Ruth Lappin, the 2015 winner of Euro-Toques Young Chef of the year, sat down with MenuPages and discussed the Euro-Toque competition, Irish cuisine, and her budding career. From Laois to New York, this exciting new Irish Chef has honed her skills at the likes of WD~50, and is currently working in the renowned Patrick Guilbaud’s.
You originally started out studying to be a nurse, what was the moment you realised you wanted to be a chef instead?
Well I always loved cooking with my family from a young age but it never seemed like a feasible option. Nursing was just not for me. I wasn’t really sure over the summer, and Culinary Arts was an option, then my Mum’s friend said “Well come and work in my kitchen for the summer and if you like it, go for it”, and I loved it. It was the kitchen in Castle Durrow, it’s a hotel in Laois.
You have previously honed your craft at the famous WD~50 in New York, how was that experience for you?
Unbelievable, I suppose coupled with the fact that I was in New York, it’s like nowhere else. WD~50, the attitudes in the kitchen, the staff were all so friendly, I was welcomed straight away, it was really nice. Sam the Head Chef is a woman, it was really nice to see the respect that everyone had for her, there was no shouting, there was no raising her voice, it was like a look and you knew that it was time to go and that you were on for the night then. It was nice to see that.
It was really interesting as well to see the molecular gastronomy side of food. In Patrick Guilbaud’s we use foams and gels but there it’s about not messing with the food too much, keeping it as close to nature as it possibly is. In WD~50 it was like you could do anything with it, it was cool.
Do you ever think about going back to work in New York?
I would yeah definitely. I know Kieran Elliot who won Euro-Toques around four years ago I think, he’s in New York having the time of his life. It seems like the competition can really open up doors for you, it’s a good thing to have.
The theme of this year’s competition was the “Origins of contemporary Irish cooking”, where did you look for inspiration, and what does the theme mean to you?
My thesis was on something I was interested in, Irish food. You recognise that Irish food is beef and dairy, but I was really happy that we got sole as our final culinary skills test. I think fish in Ireland is so bountiful and plentiful, and you know we’re an island surrounded by water, so it was really nice to be able to use Irish produce in that. The leaves that I used in my dish came from Chef Kieran’s garden the morning of the competition.
What was the dish that you ended up cooking?
I ended up cooking poached sole, glazed with lobster coral, with leeks and red pepper, and the sauce was a tarragon and lobster velouté.
You’ve been working in Patrick Guilbaud’s and were mentored throughout the competition by Head Chef Kieran Glennon, how much of an influence has he been in your career?
Huge, you can see the clogs always turning in his head, he’s always trying to come up with new things. It’s refreshing to see that he’s been there for 15 years and he’s still able to come up with these amazing new dishes. We have a new foie gras dish on the menu with pineapple, rum, ginger and cinnamon. He’s definitely been a huge influence. You can probably see it in the plate that I did as well, very into the style of Guilbaud’s, that’s all I know.
Next year you will be in London working under Clare Smyth at the three Michelin star “Restaurant Gordon Ramsay”, how excited are you for that experience?
So excited, it will be an exchange like no other. I did a demo with her yesterday, seeing the way that she works, so clean and so efficient plating at the end, so delicate the way that she places the herbs and flowers on the plate. I’m really interested to see more dishes from her. I had a look online and saw everything that she does, but to see it firsthand would be something else.
Did she give you any advice after you won?
No, but she said it would be interesting to see where I would be in the next couple of years, that you could really see where I come from with regards to the plates in Guilbaud’s, and would be really interested to see when I have my own personal touch what that will turn out into.
London has great food and drink, is there anything on your bucket list to check out while you’re there?
I think just to experience London, I’ve been there once for a competition but there was no time off to have a look around. I’d just be really interested in experiencing London, to eat in some of the restaurants that they have there, that would be amazing too.
What does the future of Irish cuisine look like to you?
To me I think it’s probably going to go back to its roots. I can see it progressing but I can see Irish produce being used much more widely, there is such a wide variety of products that we have access to in Ireland which people don’t know about. It will be exciting to see where Irish cuisine ends up.
What would you like to see more of and less of?
Not sure, that’s a hard question. Definitely not less of anything, everything’s kinda on the right track.
With such a demand for Irish chefs at the moment, what’s it like being a young female chef in what has traditionally been a male dominated industry?
If you were to walk into our kitchen, there are probably ten chefs in the kitchen and four or five of us are girls. In our kitchen it’s not predominantly male which is really refreshing and really nice to see. I think as the industry is progressing and there’s more knowledge about it, more girls are coming up the ranks. I think before the reason you don’t see too many head chefs that are girls because the times that they were training were harder, more intense, more shouting, more aggression. Whereas maybe the fact that girls are coming up through college now, my course Culinary Arts was mainly girls, so I think it’s definitely opened up for girls. I can’t see it being male dominated for too much longer.
What advice would you give to young female chefs just starting out?
I think to not take anything personally, you need to know that it’s not meant personally however it sounds. You might be getting given out to in the kitchen, it’s not personal, it’s just how it is. Just to have a thick skin. I have four brothers so a thick skin came naturally. If it’s what you want to do, do it. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t because you’re a girl. When you put on your whites you’re neither a girl nor a boy, you’re a chef.
Do you think all kitchens could do with a few more women?
Definitely! Keep those testosterone levels down.
Where do you see yourself in five or ten year’s time?
Another hard question. I like the whole Michelin side of it, the artistic side of plating, I could definitely see myself moving up through Michelin kitchens. I’ll be in Guilbaud’s for as long as they will keep me I’d say. Also I’d love to travel, people will always eat, so that won’t be an issue work wise for travelling.
But yeah five years down the line, who knows, maybe New York again. Ireland’s home at the end of the day, I’m very close to all my family, I couldn’t imagine moving too far away for too long. I suppose they’re only a phone call away so it wouldn’t be that big an issue. I’d definitely like to see the world and see what other places have to offer. I don’t really have much experience with spices, so going to India to see the colour and the flavour of them would be brilliant.
Are there any places you would really love to work at in the future?
Yeah, Geranium in Copenhagen is one I’d love to see. Mugaritz in San Sebastian. Although I’m happy where I am now, I’m not really looking into it that much at the moment. I’m happy just working, on days off I don’t know what to do with myself, so long as I’m in a kitchen I’m happy.
Finally, what does Ireland’s latest culinary star like to cook at home on her days off?
Me, as little as possible! Anything on toast, what anyone else likes to cook at home, pasta, roasts, brownies, cakes, something as simple as possible.
Read more on Ruth Lappin and the Euro-Torques final here