We have a great bond being twins. We can trust each other and she is very good at front of house, but I have to be honest, it’s not always love and smiles when the pressure is on and the tension can rise.
Martina is the head chef at The Square Table restaurant in Blarney, Co. Cork. Recently awarded the Bord Bia Just Ask Restaurant of The Month Award, she and her sister Tricia own and run the restaurant together.
Manager Tricia runs front of house at the restaurant and she also looks at the positives and negatives of working with family, saying: “It can be great fun working with my sister but running a business has its pressures too, so we can occasionally clash.”
Sisters Tricia and Martina Cronin first opened The Square Table five years ago. But food was always a huge part of their life, with Martina saying:
“As a farmer’s daughter, food was and still is very important at home. My mom is a feeder, a great cook and always used good quality produce. I think this impacted my view of what food should be from a young age. We need food for survival, enjoyment and pleasure.”
Tricia agreed, adding: “Our mother is a fantastic cook and we were all raised on good old traditional home cooking and baking so that was what we were used to. In the restaurant we are simply practicing what we saw growing up – using good quality natural ingredients.”
From their homely beginnings, the pair gained a variety of skills through their respective paths in the food industry. Martina has been “working in the industry for 17 years, but was first introduced at the age of 14 when I worked part time in a hotel at home.”
I knew from the start of my career that I wanted to open a restaurant.
For Tricia, a “country girl at heart”, she has been involved with the food industry since she was also 14 and “fell in love with the industry and in my early 20’s, I knew I wanted to run my own restaurant”.
Gaining experience in places like The Park Hotel Kenmare, The Bayview Hotel Ballycotton and Chapter One, Martina was well prepped for the demands that come with her job:
“As head chef, I do the majority of the prep, cooking and decision making on menus. As I’ve no full time chef, I’m kept busy but I have control over everything which is important.”
Tricia meanwhile, can be found front of house and managing the restaurant, but she also handles the administration side of the business. She gained valuable experience at Mills Inn, Ballyvourney, G’s Restaurant Cork and Jacques Restaurant Cork.
Describing the food on offer, Martina explained that they “use good quality local produce in a relaxed setting. Our dishes are not over complicated, it’s solid and true to the produce.”
It’s important to respect the produce and understand it. It is important for us to showcase the producers as they all work so hard to produce amazing produce.
Praising her sister, Tricia added: “Martina does not over work her dishes. They are simple, honest and she captures every flavour. She has an amazing palate and that’s the secret to any good chef.”
When asked about their favourite dishes on the menu, Tricia says that while she loves all the dishes, she never tires of the signature crispy egg starter.
Meanwhile, Martina loves the “Crispy egg with Ballyhoura mushrooms, McCarthy’s pancetta, the Ballinwillin House Farm wild boar braise, mushrooms, caramelized potato gnocchi and finally, K. O’ Connel’s Roast monkfish and crab tortellini served with a satay style sauce.”
Of course, key to some excellent dishes is the support of local producers, with Martina emphasising that “it’s so important to us to support local, it’s what we are about. We are so proud of all our producers.”
Tricia echoed those sentiments, stating that “I take personal pride in being able to showcase our producers on our menus.”
From day one, our ethos was always to showcase and support local Irish food producers.
Martina and Tricia’s passion for supporting producers was recognised by Bord Bia and the Square Table was recently named the Bord Bia Just Ask Restaurant of the Month.
Speaking about the award, Tricia said: “I was delighted. It was an honour and I felt so proud that our commitment to supporting local was recognised.”
Martina added: “It was great recognition for us and our suppliers, it really was a fantastic Christmas present”.
The Square Table’s impressive list of producers includes: Kilbrack Farm, Anna Belle farm, Dripsey farm fresh veg, Ballyhoura mountain mushrooms, Michael Twomey’s Butchers, McCarthy’s of Kanturk Butchers, Ballinwillin House Farm, Gubbeen meats, Tom Durcan’s spiced beef, K, O’ Connels fish, Old Mill Bank smoke salmon, Liscannor crab, Hegarty’s cheese Whitechurch, Coolea farmhouse cheese, Toonsbridge Dairy, Macroom buffalo mozzarella, Bluebell Falls goats cheese, Cashel Blue cheese, Gubbeen cheese, Tom O’ Brien free range eggs, Macroom Mill (flour), Velvet Cloud yogurt, Bollaban Farmhouse Tipperary, Featherbed farmhouse Wexford both for ice cream. Larousse foods and Redmonds fine foods. Longueville House Beverages apple brandy, wine from Karwigs.
With a huge list like that, I understood how difficult my next question was. Wondering which three producers the sisters just couldn’t live without on their menu, Martina said:
“It’s a difficult question to answer but we both agree that we couldn’t live without Michael Twomey’s butchers, Ballyhoura mushrooms and K. O’ Connel’s fish merchants.”
And it’s not just producers these two admire, with Tricia praising the county for doing well “this year in the Michelin Guide, so I’m looking forward to paying a visit to a few when I’ve time off.”
Martina praised some of her colleagues in the food industry, saying: “Ireland is full of amazing chefs and restaurants so it’s hard to pick. Ross Lewis of Chapter One and Graham Neville of Dax’s in Dublin, Kieran Scully chef at The Bayview Ballycotton are great Irish food ambassadors for decades. A few personal new favourites for both of us are Forrest Avenue, Canteen Celbridge and Everretts in Waterford city.”
Everyone has parts of their job that they like and dislike, with Martina and Tricia being no different. For Martina, she loves “creating new dishes, working with fabulous produce and showcasing the producers on my menu.”
Paper work is something she hates and leaves that to her sister, whose favourite part is “speaking about the dishes, especially new dishes, to customers and I especially love tasting new dishes.”
With so much to do, it can be difficult to find a work/life balance, with Martina saying: “It’s important to have time off so we close Mondays and Tuesdays and take annual leave in January. Being self employed, it’s hard to switch off.”
For new mum Tricia, it’s a little more difficult trying to find a balance: “I still haven’t achieved that yet but since I had my baby 15 months ago, I try to separate work and home life. It’s difficult though.”
Being in the industry since the age of 14, these two have certainly racked up a lot of experience. Offering advice for those looking to get into the food industry, Martina said: “I would advise them to get into a professional kitchen to see what it really all about, choose the best places to work as that is where you will learn and stay positive and determined.”
It’s an exciting industry but be prepared for hard hard work and don’t rush into anything.
So before looking forward to what the future will hold, I couldn’t resist asking this dynamic duo about some of their career highlights so far.
For Tricia, nothing can beat “opening the Square Table and being recommended in the Michelin Guide” and for Martina, “working with great chefs was a huge highlight, but the ultimate so far was opening the Square Table with my sister.”
So while family may drive us mad sometimes, they’re always there for you and for these two, I think their bond is going to continue to further their careers.
Looking to the future and this double team isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon, with Martina saying:
“We are in our 5th year of business and still growing. We are committed to what we are doing and want to keep progressing.”
Teasing but not revealing, Tricia added: “2019 will be an exciting year for The Square Table. There are a few things on the horizon and I’ll leave you with that.”
For more information about The Square Table and to stay up-to-date with any upcoming news, visit thesquaretable.ie.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Named Best Break Out Travel Writer at the 2018 Travel Media Awards, Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.