The Monkstar Restaurant Upping the Seafood Game – Zsolt Zakar Lobstar Interview
This month we chatted to Zsolt Zakar, head chef and co-owner of Lobstar. This seafood-centric restaurant is a Monkstown stalwart and is well worth the trip for visiting diners from further afield.
Zsolt has been honing his craft since he was a child. At the age of 14 he began to work in the industry, learning from some of the best chefs in his hometown of Budapest. “During my early training I was lucky enough to work alongside some great chefs.” He fondly recalls his first internship, “it was in an Italian venue called Faustos, which is still one of the greatest restaurants in Hungary.”
“When I finished school it was at a time when restaurants started creating modern gastronomy. I was working with energetic and young professionals who were hungry for knowledge, new techniques and information from around the world.”
Zsolt says he was presented with an amazing opportunity to work in one of the finest restaurants in the country. He took up the role of sous chef, and the establishment was awarded a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide – one of the first in Budapest. Recalling that time he says it “was a great success for the team and also for Hungarian gastronomy.”
The name ‘Lobstar‘ certainly gives away the venues love of seafood, something Zsolt is extremely passionate about. “The first real connection I had with prime seafood dishes was at Ocean Bar and Grill Restaurant in Budapest. It was a really high-class establishment. The kitchen was lead by Guiseppe Mosti, a very well known Italian chef.
“During these years I met with a chef, Dr Janos Kiss who made his career in the US in the early 90s’.He then went on to become the Food and Beverage Director of the Hyatt Hotel chain.” It was Janos who set the wheels in motion for Zsolt to move to Ireland, where he has since built his culinary legacy.
“He became my mentor for a few years and encouraged me to think bigger and to be open to the idea of moving abroad.” Before he took the leap and moved to the Emerald Isle he first spent time at a boutique hotel where he was the executive head chef.
“I started to think my future was in the five-star hotel business.” The time spent here gave Zsolt unbeatable experience, which no doubt stands to him today. “It was my first real challenge as a head chef and leader. It was a great and useful experience in my life and it was also the time when I met Veronika.” Veronika is the right-hand woman in Lobstar, playing the roles of wife and business partner to Zsolt.
Together the pair decided to move to Dublin, where Zsolt says two restaurants in particular were vital in shaping his career; Fade Street Social by Dylan McGrath and Rock Lobster. “It was here I first met with modern Irish cuisine, and I really enjoyed it. Later I became a sous chef in a large hotel in Ballsbridge and then executive head chef of a very busy brunch restaurant.”
“Each part of my career was important for me to be able to open my own restaurant. They all helped understand every aspect of a successful food business in Ireland.” As a regular haunt for locals and a worthy trek for visitors, I wonder what is it about Lobstar that customers adore so much? Zsolt says it is “a modern seafood bistro, using fresh ingredients and modern cooking techniques.” He goes on to say, “having Irish lobster as the main dish is unique itself, as not many places offer it as the star of their menu.”
“Our menu is small, which is understandable as we have just 28 seats. We always have specials which depend on seasonality. We have a few signature dishes that we can’t really change, such as Whole Split Irish Lobster and our ‘famous’ Hawaiian Tuna Poke.”
The couple is constantly eager to create new dishes and to soak up inspiration from a variety of places. “We always spend our free time looking for inspirations and discovering restaurants around the world. We recently visited Osteria Francescana Modena, La Bernardine New York, Bibo by Dani Garcia Madrid, and of course some Irish venues including Chapter One, Patrick Guilbaud and Forest Avenue.”
It is clear Zsolt will never become complacent in his work, and still strives to learn and perfect his craft, telling me he still undertakes work experience. “This year I had the opportunity to do a stagé at two different Michelin star restaurants. The first was Chapter One in Dublin and second was Costes Downtown in Budapest. These types of experiences inspire me the most as a chef.”
As a chef he is passionate about Irish produce, and showcases this on the menu. “We are happy to support Irish suppliers and follow the from Farm to Table movement. We buy the lobster straight from the boat. Our micro cress comes from our garden and we source the greatest oysters from Carlingford. We always use Irish beef, Black Angus, Hereford or Dexter.”
As a chef I believe it’s important to find good products around you, this will make the kitchen credible.”
As the man behind the stove, he must have some favourite dishes on the menu. Some of which are the tuna and scallops starters. “I am a big fan of Irish beef, with a piece of poached lobster of course!”
Zsolt’s favourite part of the job is the freedom to create; “I like to create new dishes and combine different flavours and textures. To work in a kitchen you have to keep focused to provide 100% all the time.”
When he isn’t to be found behind the stove in his own kitchen, he tells me his favourite place to eat is China Sichuan in Sandyford. “Recently we tried Forest Avenue and we can’t wait to return. We also have bookings at Tickets in Barcelona and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London for this year.”
Looking inwards to the food scene in Ireland Zsolt says, he hopes “more and more restaurants will choose good Irish ingredients, and this will allow Irish suppliers to offer even better quality for their chefs.”
Lobstar is not excluded from the shortage of chefs in the industry, with Zsolt saying “it’s really hard to get qualified chefs.” Continuing on he says “we are lucky to have the same team since opening Lobstar. We believe the work environment is an important part of the bigger picture. We continuously try to maintain a healthy and happy place for our employees. Our doors are always open for hardworking and enthusiastic individuals.”
Being a chef in today’s world has many positives, and can be an amazing career path for those looking for a job within the food industry. “Nowadays the profession includes many career opportunities, financial growth and a constantly improving the working environment.”
Looking back over the highlights of the past year Zsolt says they are happy to have made Lobstar “a better place to eat and a more profitable business to own.” What advice does this hard-working chef have for new blood in the game? “Talent is cultivatable, but diligence and hard-work is a condition.” Throughout the years Zsolt says some of the most important things he has learned are product knowledge, quality, consistency and food cost.
Zsolt himself has chefs within Ireland who he admires, mentioning Ross Lewis and JP McMahon as two influences. Looking worldwide, Daniel Humm, Dany Garcia and Heston Blumenthal are others who he takes inspiration from.
The future is certainly bright for both Zsolt and Veronika. This passionate couple are constantly striving to become better and make Lobstar something incredible, Zsolt says one day they would like to build the Lobstar brand worldwide, That dream is no easy feat, but with these two talented and determined people running the business, the sky is the limit.