Clodagh Finn meets the irrepressible ‘Chef Adrian’ who is on a mission to steer the country away from a costly dependence on fast food by showing us how to cook healthier, cheaper alternatives.
Every time someone asks Chef Adrian for dietary advice, he gives the same answer — ditch the diet. Every single one of them. None of them work.
His own guiding principle comes from the doyenne of Irish cuisine Darina Allen: “The more you spend on your food, the less you spend on your doctor.
“We are force-fed this thing about healthy eating. It’s pushed too hard, but I don’t believe in it,” he says. “Learn the life-skill of cooking and it will solve so many problems.”
He always cooks from scratch and always with the kind of fresh, whole, natural ingredients that were staples in our grandparents’ kitchens.
While he’s not a dietician, he has done some research on nutrition and he knows exactly what it takes to nourish and sustain the body.
He says it’s been proven that you can lead a healthy life by eating as our grandparents did, using full-fat dairy and good-quality meat.
However, the latest fad diet might work for a short time, but it is often impossible to sustain. “You end up having a bad week and, nine times out of 10, you give up. Once you stop, all the weight that has fallen off very quickly comes back again as you revert to your old eating habits,” he says.
Adrian Martin is the Cavan chef who has been making a name for himself on every media platform from Facebook and Snapchat to TV and now print. His first book Fakeaway is just out.
But, he says, how you eat is just as important as what you eat.
Despite being a rising social media star with more than 22,000 followers on Facebook, he insists that all phones are switched off at mealtimes.
“No phones, no music and no radio,” the 25-year-old says. “It’s really important to get everyone around the table at mealtime, even if it is just for an argument. It keeps your head right and it keeps your mind right. Everyone’s talking about mental health, these days, but this is one of the key things every family should do. Sit down at mealtime and talk it out.”
He says the importance of talking it out became even more clear to him last August when his uncle, his mother’s brother, died in tragic circumstances.
“My mum was devastated. I was around at the time and we drove around together and talked through all the emotions. The best place to do that is over a meal.
"You can express how you feel. If someone is sitting there lonely in the corner and they are eating their dinner and not saying a word, you can ask them what is going on.”
We’re meeting in the café at Airfield Trust in Dundrum, the 38-acre working farm in south Dublin. He greets me with a big bear hug and before we’re seated, he’s been stopped by one of the café’s chefs for a chat.
The day has finally come. You can now officially get your hands on my very own Cookbook… https://t.co/Tw3SfeBh2z— Chef Adrian Martin (@chefadrianm) June 14, 2017
Afterwards, he sweeps down to the table, apologising for the delay, saying that he’s amazed — and delighted — by the recognition from other chefs.
Why wouldn’t they appreciate the work of a talented peer? His inventiveness and philosophy of well-being infuses the pages of Fakeaway.
As the title suggests, it aims to get people to cook their favourite fast-food dishes at home.
As a long-term fan of the takeaway, Chef Adrian knows what he’s talking about. His idea of chilling out was often a night-in with friends, watching football and sampling a different takeaway each time.
But, he says, he soon realised that most takeaways were incredibly unhealthy: “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love a takeaway, but most of us hate the guilt afterwards of what we have put into our bodies.”
If he’s right about that there’s a lot of guilt around as the Irish spend a staggering €19 million on takeaways every week, according to a report commissioned by online food order service Just Eat. The sector is comparable in size to the motor sales trade or, ironically, the sports and recreation sectors.
Men are the biggest takeaways spenders, forking out an average €48 per month, compared to €31 for women. But as Chef Adrian found, school-goers are also big takeaway enthusiasts.
After qualifying with a culinary arts degree from the School of Tourism in Killybegs, Donegal, and gaining experience with Neven Maguire in Cavan and Bon Appetit in Malahide, Dublin, he carved out a niche for himself by giving cooking demos at GAA clubs, ICA guilds, festivals and schools.
When he visited schools, the students always wanted to know how to make pizzas, spice bags, curry, doner kebabs and chicken fillet rolls. He spent many nights cooking at home to perfect healthy versions of all those recipes, which appear in the luxuriously illustrated pages of his new cookbook.
“With a bit of patience, you can make your favourite takeaway at home, in a reasonable time and in a way that is much easier on your pocket and on your health,” he says.
