm and the same principle applied. This allowed us to look after 8-10 covers every 30 minutes or so, which made managing the kitchen and floor a bit easier for me.
The first night we left at 3am after resetting the room, polishing all of the cutlery and glasses for the next day’s service, but don’t feel bad for us – it definitely got a lot easier after the first night and we were home much earlier.
I’m a Northsider and Howth has always had a special place in my heart. Spending the goods of a month out there was not only challenging at times, but ultimately rewarding. I really hope I created something that was not too serious and fun, but gave my guests a sense of my humour and with some tasty grub and wine to go with it.
I will be hosting a series of pop ups over the next few months so stay tuned and I hope to see you at my next one. Happy cooking!
For the last 6 years Eric Matthews was the head chef at Dublin’s famous Michelin starred Chapter One. Eric has over 18 years experience working in Michelin starred restaurants around the globe, having trained under some of the best chefs in Ireland and internationally, including Heston Blumenthal, Philip Howard and Guillame Brahimi. This year Eric was named in The Independent’s annual Top 50 People to Watch in 2022. Eric is also a food content creator and a regular at Taste of Dublin. More recently Eric was a judge on the RTE series ‘Battle of the Food Trucks’.
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