JP McMahon

JP McMahon
A close-up of JP McMahon

JP McMahon

JP McMahon is one of Ireland’s most prominent chefs. A passionate advocate of wild, seasonal and sustainable ingredients from the west of the country, he is committed to promoting the food of Galway, and to producing world-class, contemporary Irish cuisine. His Michelin-star restaurant Aniar does both, but it also feeds back into the local community on a much deeper level. His annual Food On The Edge symposium in Galway reaches even further afield, with its roll call of top chefs from all over the world. Which is why JP McMahon is one of the most influential people in European gastronomy today.

The Dublin-born chef had his first food epiphany as a child while on holiday in Tipperary. While the rest of the family had burgers, he opted for a spaghetti bolognese, which was a revelation to the youngster. It set him on a course of discovery that would see him work in various kitchens, while also harbouring an ambition to become a writer. It wasn’t until 2008 that he and his wife Drigin Gaffey decided to open their first venue, a Spanish restaurant called Cava. It quickly won a reputation for serving some of the best tapas in Ireland, and it gave McMahon the confidence to embark on his most ambitious restaurant project to date.

Aniar (meaning ‘west’ in Gaelic) is a love letter to the produce and landscape of the West of Ireland and its rugged coast. Almost every ingredient used here is either native to the local region or from somewhere else in Ireland, whether it’s foraged seaweed and Galway Bay oysters, or seasonal sea urchins and truffles. Terroir is the central theme, and although the menu changes daily, it is certain to have a distinctive local flavour that mirrors McMahon’s cooking philosophy. Pickled, smoked, cured and fermented ingredients hint at his commitment to the environment, using the methods of the past in order to inspire future sustainability.

Among JP McMahon’s signature dishes are his Galway Bay oyster with pickled seaweed, oyster emulsion and sea herbs. His Dexter beef tartare, smoked egg yolk and pepper dulse seaweed showcases some of the very best farmed and foraged ingredients in the country. Meanwhile, his cod and seaweed beurre blanc with trout roe reveals the very best of the west coast of Ireland.

Aniar has retained a Michelin star since 2013, but its significance locally has more impact than mere awards. McMahon founded the Aniar School Project, in which he teaches children of all ages about the importance of food. And the Aniar Cookery School, also led by McMahon, aims to instruct chefs of all levels how to cook local ingredients sustainably. The conversation about the environment doesn’t stop there, however.

At the annual Food On The Edge symposium, chefs from around the world gather in Galway to discuss the future of food. As founder and director, McMahon plays a key role in setting the agenda, but with participants of the calibre of Massimo Bottura, Elena Arzak, Matt Orlando and Amanda Cohen, the discussion frequently branches out in all kinds of fascinating tangents, from food waste to mental health. The idea is to bring people together to share ideas and form powerful collaborations that can help change the way we think about food. Some of the chefs also participate in Aniar’s Chef Swap initiative, which sees guest chefs from all over the world take over the kitchen and create their own menu.

It’s this ethos of collaboration that typifies JP McMahon’s work, not only as a chef, but also as a culinary thought leader. Whether it’s local food producers in the West of Ireland, or celebrated chefs from the other side of the world, the emphasis is on working together to ensure a better future for all. That way, the author of the book 10,000 Years Of Irish Food is aiming to ensure another 10,000 more.