His fakeaway message went down very well in schools, but so too did his openness about his own school years. He says he tells everyone that he got 180 points in his Leaving Cert — “some of them laugh at that” — to prove the point that academic achievement is not the only path to a successful career.
He says he wanted to do home economics at his school in Ballinamore, Leitrim, but no other boys were doing it, so he didn’t want to feel like an outcast. Instead, he got a job peeling spuds and carrots in the kitchen at Neven Maguire’s MacNean House in Blacklion, Co Cavan.
He loved it and worked there after school three days a week and at weekends and during summer holidays.
Even then, as a 14-year-old, his dream was to have his own TV show and write a cookbook. A little more than a decade later, he is appearing weekly on TV3’s The Six O’Clock Show and is the online star of Fakeaway and Chef Adrian Eats Ireland on RTÉ Player.
The book, however, beats all, particularly for a man who says he hasn’t read a book since he was in sixth class: “When I got my hands on the [first copy of the] book, it was surreal. When I was in school and all my mates were dreaming about becoming top footballers or actors or celebrities, I was dreaming about this.”
He was captivated by the idea of becoming a chef after seeing Richard Corrigan appear as a guest on a Jamie Olivier TV show.
He still admires both chefs and says he had the best meal of his life at Gordon Ramsey’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant on Royal Hospital Road in London.
However, he has most time for unknown chefs, the local heroes who cook and mentor without attracting widespread attention. He can’t say enough for his former college lecturer and mentor Gabriel McSharry who still rings him weekly to see how he is getting on.
He says he struggled in college — “I got loads of help, particularly with anything to do with writing” — but says he wanted the qualification because he didn’t want to work in kitchens all of his life.
While the hours and wages have improved, he’s delighted to have a qualification and to have trained under Michelin-starred chefs in fine dining. “I might unleash it in a few years’ time,” he says.
For now, though, he is very happy with life. He lives in Dundrum in Dublin with Fiona Coyne, his partner of four years. She has a master’s degree in marketing and although she edits his tweets, he is happy that she is not involved in the business.
“I work with my Dad [in event management] and we talk about work all the time. It’s very hard to switch off.” His idea of switching off is sitting on the couch with a cup of tea and watching “every cooking programme under the sun”. Then, he turns on his laptop and does the same.
“It is switching off, it is,” he insists. “I love it.”
He’ll also find time to exercise (cycling, running, walking the beach at Enniscrone in Sligo) and to see friends and family (parents John and Anne in Bawnboy, Cavan, sister Sarah and brothers Cathal and Sean).
Looking ahead, he has all kinds of projects. One of them didn’t work out as expected recently, but that didn’t stop him for a second.
“I’ve been knocked down so many times and told you are not going to make it; that is not going to happen. People out there will tell you can’t do something and when I get told I can’t do it, I get up and do it. I’ll go out there and prove them wrong. If you can put your mind to it, you can do it.”
Speaking to those who have just finished the Leaving Cert this year, he adds: “It’s not the end of the world. Everyone is different and everyone has their own talents. If there was a Leaving Cert in cooking, I’d kick everyone’s ass.”
A stir-fry is the ultimate fast food. If I’m really stuck for time I’ll always turn to a stir-fry. The combo of acidic rice wine and salty dark soy sauce seasons the pork in an amazing way.
2 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon sesame oil
450g pork stir-fry strips
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
120ml chicken stock
5cm piece of root ginger, peeled and finely grated
275g sliced mixed peppers, sliced red onion and bok choi
Sticky coconut rice
A handful of sesame seeds
1 long red chilli, sliced thinly
For the Sticky Coconut Rice:
1 mug of basmati rice
200ml coconut milk
½ mug of water
A pinch of sea salt
1 Place one tablespoon of rice wine and one tablespoon of soy sauce in a shallow dish and add the cornflour and sesame oil. Stir in the pork and set aside for 5 minutes.
2 Heat a wok until smoking hot. Add one tablespoon of the sunflower oil. Tip in the pork and stir-fry for 3–4 minutes, until sealed and lightly golden. Transfer to a plate.
3 Meanwhile, place the remaining tablespoon of rice wine and of soy sauce in a small pan with the stock and bring to a simmer.
