If a chef’s knife could talk, what secrets about its master’s work life would we be able to coax out of it? “Japanese chefs believe our soul goes into our knives once we start using them,” the original Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto once said: “You wouldn’t put your soul in a dishwasher.”
We talked to five Dublin chefs about the essentials of their kitchen kit. What would they save if their kitchens went up in smoke? What do they use every day? Which kitchen utensil is a window to their soul? We’ll let the chefs tell you about their connection to two knives, a spoon, silicon molds and a microplane.
“One of the best things about working in 3FE is the creativity in the menu, which we change every week,” says Holly Dalton, who started working in 3FE in March 2016 as Senior Chef before taking over as Head Chef from Hilary O’Hagan-Brennan, who is now 3FE’s Executive Chef. Originally from Waterford, Dalton studied Culinary Arts in DIT before working at two Michelin-star restaurant Frantzén in Stockhom and as Chef de Partie at Restaurant 41 on Stephen’s Green in Dublin. O’Hagan-Brennan “I have always been really into street food but I realised that if I wanted to get the best training in food, I would have to go down the fine dining route.” Along the way, she met a knife in the Kappabashi neighbourhood in Japan that stole her heart.
A Japanese knife is the star of Grainne O’Keeffe’s kitchen kit, too. O’Keeffe, who is also a DIT graduate, is part of the team of five chefs at Bastible in Portobello. Before she had left college, she worked in Il Segreto and The Merrion Hotel. She started as a Chef de Partie in Pichet in 2012 and was Head Chef by the time she moved on in October 2016. Alongside her friend Bobby Lawn, she created a pop-up project called Big Pop Up in 2015. She takes inspiration from travelling which she does whenever she can. “I see cooking as a career rather than a job,” says O’Keeffe. “I think it’s better to work at something you really enjoy because you’re going to spend half your life doing it. Chefs work for 80 hours a week but I don’t think I could work in an office for 40 hours because I’d be too bored. My personality suits working in the kitchen.”
Damien Grey is one half of the Michelin-starred Heron & Grey, an unassuming restaurant hidden away in The Blackrock Market. For Grey, moving between his home country of Australia and adopted home of Ireland not only informed his cooking style but accidentally (or so he says) led him to bonding with a now beloved spoon. “You’re going to get me into trouble with this article,” Grey laughs. We are merely reporting what happened and we can’t take any responsibility for the fact that Grey stole a spoon from another Michelin-starred Dublin restaurant.
Kwanghi Chan got his start in cooking while working in his family’s Chinese restaurant in his hometown of Buncrana in County Donegal. He was Head Chef at the Michelin-starred Cliff House Hotel in Waterford, and designed the culinary concept at Dublin’s Söder + Ko. He won a silver medal in the 2008 Germany Culinary Olympics and he has his own range of sauces known as ChanChan (www.chanchansauce.com) inspired by his place of birth, Hong Kong. Most recently, he has teamed up with the Chinese-American food writer, Mei Chin, to create Sláint-Chi, an exploration into the Chinese-Irish food culture. Among other cultural and culinary links, they’re currently trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious spicebag, which appears to be a distinctly Chinese-Irish phenomenon. For Chan, apart from his knives, he singled out his microplane as the source of the extra zest to his cooking.
Desserts are Aoife Noonan’s speciality and her essential piece of kitchen kit lets her do marvellous things with edible shapes. Noonan worked at the two Michelin-starred Patrick Guilbaud’s for nearly four years before becoming the Executive Pastry Chef for John Farrell’s stable of restaurants. “It allows me to be creative in completely different ways because each restaurant is so different. We have the dessert trolly at Luna which gives us room to have lots of fun, whereas the desserts at 777 have to reflect the contemporary Mexican menu. I’m currently working on a tequila roasted and caramelised pineapple with coconut ice cream. It’s about taking elements from each menu and interpreting them in your own way to make it your own.”
