Celeb chefs look forward to 2014 after challenging year
IRELAND'S top celebrity chefs felt the chill of the cold winds of recession this year, but our culinary stars are confident that the economy has finally turned the corner.
Rising costs of ingredients, sky-high rents and consumer caution about discretionary spending meant that Dublin restaurants have been opening and closing at a bewildering rate in recent years.
But although 2013 has been a challenging year for the retail food industry, the number of restaurants going to the wall has decreased compared with the carnage of the previous two years.
Ireland's leading culinary stars and restaurateurs – Neven Maguire, Derry Clarke, Nick Munier, and Martina Fox – feel there is still plenty of room for improvement in 2014.
"I think we are getting there, it has been a tough year, but a good one for L'Ecrivain," chef and restaurateur Derry Clarke told the Sunday Independent.
"Financially, there is not a big difference from last year and everyone still has to work very hard."
Mr Clarke feels the Government's decision not to go ahead with plans to increase the VAT for restaurants in the Budget has made a big impact on business this year.
"The fact that the VAT stayed the same made a big difference to us, as we would definitely have had to lose staff if it was increased," he explained.
These sentiments were echoed by TV chef Neven Maguire, who also owns the hugely popular MacNean House in Co Cavan.
"We have had a very good year, but for Irish restaurants in general we are hopeful for a better 2014," Mr Maguire told the Sunday Independent.
"Thankfully, we were able to take on more staff this year and we are booked up until June next year.
"I think Irish customers are a lot more particular about eating out now and we are a special occasion restaurant so that is why we have done well," added Mr Maguire, whose Christmas cooking special airs on RTE 1 this Monday at 8.30pm.
MasterChef star and owner of Pichet in Dublin, Nick Munier, told the Sunday Independent: "It is all about reassessing your business because the restaurant industry is very fickle.
"Our prices increased due to a rise in the general cost of the A-list produce that we need to source and the increase in the cost of wine.
"So we wanted to go back to basics and decided that it was better to have a full restaurant of customers who will continue to come back because really it is more about creating a fun atmosphere than the food."
Restaurateur and socialite Martina Fox said 2013 had been a "tough year, but a successful one".
Ms Fox was heartbroken to see her city centre eatery Bridge Bar & Grill close its doors in September as a result of rising rental costs throughout the area.
However, just weeks later and thanks to her strong foothold in the industry, she was offered a consultancy and general manager position in new Asian restaurant Opium, situated on Wexford Street.
It is not the first time that she has had to dust herself off – her business empire with husband Robbie Fox, including their three restaurants and his VIP nightclub Renards, went into liquidation in 2009.
"The decision to close Bridge Bar & Grill was driven by rent increases, it wasn't a plan as the restaurant was going really well," Ms Fox added.
"I didn't want to make the move – but I just had to weigh it all up and we didn't have the passing trade, and I had to take my children into account.
"When you are working 24/7 to keep your business going, you get to the stage where you just want job security and to get home to your family at a reasonable hour," she adds.
Ms Fox said her latest business venture, which has just completed its second week in business, is very different with cocktail making and night-time clientele an important part of the restaurant's revenue.
"It is a big restaurant and has a huge volume of customers so it is a very enjoyable and different experience.
"I think there is a lot to be said for location, we haven't even put up the lights outside Opium yet and we are already out the door with customers," she added.