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My life on a plate: Pitmaster Andy Noonan on his love of barbecues and cooking with fire

The Big Grill Festival curator tells Katy McGuinness about his passion for cooking over flames


Andy Noonan

Andy Noonan

Andy Noonan

Andy Noonan is a pitmaster at Baste BBQ and co-owner and curator of Dublin's annual The Big Grill Festival and Fowl Play. He's a self-taught cook with a passion for cooking over fire who runs events and a barbecue-focused catering business. Andy grew up in Dublin in Rathfarnham and now lives in Goatstown with his partner, Lisa, and two-year-old son Max.

Did you grow up in a family where food was important?

Absolutely. My mum is a very good cook and we always ate simple, hearty food - soups, stews, bolognese - without it ever being spoken about that much. On holiday, we'd find cheap and cheerful restaurants off the beaten track and eat really well.

What's your most vivid food memory from childhood?

Growing up, we spent a lot of time fishing on the River Barrow and on Lough Corrib and Lough Mask in Connemara. I remember cooking sausages on a disposable barbecue on the bank of the river, or lighting a fire on one of the islands in the middle of the lake and cooking the fish we'd caught. The trout there are more like sea trout and less muddy than some other freshwater trout. We used to fish for mackerel off Dun Laoghaire pier, too.

What was the first thing you learned to cook?

Eggs, every which way - scrambled, fried, boiled and omelettes. It was an easy meal for me to prepare if my parents were working.

Did you always know that you wanted to work in food?

I had jobs in Burger King and clearing tables in Captain America's when I was in my teens. I loved the way a restaurant is like a family. I veered away from food for a while, running events and selling cars before starting the Big Grill, which gave me confidence to get involved in restaurants and catering. I've always loved having people over - usually for a barbecue - and cooking for them.

Who has been the biggest influence on the way that you cook?

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Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. He takes a very simple approach using good-quality meat, keeping the seasoning simple and cooking over a real wood fire. The food always lives up to expectations. So many people treat barbecue as an excuse to use cheap meat - at the pop-up we're using all higher-welfare, free-range and rare-breed meats. I want to change the perceptions people have.

What's your signature dish?

Grilled flank steak - I use it in tacos, salads and sandwiches. Sometimes I use a Vietnamese marinade, but lots of the time I don't bother.

Is there any ingredient that you hate?

Goat's cheese. The smell turns my stomach.

Is there anything that you love to eat that you'd prefer your friends didn't know about?

Dairylea Dunkers - perfect hangover food.

Is there anything that you don't eat for ethical reasons?

I do my utmost to avoid intensively reared chicken.

What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?

In South-East Asia I ate grubs and insects. The insects are fried in fish sauce and chilli and take on a caramel flavour, the grubs are live.

What's your guilty (food) pleasure?

A burger from Bunsen. They're unbeatable.

What kitchen gadget could you not live without and what's the most overrated?

Definitely my Thermapen [digital food thermometer], because it gives me an instant picture of where my meat is. I do most of the cooking at home but the Thermapen means that Lisa can cook chicken perfectly - it takes the guesswork out of it. I threw my spiraliser out a few weeks ago.

What's your desert island cookbook?

I ate in the original Pitt Cue in London when Tom Adams was involved and it was a real eye-opener for me - when it moved to Liverpool Street, it turned into more of a place where bankers have lunch. So it'd have to be the Pitt Cue book. [Pitt Cue Co. The Cookbook]

What three things do you always keep in your fridge?

Hot sauce (preferably Crystals, a Louisiana-style sauce that has real depth of flavour), a jar of chimichurri that I make with brine and allow to ferment slowly, topping it up every now and then with garlic and parsley, and Chef ketchup. There'd always be a lump of Parmesan, too, to bring depth of flavour to any dish.

What's your go-to store-cupboard meal?

An omelette. You can eat it any time of the day and use up whatever ingredients you have lying around.

What was the last great meal that you ate?

I ate great modern Turkish food at Oklava in London a few months back - I loved the flat-breads and the Turkish wine.

What's your favourite restaurant in the world?

I was blown away by Keelan Higgs' food at Variety Jones [Dublin] - I really want to go back.

What chef do you admire the most?

Andy Ricker of Pok Pok has managed to recreate the flavours of Thailand in Portland, Oregon, putting Thai food on the map in America. I ate there last year and loved it.

Do you eat breakfast?

I never miss it, it's the most important meal of the day. Usually I have rye bread with banana and peanut butter, and coffee.

What are you going to have for dinner tonight?

Tacos with leftover smoked meats from Baste, chimichurri and pickles.

And what will you drink with that?

A bottle of ice-cold Sierra Nevada.

BasteBarbecueToGo offers a rotating menu of higher welfare, free-range and rare-breed meats available to collect in Dublin 8 Pre-order at bastebbq.com