Chef Cúán Greene represents the future of Irish cuisine, and after years of working abroad for some of the best in the business, he feels it’s time to return to Irish shores and realise his vision – Ómós.
Greene speaks four languages – English, Spanish, French and his native tongue, Gaeilge. When the chef opened his speech at Food On The Edge this year, he did so in Irish. It somehow captured the essence of what he is aiming to achieve once his new restaurant Ómós opens.
With 15 years’ experience of different culinary cultures at restaurants like Noma, Geranium, and Quique Dacosta, Greene feels the time is right to create something new in Ireland. For Ireland, it feels like the right chef at the right time in the right place. A fluency in the great food languages and cuisines can now be utilised to create a more authentic native food culture at home.
Photo Credit: David Sexton (left) and Shantanu Starick (right)
“I think I’ve always wanted to be an owner. Ever since I was 15 and I realised I loved cooking,” says Greene. “I was working at my first kitchen job in a little abbey in France. I remember thinking that this was definitely what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That was it, there was no other way. I just loved it. I knew I was good at it. I was getting gratification from it, encouragement from my peers, other chefs, saying you’re quite good at this. I wanted to go all the way."
Greene found his medium at an early age, but the artistic sensibility is still very evident in his approach to cooking.
“I haven’t done any other job. I dabbled in art, my parents are both artists, my mother’s a glassblower and my dad’s a graphic designer. My family are all creatives. My mum takes a similar approach in her discipline as I do with food. My dad designs whiskey and wine labels. He works on the job going to châteaus to really understand what the place is about before he designs."
“Working in all these restaurants – I learned about avant-garde in Spain, then I went to Copenhagen and really fell in love with the Nordic food culture because I could really see that correlation between Ireland and Denmark. The ingredients are the same, their climate is more harsh, but there's a lot of similarities. The soul and the integrity of the cooking in Scandinavia – the skill, the focus on the provenance, and just the mind-set. It was very true to my upbringing and culture.”
Photo Credit: David Sexton
‘Ómós’ means tribute in Irish, and it speaks of Greene’s motivation. While he’s an ambitious young chef and is chasing excellence, the desire to create community and to pay tribute to the land, the people and the culture of his birth is at the heart of this new endeavour. Ómós is yet to open and Greene is currently scouting locations.
“Along that whole journey, I knew I wanted to come home and realise my own vision. It’s almost a sense of duty. It’s in the word ‘ómós’ – duty and respect. I think that sense of duty is within us. A sense of place – I’m not one to say Ireland has the best produce in the world, but I’m home because I have that sense of duty. I feel a deep connection. There’s massive opportunity to create something special with what we have. We can grow."
“We need to recreate those supply chains. Get our suppliers and producers to really understand what we really want. There was a time when chefs here were all looking for imported products, but that has changed. I’m not sure if all the suppliers really get that. The organic growers do, but we don’t have these huge organic, family-led farms, like Søren Wiuff, who grows asparagus and all kinds of incredible produce and can supply half of Copenhagen. That just doesn’t exist here. The produce is depleted in a couple of weeks, if you take 80 kilos of this or 80 kilos of that. I believe it’s because the demand hasn’t been there through the decades.”
Ireland has come a long way in recent years in respect to its food culture, thanks to the good work of people like Myrtle Allen and JP McMahon, but the future of the country’s food system is in the hands of the next generation, and it will depend on a community of people working together. Chefs are uniquely placed to help catalyse that change.
Photo Credit: David Sexton
“I’ve seen enormous respect for restaurants, people seem to listen to chefs,” says Greene. “Even at Food On The Edge, when chefs speak you can see people’s ears prick up, there’s tremendous love there. It’s kind of strange to be honest, because we tend to be so negative about our industry but people still adore it so much, there seems to be something unbalanced about it. I wonder if the restaurant needs to be created for people to listen. I’m not sure if my message gets across as much as it should."
“I know what I do resonates with people and I feel very humbled about that. I would love nothing more than for people to instantly connect with what I’m doing. What I really want is to create that community. I would have said a few years ago my decision-making was based on ego – I wanted a fine-dining restaurant, I want three Michelin stars. I still very much respect Michelin and I respect fine dining and the 50 Best, but my interest is really about community and maintaining integrity."