Monday 19 March 2018

Meet Danni Barry - Ireland's only female Michelin-star chef: 'My dad was the biggest feminist ever because we all did the same jobs'

Danni Barry (31) is the head chef at Deane's Eipic in Belfast. Currently, she is the only female Michelin-star chef in Ireland, and has also won an award for Ireland's Chef of the Year. Born in Mayobridge, Co Down, she lives in Belfast

Danni Barry, head chef at Deane's Eipic in Belfast
Danni Barry, head chef at Deane's Eipic in Belfast

Ciara Dwyer

On a working day, I have porridge made with milk. I cook it in a pot. Or I might have scrambled eggs. As a chef, I don't think that you put the same effort in when you cook for yourself, especially if it's breakfast. Sometimes I rush out without eating anything, but I'll always have tea.

Then I take out the phone and check emails, Twitter and Instagram. Chefs are more involved in social media than they used to be. It's a great tool if it's used properly. You can see what is going on in the industry. Sometimes we take pictures of our dishes and put them on Instagram. You eat with your eyes first. A picture of a dish will reach more people than a description of it in words.

In restaurants, you see people taking photos of their food. Once, I watched a woman standing up to get her shot. She took so long that I wasn't sure if she was ever going to eat the meal. I don't think that customers in Belfast are that bad.

In the mornings, I might have a message from the fish supplier telling me that he has turbot. He is up from 4am.

I am the head chef at Deane's Eipic restaurant in Belfast. A few mornings a week, I go foraging for sea herbs or wild garlic before I go into work. I know all the spots. If something is picked that day, you have a better respect for it. Also, young chefs will treat it differently to vegetables that come in a box. Foraging is a very pleasant way to start your day. All that fresh air is good for your head.

Work starts at 9.30am. I'll have more tea and check the deliveries. The first couple of hours are busy, making sure that we've got everything. The pastry chef is already working, so there are lovely smells. We prepare the meat and fish. Between 10am and 3pm, the stove is covered with big pots.

Later in the afternoon, we have a staff meal together, something like a casserole. This is before service starts. If you don't care about what your staff are eating, you won't care about what anybody else is eating. We have a 30-seater restaurant with two tasting menus, £40 and £60. I'm in charge of the menus, hiring the kitchen team and delegating responsibility to them. Currently, there are three of us in the kitchen, all ladies, which is interesting.

Day-to-day as a chef, it makes no difference whether you are male or female. The jobs are the same, and you are treated exactly the same. We all take out the bins. If you work hard, you will see results, and opportunities become available. I've worked with both men and women in the kitchen. There is a lot of camaraderie. Men work together quite well. Often, they play football on a Saturday morning, and then it becomes like a group of mates who happen to work in a kitchen.

When I was 15, I started working in a restaurant. I went from washing pots to getting small jobs in the kitchen. It was very testosterone-filled, and I loved the energy. It wasn't about the food. Instead, it was about this whole machine, getting everybody fed by a certain time. There was the calm before and then the calm afterwards. It was nice to be involved in it all, and from then on, I knew that I wanted to be a chef.

I've never worked in an all-female kitchen before, but I've noticed that women speak differently to each other and we talk about food differently. With male chefs, there is a lot of bravado. They will say things like: 'We nailed it' or 'We smashed it.' All that team talk. Girls don't do that. They are more methodical and they get their stuff done. It's calmer and more focussed.

I went travelling to gain more experience as a chef. I worked in Australia, South Korea and Spain. We all have the same ingredients, but something simple like an egg will be treated differently in each of those countries. For example, in South Korea they boil eggs until they are black. At first I wondered why they did that, but they were delicious. It changed my approach to food. I brought back all of those culinary experiences and they influence my menu today.

I grew up on a farm, and I think you respect food when you know where it comes from. My dad was probably the biggest feminist ever, because we all did the same jobs - gathering potatoes and rolling hay. It gave me a great grounding. Good ingredients are the most important thing, and our menu in the restaurant starts from that source.

We got the Michelin star 18 months after opening and we still have it. Currently, I am the only female chef in Ireland to have a Michelin star. You get a lot of attention with that. It puts extra pressure on me and the people who work with me. You have to be meticulous about everything, but I love what I do.

On a week night, I leave the kitchen around 11pm, but on Saturdays, it might be 12.30am. Sometimes I go to the gym after work. There are lots of 24-hour gyms in Belfast, and they are full of chefs. Years ago, all the boys went to the pub after work, but now it's the gym. I often go to the gym with my boyfriend, Will. He is a manager in a neighbouring restaurant, and he works long hours, too.

I have no problem sleeping, but the other night I woke up in a panic. I realised that I'd forgotten to order lamb for the next day. So I phoned the butcher. It was 3am. I had just won an award [Ireland's Chef of the Year] and I think all of the excitement had gone to my head.

Danni Barry will be at Taste of Dublin, which returns to the Iveagh Gardens from Thursday, June 15 to Sunday, June 18. Tickets from €15

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