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Tuesday 24 December 2013

THE restaurant industry is predominantly run by men. It's all about this, that and the other celebrity chef, shouty chef, pouty chef and idiot macho chef, some gazing from professionally posed photos looking as if they had discovered the atom rather than tossed a bit of squid on a hot pan and added a lash of sweet chilli sauce.

Female chefs don't seem to go on with any of that nonsense; they just concentrate on what they are supposed to focus on -- the food. Your sommelier too is generally male, as in most cases is the restaurant owner.

I gathered together some of our female cheffing stars in the Dylan Hotel, where the general manager is also female, the brilliant Grainne Ross. So, meet the women who told me how they started cheffing and each has passed on one of their particular favourite Christmas recipes for you to try.

Anita Thoma

Anita Thoma has been running the iconic Il Primo restaurant on Dublin's Montague Street for seven years with her business partner: "I am a chef, it's an integral part of who I am." Anita's father was also a chef, who came here from Switzerland in the Forties.

"I didn't start to cook in a serious way until I started training in Cathal Brugha Street. The ratio in my year was about 60 per cent women and 40 per cent men. The last time I checked, less than 10 per cent of the women were still working as chefs. It's a tough business and doesn't lend itself to family life, especially for women who are often the primary care-givers to children.

"Christmas Eve at home started for us with making a traditional Swiss bread called Zopf."


500g flour

15g yeast

10g salt

50g melted butter

3dl milk

1 egg

1 teaspoon sugar


Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Combine all the wet ingredients, excluding the egg, and add to the flour and salt. Mix and knead this dough for at least six to eight minutes.

Place the mixture back into the bowl and leave in a warm, draught-free place for at least 2 hours; it will double in size.

When the dough has doubled, cut it into three even amounts, roll into three long strips. Bring the ends together and plait the three strands. Place on a baking sheet and prove for another 30 to 40 minutes minimum.

Brush with an egg yolk and cook at 375F for approximately 25 minutes.

Emma Bowe

Emma Bowe is head chef patron at Seven Social restaurant on Benburb St, Dublin.

"I was raised in a big family in Bundoran, Donegal, where I was surrounded by amazing ingredients in our family restaurant. My gran baked fresh scones every morning, granddad grew root vegetables and dad experimented with the fresh fish caught in the bay. It was a real family operation where everyone had a role. I gained a huge respect for food and how it can bring people together.

"We stick to traditional fare on Christmas Day. I'm all about comfort food with a twist and a smidge of indulgence. This is my take on a classic; chicory and pomegranate are at their seasonal best in December."

Festive Crab Cocktail

300g organic or homemade mayonnaise

3 tbsp best quality ketchup, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp cognac, quarter tsp cayenne pepper, pinch sea salt

1 tbsp each (chopped) -- fresh dill, coriander, flatleaf parsley

1 tsp each (chopped) -- fresh basil and tarragon

400g cooked crabmeat, 200g cooked fresh water prawns

2 heads of white or pink chicory

500g mixed baby salad leaves

6 tbsp pomegranate seeds


Mix the first seven ingredients, the chopped herbs and a dash of water together to make the Marie Rose sauce.

Arrange three or four chicory leaves on each plate. Top with salad leaves. Sprinkle crab and prawns over the salad leaves. Drizzle Marie-Rose on top of the fish. Finish with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds (1 tbsp per person).

Maria Raftery

Liverpool-born Maria Raftery has been head chef at Zuni restaurant in Kilkenny for the past 14 years. Having studied hotel management, she joined the Forte Group where she became more interested in food and transferred to the kitchen as a commis chef.

"I loved the chaos and fast pace of the kitchen and being able to design and create new dishes. It's much harder than front of house but I get a much greater job satisfaction."

"Christmas Eve is my birthday. I always do a traditional dinner and keep it simple."

Roasted Goose Breast

Serves four (half goose breast per person)

2 Boneless, skin on goose breasts

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

5 cloves

A sprig of fresh thyme leaves

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

1 tablespoon of sea salt


Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat put the coriander seeds and cloves in the pan for two minutes, moving constantly to prevent them from burning. Remove from the heat.

Grind the warm toasted spices with thyme leaves, orange zest, salt and a sprinkling of black pepper using a pestle and mortar.