Head Chef at 3FE (www.3fe.com)
A Kappabashi Knife
“The way I feel about my knife is borderline romantic because I love it so much. Last summer, I got the chance to go over to Tokyo with my boyfriend Seb. Japan is one of the biggest influences in how I cook. We stayed in an Air BnB in a neighbourhood called Kapabashi, famous for its kitchen equipment shops. There is one street that only focuses on knives. We spent a whole day walking up and down this street. In one of the shops, I saw a photo of one of my heroes, David Chang, who had bought a knife in this particular shop. That’s where I found my knife. It’s not only incredibly beautiful, but it’s super light and insanely sharp. I have a joke at work that when I take it out of its sheath it’s cut a few minutes out of my day. It’s so sharp it’s as if it could cut through time. There are so many amazing Japanese knives, such as Miyabi and Globo, but they’re mass-produced. My knife was made in a little workshop in the back of this shop, with Japanese coy fish carved on to the blade. It cost me around €500 but it was so worth it. Every timeI use it, it makes me happy. I look forward to getting the chance to use it, as I only use it on meat and fish. I only ever use it sparingly, out of respect for the knife and the produce. A lot of my food values are based on Japanese food values so this knife is a lifetime investment. It’s priceless.”
Head Chef Heron & Grey (www.heronandgrey.com)
Ross Lewis’ Spoon
“You’re going to get me into trouble with this piece because my essential piece is a spoon I accidentally stole from Ross Lewis’ kitchen in Chapter One. I worked with Ross at Chapter One in 2010 and then I went back home to Australia for a couple of years. When I opened up my knife bag, I realised I had a little stowaway from Ross’ kitchen. It was a spoon I had used a couple of times before I had left. I was determined to return it to Ross so I was really protective over the spoon and wouldn’t let anyone else use it. I hadn’t bonded with the spoon at that point but I wanted to keep it safe so I could bring it back to Ireland and give it back to Ross. But then I started using it myself and somewhere along the way I fell in love with it. In size, it’s somewhere between a chef’s spoon and a tablespoon. It’s got a good feel and weight. It’s perfect for tasting as well as for plating up. I’ve stopped services for this spoon because I’ve lost it momentarily. I’m addicted to it. Even though I’ve been back in Ireland for a couple of years, Ross is definitely not getting the spoon back. He still doesn’t know I have it.”
Chef at Bastible (www.bastible.com)
“I’ve had my Yoshihiro knife about a year and a half and I use it every day. I got it on Amazon, which is a great place to buy knives if you’re shipping from overseas. Before this knife, I’d always used German knives but I decided to invest in a Japanese knife when I saw a couple of other chefs working with them. Japanese knives are lighter and easier to handle. They’re sharper, and they stay sharper. It’s a personal thing but I find the Japanese knife more versatile and durable. The 7inch might seem a little small for a chefs knife but it’s perfect for me, and I use it for prepping vegetables and cutting herbs. I would rarely let anyone else use it. You get attached to your knife and you don’t want someone dulling the blade. I have a few other knives but this is the one that I couldn’t be without.”
Name: Kwanghi Chan
Restaurant: Chef / creator of Chan Chan Sauces / one half of Sláint-Chi (www.slaintchi.com)
“Apart from my knives, my microplane is the piece of kitchen kit that I bring everywhere. I like using a really fine microplane for grating lemons and limes, or any citrus fruit. I also use it to grate frozen foie gras over a plate or for grating chocolate. One of my dishes is duck featuring the lovely Skeaghanore duck, paired with finely grated white chocolate and dehydrated black olives. It’s all about the size of the shavings. You want a microplane that’s fine. You don’t want big heavy rinds off your lemon. You just want the lightest fragments from the outer skin, to avoid bitterness. The microplane lets you do this. You might say it’s a grate tool. I always keep my microplane safe and hidden, alongside my knives. Everybody I work with knows not to touch my knives. Every chef has their own kit. It’s a thing in the kitchen. You don’t touch someone’s knife.”
Name: Aoife Noonan
Restaurant: Executive Pastry Chef at Luna, 777, Butcher’s Grill, Dillingers and Super Miss Sue
Utensil: Silicon molds
“The first time I used silicon molds was when I was Head Pastry Chef at Patrick Guildbaud’s. I use a brand called Silkomart and the molds come in all different shapes and sizes. You could have domes, spheres and cubes. I love using them because it’s something you wouldn’t use elsewhere in kitchens outside of the pastry area. At Luna, we have a really fun dessert trolley and for Christmas time, we made a giant pyramid of hazelnut-filled chocolate spheres, inspired by the Ferrero Rocher pyramid from the classic ad. To make it work, I needed perfectly round spheres of chocolate. Without these molds, I wouldn’t be able to make a perfect dome. These perfect chocolate ganache spheres had smaller spheres within them filled with hazelnut liquor. We make those spheres first and then the chocolate spheres. It’s a different way with creativity and desserts. You’re not just putting a slice of cake on the plate. You can put a cube of chocolate ganache that has another shape inside of it. The molds allow me to do something both creative and with consistent precision in my work.”
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Killian Broderick