The international success of Guinness is all down to one man, according to Justin O’Connor, Executive Chef at the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin. Justin (or JOC as he prefers) says, “It’s because Arthur Guinness was brave enough to transport Guinness around the world and he took the next step. He planned for the future.” This is why we’re sitting in De Gustibus Cookery School in Manhattan in the lead up to St. Patrick’s Day anxiously awaiting the start of the special Guinness Storehouse cookery demonstration.
JOC could easily break into the world of TV chef if he so wished. With his stories and charm complementing the food much as any wine, he works his way through his specially designed menu that shows off the Storehouse restaurant's favorite ingredient – Guinness.
“In any recipes we do, we always trial them and sometimes they don’t work out so it’s about trial and error. We’ll try them in the job, we’ll take from it, we’ll add to it and if we’re not happy with it, we won’t use it.”
Guinness itself – what some may call the original craft beer – was a mixture of this trial and error as Arthur Guinness perfected his recipe. From this, it has grown to become an icon of Ireland, a primary tourist attraction in Dublin and a worldwide business even warranting its own public celebration throughout Ireland a few years past.
JOC agrees. “I just think Guinness is iconic. Thankfully, I’m in the job 12 years and I’ve gone to certain places around the world with them and it’s great to be able to tell somebody you work with Guinness. Once you mention it to somebody anywhere around the world they kind of link in with Guinness and they want you to talk about it.
“You’re proud that you’re part of the establishment so you become very protective of the Guinness brand as well. If you see a pint of Guinness not being poured properly or anything like that you kind of feel as if you’re being beaten up. It’s great being part of the family.”
One may not instantly think of Irish food as top-of-the-range cuisine, but this is changing as Irish food develops. Irish cuisine is continuing to mix traditional ingredients and plates with what have previously been more exotic ingredients. This has become an easier task in recent years as Irish suppliers have greater access to food from all over the world. “In Ireland now we have so many suppliers who can give you the best. We can get chorizo, salamis, which we used to have to buy from France or Italy.”
Mixed with this is the local produce that makes Ireland a great place to cook. As he works his magic, preparing braised beef for his captivated audience, he tells us of going down to his kid’s football game to pick wild garlic from the side of the football pitch for his meals.
This mix of good local produce and imported ingredients is the mantra the Guinness storehouse lives by. According to JOC, “I think the way of Irish cooking now, especially in the Guinness storehouse, is that we do try to keep things traditional but to bring modern ways into the cuts of meat we use in the menu.
“It’s kind of keeping it traditional but having a modern way with it. The stews – they’re old school – you still enjoy them but taking different cuts of meat and brazing and keeping it traditional but modern.”
This easy access to good ingredients and different food cultures has made it easier to integrate other cultures into our own food. JOC feels that it’s important not to compete with other food cultures but to take the best bits, mix them with out own, and produce something new and modern.
JOC himself was originally trained in French cuisine. Prior to his 12 years in Guinness storehouse, he trained at a cookery school in Dublin. He draws great laughs from the crowd in telling of his desire to quit the school before his mother bought him two uniforms at great expense and he lost the nerve to tell her he wanted to leave.
Speaking of the influence of other food cultures on our own, JOC says, “French cuisine is iconic for many. I trained in it that back in the day. It was all traditional French food so we are influenced by that culture of French cooking whether we like it or not. Even things like the way we do our Guinness mussels, the way you use white wine in France, we do it with the Guinness. We take little bits of French cuisine and make it our own.
“You have to combine with these people, with these cultures, with these ways.”
It’s not just European food that can be combined with our traditional “black stuff” either. JOC speaks of the future plans and experiments for combining foods from further afield.
“I’m trying to bring some Asian food and Guinness together as well. It’s spicy food and the texture's a perfect match.
“We have to embrace all these cultures and not put ourselves up against them; let’s join them and let’s produce great food together.”
JOC may be a professionally trained French chef and working with Guinness Storehouse for over a decade, but that doesn’t mean that the menus of any of the four Storehouse restaurants can’t be recreated at home. JOC breezes through the menu prepared for the De Gustibus cookery school, while acting like the resident seanchaí (storyteller) ensnaring the crowd in his cooking with his anecdotes and jokes. He even takes someone from the crowd whom he guides through a Guinness soda bread recipe, making a successful loaf to bring home with her, proving that anybody can try their hand at his recipes.
“We always try to keep them simple so a normal housewife or Joe Soap at home can cook them. Whether it’s the Guinness burger, the Guinness stew, or Guinness battered cod, it’s simple, easy. It’s not complicated and I think that’s really important.”
It’s all about showing the same bravery as Arthur Guinness in your cooking, the same bravery that made him sign a 9,000 year lease on St. James’s Gate in Dublin, the bravery that has resulted in the sale of Guinness in over 150 countries with over 10 million glasses sold every day.
"We Irish are very proud. Even if it’s our soccer team that don’t do well, we are still singing at the end of the game. We’re kind of that character that we take everything to heart and we’re so proud of who we are and what we produce.”
Stay with IrishCentral in the coming weeks to read specially prepared Guinness recipes from Justin O’Connor, Executive Chef at the Guinness Storehouse. Be sure to sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter so you don’t miss a single delicious recipe.