Rub the spice mixture all over the goose breasts. Put the goose breasts skin side down in the pan and cook for 8-10 minutes until skin is golden and crisp.

Remove the fat from the pan and put into a heat-proof dish, turn the breasts over and return the pan to a high heat and cook for approximately 2 minutes on the reverse side or until golden brown.

Then put the goose breasts on a baking tray, skin side up, and roast in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until cooked to medium.

Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Maria accompanies this with roast potatoes, Brussels sprout puree, cranberry and Port sauce.

Paula Stakelum

Paula Stakelum, from Thurles in Co Tipperary, is head pastry chef at the fabulous Ashford Castle in Cong, Co Mayo.

"I studied cookery in CIT in Cork for two years. I then spent five wonderful years in the Ardilaun in Galway working my way from commis chef to head pastry chef and also took a BA in Culinary Arts in GMIT specialising in pastry -- and I got a Distinction."

Paula joined the team at Ashford three years ago. "I love Christmas at the Castle. This year we have chosen to create a theme of red and gold. Gold will represent the luxury of Ashford and red will represent Red Carnation, our fabulous new owners. Guests will be greeted on arrival with a seven-tier red and gold Christmas cake.

Connemara peated whiskey creme

700g cream

100g milk

215g egg yolk

80g caster sugar

88g honey

80g Connemara whiskey

Half sheet of leaf gelatine


Place the cream and milk into a saucepan and bring to the boil.

Whisk the egg yolks, honey and sugar. Add the cream mix to the egg mix and combine, do not over-whisk the mixture. Return to the saucepan and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Remove from the heat and add the whiskey.

Place the mixture into a large bowl and place the bowl over a pot of water which is simmering at a low temperature. Leave this to simmer for 6 hours. After 6 hours, the mixture will appear scrambled -- this is what you want to achieve.

Soak the gelatine in cold water. When the gelatine is soft, remove and squeeze out any excess water. Add to the mixture.

Blend the mixture with a hand blender until completely smooth. Pour into glasses, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. Paula suggests you serve this with a sugar crumble and cinnamon-scented cranberries.

Kate Lawlor

Kate Lawlor is head chef and owner of Fenn's Quay Restaurant in Cork City.

"It has become tradition that my parents, sister, uncle, aunts and cousins pop in on Christmas Eve for the late lunch sitting.

"We dine late on Christmas Day and it's a family affair with all four of us taking a course each. This year I'm on starters with wild Irish game pithivier. Dad's on mains duty, mum on desserts and sister Edith on aperitifs. All and all, we have quite a relaxing Christmas Day."

Cork Dry Gin Jelly and Tonic Sorbet

Tonic Sorbet

500ml tonic water

Juice of 1 lime

100g castor sugar

Sprig mint


Place all ingredients in a pot on a medium heat and dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved, place in a shallow tray and put in freezer.

After 1 hour, move liquid around with a whisk, repeat after another hour and place in a tub.

Keep in freezer until needed (alternately use an ice cream machine to set it).

Gin Jelly

500ml sparkling water

2 slices lemon

80g sugar

Cap of Cork dry gin

4 sheets gelatine soaking

Drop of elderflower cordial


Place the gelatine in cold water for 10 minutes until it becomes jelly like.

In a separate pot, add the other ingredients, place on a medium heat and dissolve the sugar.

Add the gelatine and pass through a sieve, then place in jelly moulds (or glasses) and leave to set (for roughly four hours)

Lorraine Harmon

Lorraine Harmon, from Tallaght in Dublin, has been Sommelier at The Greenhouse in Dawson Street since it opened some two years ago.

"I did a Cert course in hospitality in Tallaght IT where one lecturer was very enthusiastic about wines. He did the WSET (Wine Spirit Education Trust) with us and when I moved to London I got a commis position at the Oxo Tower, where I learned a huge amount."

"It's been almost two years since The Greenhouse opened and there is lots of creative energy. We have a small wine list that changes frequently and a Surprise Tasting Menu with matching wines that changes almost daily."

Lorraine shares with us a great Christmas morning cocktail.

Seabuckthorn Bubbles

250g Seabuckthorn berries marinated in vanilla syrup

50g apple puree

Top up with Champagne or sparkling wine.

Grate a tiny amount of fresh ginger over.

Here's to the girls!

Irish Independent