Pop-up restaurants have become de rigueur; springing up, creating a buzz, often testing the market for a new idea, and then gone as quickly as they came. You might have thought you’d seen every possible variation of the trend but chef patron Brian Walsh of The Pigeon House Clontarf has come up with something entirely new.
In a first for an Irish restaurant, instead of scouting for talented chefs elsewhere Brian is looking closer to home, spearheading a unique venture which will see him hand over the reigns of the kitchen to his own chefs, creating a ‘pop-in’ of sorts.
The innovative dining series, titled Pigeon Projects, kicks off on Wednesday 17th May, with sous chef Sam Kindillon being the first to launch a kitchen takeover (see full menu below) at the much-loved neighborhood bistro.
Owner and head chef Brian says he while he toyed with the idea of following the pop-up trend, closing the restaurant for one night just wasn’t feasible for them.
“So I came up with the concept of giving the kitchen over to one of my chefs, once a month, to do what they want.”
With a team of young and creative chefs, some fresh from stages elsewhere and all interested in the dynamic food scene in here and abroad, Brian says Pigeon Projects will give them a platform to express their own style of cooking.
“We have chefs from Spain, Czech Republic and elsewhere. We have chefs that are interested in a natural, rustic style of plating, rustic, and others that prefer a more refined and precise way of plating. They are all interested in different restaurants or trends, like fermentation.”
The chef admits that there is an element of risk, “when people walk in off the street on that night it will just be that chef’s menu on offer,” but he says he is willing to take a leap of faith with his team to inspire more confidence in them.
“At the moment we collaborate and new dishes go on the menu, but this adds another layer to that.”
“There’s a huge buzz about it and a lot of them already have their menus drafted up. They are all excited to help out the other guys, and there’s a big sense of camaraderie.”
Just as important as encouraging team spirit and creativity in the kitchen for Brian is the training the project will give his chefs on exactly what it takes to run a restaurant.
“For me it’s great because they get a chance to see what it’s like to run a kitchen. They can’t just say I’m going to do a menu with turbot, foie gras and caviar – it has to work; they have to cost it; it has to make money.”
He has hopes that it will drill home a chef’s responsibility for a fridge full of fresh produce that potentially amounts to thousands of euros in value.
“You can’t just waste it or be frivolous.” “I want to equip anyone that works with me so that they leave me in a better position for their next job, and I think this initiative is just part of that.”
Brian says he sees his role as ‘facilitator’ for the next step of these young chefs’ careers.
“People come in and they start as a kitchen porter commis, but they can work their way up and become chef de partis, sous chef, or whatever the next job opening is.”
Brian opened his first restaurant, Downstairs, in 2010 with his business partner Paul Foley. A formidable addition to the Clontarf dining scene, Brian’s cooking soon earned the restaurant a Michelin Bib Gourmand.
When the building was sold in 2015, the pair found an alternative venue in the locality. While the planned revamp and re-brand of the new restaurant on Vernon Avenue met a few obstacles, another opportunity arose in Delgany.
Brian says 90% of the team moved with them from Clontarf to Wicklow, “and we found jobs for the other 10% in the locality. We closed in Clontarf in August, and got it going in three months.”
“The Pigeon House in Clontarf opened in February, and I welcomed a baby in January – that’s two restaurants and a baby in four months!”
Although reopening in a different guise, they maintained the quality of food and style of service at The Pigeon House, which was recognised with the award of a Bib Gourmand within first year of opening.
Now, just as he looked after his restaurant family when they relocated, with Pigeon Projects Brian is taking a group of ambitious young chefs under his wing, and giving them the means to take flight.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.