4 Add the remaining tablespoon of sunflower oil to the wok. Add the ginger and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Tip in the vegetables and continue to stir-fry for 2–3 minutes, until heated through and any leaves are just beginning to wilt, splashing over a little water occasionally to help the greens cook.
5 Return the pork to the wok, then stir in the hot stock mixture. Cook for a minute or so until bubbling, stirring all the time.
6 Spoon the steamed rice into warmed large bowls and spoon the ginger pork and greens on top. Scatter with the sesame seeds and chilli before serving.
For the Sticky Coconut Rice:
1 Rinse the rice in several changes of water until the water is no longer cloudy.
2 Add all the ingredients to a small pot and bring to the boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and allow to steam for 15 minutes.
3 Remove the cover, fluff the rice with a fork and serve immediately.
TANDOORI HALIBUT WITH RAITA
My first memory of halibut is a whole fish that was the same height as me, which we had delivered while I was working in the MacNean House restaurant. Three of us had to lift it, but I got to fillet it.
Here’s a tandoori version with a classic raita. This paste also works great with chicken.
For the paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon tomato purée
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
A large piece of root ginger, finely grated
For the halibut
4 halibut fillets (about 150g each), skinned
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon caster sugar
3 tablespoons natural yoghurt
For the raita
2 cucumbers, peeled
3–4 tablespoons natural yoghurt
Mint leaves, chopped
Juice of ½ lime
1 To make the paste, start by toasting the cumin and coriander seeds in a frying pan until fragrant. Tip them into a pestle and mortar and grind into a powder. Mix in all the other ingredients and stir until you have a smooth paste.
2 Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6.
3 Place the halibut fillets on a plate. Mix the curry paste with one tablespoon of olive oil and the sugar. Add the yoghurt and stir well. Coat the halibut fillets with the spiced yoghurt mixture and set aside.
4 To make the raita, cut the cucumbers lengthways, using a vegetable peeler, into long wide strips, avoiding the seeds in the middle. Mix with the yoghurt, chopped mint and lime juice to taste.
5 Heat an ovenproof pan over a medium to high heat and add the remaining olive oil. Scrape off and reserve the excess marinade from the fish. When the pan is hot, place the halibut fillets into it. Sear for 1–1½ minutes on each side until golden brown.
6 Spoon the reserved marinade over the fish and place the pan in the oven for a few minutes to finish cooking the fish. Spoon the raita onto warm plates and then serve the halibut on top. Drizzle with the pan juices and serve.
SPAGHETTI ALLE VONGOLE
Spaghetti alle vongole is the Italian for spaghetti with clams. I tried it for the first time on holidays in Cannes in France as a nine-year-old, where they served it in take-out containers and you ate it on the go. I loved the sweetness that the clams had.
Use sustainable clams for this one if you can – you can ask your fishmonger for these.
1kg small clams, scrubbed clean
1 small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 cloves of garlic
10 cherry tomatoes
250ml white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2 knobs of butter
Juice of ½ lemon
1 Put a pan of water on to boil that is big enough to hold the spaghetti. While that is coming to the boil, sort through your cleaned clams and if there are any that aren’t tightly closed, give them a sharp tap. If they don’t close, throw them away.
2 Put a large pan with a lid on a high heat and let it heat up. In the meantime, finely slice the parsley stalks, then put them to one side and roughly chop the leaves. Peel and chop the garlic, quarter the tomatoes and get your wine ready.
3 Add the pasta to the boiling water with a good pinch of salt and cook according to packet instructions until al dente.
4 About 5 minutes before your pasta is due to be ready, get ready to start on the sauce – you’ll have to be quick about this, so no messing around! Put enough extra virgin olive oil into the hot pan to cover the bottom and add the garlic, parsley stalks and a good pinch of salt and pepper.
5 Add in the chilli and the tomatoes. Stir everything around constantly and just as the garlic starts to colour, tip in the clams and pour in the wine. It will splutter and steam, so give everything a good shake and put the lid on. After about 3–4 minutes the clams will start to open – keep shuffling the pan around until all of them have opened. Take the pan off the heat. Get rid of any clams that haven’t opened. Stir in the butter and lemon juice.
6 By now your pasta should be just about perfect. Drain and add it to the pan of clams along with the parsley leaves and an extra drizzle of the olive oil. Stir or toss for a further 1–2 minutes to let the beautiful juices from the clams absorb into the pasta, then serve right away.
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