|Since he was crowned the best young chef in the world at a star-studded ceremony in Milan, 23-year-old MARK MORIARTY’s career has gone stratospheric. We caught up with the Dubliner as he got ready to go on air at RTÉ’s the Today Show.
Success in the Euro-Toques Ireland Young Chef of the Year competition prompted Mark Moriarty, the DIT graduate and rising star of Irish kitchens, to enter the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Awards – an exciting new competition designed to find the most talented young chef in the world.
The Dubliner, who first fell in love with cooking while holidaying in his dad’s native Kerry as a child, was one of 3,000 aspiring young culinary stars from across the globe to enter the competition. ‘After winning the Euro-Toques Ireland Young Chef of the Year in 2013 I said I’d never do another competition. They’re great fun and so exciting but they take up so much of your time,’ explains Mark.
When the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Awards were launched he couldn’t resist entering however. ‘I saw it as a great opportunity to build my profile and I knew I could do well in the competition.’
Mark beat hundreds of Irish and UK chefs to win a place at the final, where he was mentored by renowned chef Clare Smyth of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
After nine months of training and preparation he pitted his skills against 19 other finalists from around the world, cooking his signature dish ‘Celeriac baked in barley and fermented hay, cured and smoked celeriac, hazelnut, celeriac and toasted hay tea’.
‘It was so exciting to take part in the final. I wasn’t really nervous, I just wanted to soak it all up. It was a much bigger deal than I realised – the organisers even brought in the X Factor production team to run the event. I loved every minute of it and winning was absolutely amazing – for me, and for Ireland.
The feedback I got from everyone at home was unbelievable, Twitter went crazy. There was a genuine sense of pride that an Irish chef had won.’
Path to Success
Passionate about fishing, Mark’s love of food began as a teenager when he started cooking his catch during his summer holidays in Ventry. ‘I had all this great produce and I wanted to know what I could do with it. I started watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on TV and I got really into it.
I had a great Home Ec teacher in school at CBC Monkstown, Mr Dooley, and he encouraged me so I started working in the Chart House in Dingle on my summer holidays. The head chef, Noel Enright, was very good to me and I got a good grounding in the basics. He taught me all about simple food, done well.’
Keen to be a chef, Mark sent letters to Ireland’s best chefs asking for advice and experience. ‘Kevin Thornton, Derry Clarke and Neven Maguire all responded and I got work experience with them. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a chef I would really recommend getting experience before you go to college – tweet or email chefs and ask if you can get some work experience in their kitchen.
Show them that you’re interested and you’re willing to work hard.’ Mark worked in The Greenhouse, the hot new fine dining restaurant owned by Eamonn O’Reilly and led by talented Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen, while studying for his degree in Culinary Arts at DIT, and later at the then Michelin-starred Thornton’s Restaurant. ‘I was very, very focused about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I used to work a 35-hour week on top of college and I used my college internship to get a foothold in The Greenhouse and Thornton’s.
It’s important to have balance though. You can work hard, but you need to enjoy the college experience too. You can only be 21 and a student once.’
Mark’s determination to get the right balance between work and life led him to set up the popup restaurant, The Culinary Counter, with his friend Ciaran Sweeney after college. ‘In the pop up I can work really hard for three or four weeks in a row, then I can go on holiday to Thailand with my girlfriend.
It’s all about leading a balanced life. I don’t have to worry about a bank loan or paying rent on a premises. Maybe further down the line I might open my own restaurant, but right now I am enjoying the freedom The Culinary Counter gives me.’ Not being tied to a full-time restaurant also gives Mark the freedom to pursue all the opportunities that have come his way since winning the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Award. As we talk he is prepping for filming the Today Show on RTÉ.
The week previously he ran a pop-up in London’s Selfridge’s, prior to that he was in Milan. By the end of his year as the World’s Best Young Chef, Mark will have travelled to the US, Europe, Asia and Australia promoting Irish food and growing his profile in the international culinary community.
With so much success at a young age, what advice does Mark offer budding chefs? ‘Get some experience. Your first placement is very, very important. Go straight to the top and see what it’s like working in high-end restaurants.
Throw yourself in at the deep end. Not everyone makes it, some leave college after their first year, so it’s good to get experience first to see if you like this industry. To succeed as a chef you need to have a certain stamina and work ethic. You need to be prepared to work long hours and stand in the heat all day, but if you like it, it’s an incredibly satisfying and creative industry. You’ll never know if it’s for you until you try it.’