Meeran Manzoor On Being Named Ireland’s Chef Of The Year

Meeran Manzoor, executive head chef of the Blue Haven Collection and Rare restaurant, speaks to Robert McHugh about how his unique upbringing influences his cooking style. Meeran Manzoor took home gold in Ireland’s Chef of the Year category at the Virgin Media Business Gold Medal Awards in January.  The menu in Rare is influenced by Manzoor’s Tamil Nadu heritage. Diners can choose from a five- or seven-course tasting menu, which are both available with wine pairings. The Blue Haven Collection includes the Blue Haven Hotel, the Old Bank Townhouse, the Schull Harbour Hotel, Hamlets Bar & Kitchen, Kiely’s of Cork and the Black Barrel, Midleton. Rare at the Blue Haven is located in the Blue Haven Hotel on Pearse Street, Kinsale, Co. Cork.

 

In an exclusive interview with Hospitality Ireland, Manzoor discusses his pride at being named Ireland’s Chef of the Year and how his unique upbringing influences his cooking style.

 

You took home gold in Irelands Chef of the Year category at the Virgin Media Business Gold Medal Awards. How did it feel to win such an honour?

It feels amazing. It is a great motivation factor for the team. Recognition is always good, and this is the highest form of that – particularly during a difficult time for the hospitality industry.

 

Tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.

I am from Chandigarh, in India. I moved to London when I was 18. I studied in the University of West London and studied culinary arts there. I worked in Metropolitan Park Lane and then the Dorchester. I then went on to Florida, in the USA, for one and a half years. I went to Belgium for two years, and then I arrived in Ireland.

 

What brought you to Cork?

To be honest, I was in London for six years, and I didn’t want to go back. I felt I did my time there. London was too hectic. You travel one and a half hours to go to work, and then another hour and a half to get home. It was always running, running. It is good to have better life balance. I chose to come to Ireland. Out of all the countries I have visited, Ireland took me the most time to settle in. I came to Cork in February, and it was very quiet. The week after I landed, it was snowing heavily – everything was shut down. I thought, What is happening?!

 

I came had come straight from Belgium, and everything was shut down, and there was no electricity in the place where I lived. This made me feel apprehensive, but, after three months, I knew I had made the best decision of my life. I felt very, very at home.

 

What first drew you to hospitality?

I don’t know. Now that I think back, all my childhood memories and all the movies I watched when I was a kid – everything was related to cooking. I remember being three or four years old, and it was all related to food and cooking. Now it makes sense that I am a chef because I have always enjoyed food, and memories around food have always lasted longer for me.

 

Once I became a professional chef, it gave me the feeling that I could put a smile on people’s faces and create memories for them. That gives me a great sense of pride and happiness.

 

What was your first big role? What was that like?

My first major role was my job as a commis chef. That was the most nerve-racking period of my career.

 

My first six months in the Metropolitan Hotel in Park Lane – I was so nervous, but, at the same time, I knew I had to do it. I have to succeed, and I have to give everything I have to learn everything I can.

 

For example, back home, we don’t have parsley. Every time I was told to bring parsley, I would bring coriander because they both look the same in the walk-in fridges. There were certain ingredients that I would never use back home. I had to learn what certain herb I could use for fish or meat. I put in a lot of work in the first six months of my career to learn as much as possible.

 

There were a lot of sleepless nights. It was the biggest role that I ever had. I had a very good team, who I could shadow. I had to give more, so that they would teach me more.

 

Tell us about the Blue Haven Collection and Rare restaurant – the ethos, food, service, etc.

In Blue Haven in Kinsale, we have three restaurants. There are three different restaurants and three different concepts under one roof.

 

Rare is a restaurant [to which] I bring my own heritage and values, in terms of food. I use many of the techniques that I learned in Europe with Irish produce and ingredients.

 

What makes a great restaurant?

It is a package, where you give a guest a wholesome experience, where everything clicks, not just the food.

A great restaurant is one that makes you feel at ease. It should not feel stiff or uncomfortable. It should be light-hearted, and you should feel [like] yourself. It should be a place to create memories, laugh, and have good food. That way, you will always come back.

 

What are the major challenges at the moment?

The VAT rate increase. Businesses are closing every day in this country. Staffing has also been a big issue for a long time.

 

For me, the whole food culture in Ireland offers so much. When I first arrived, I was impressed by the abundance of produce, such as great dairy, great meat. There is also great seafood, seasonal vegetables, and cheese. Everything is just here on our doorstep in every county and city. We hardly use any produce outside of Cork.

 

People need to appreciate more of what we have in this country. We send our shellfish to Spain and other European countries. People go to these countries and eat food there and rave about it, but sometimes we don’t know that it is shipped from West Cork!

 

Staffing issues, high costs and inflation are always there. It is part of being a business. There are good times and bad times. We need to educate people on how great the Irish food scene is, and the great producers that we have. If we support them, things will slowly change.

 

What are the main opportunities?

Ireland is filled with opportunities in terms of any food that you touch. There is always something that you can do with it. There is always something that you can do – fix something up and run with it.

 

For me, Ireland is the land of opportunity. There is so much potential here.

 

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I am actually expecting a child on St Patrick’s Weekend. What I am doing now and in four weeks won’t be relevant, you know! Photography is my hobby. I like cooking at home and going to other places to eat. In the last year, I have been visiting all the little cities and hidden gems across Ireland. That has been my recent hobby for the last six months.

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