If you told me 17 years ago about social media and food, I wouldn’t have had a clue about either. I’ve always appreciated food; my parents are both great cooks in their own ways. Old and battered cookbooks from Lima, Peru and Stornoway, Scotland were always in my kitchen. My first stint in a kitchen 17 years ago was an accident. I worked at the bar and it was clear it wasn’t for me. I was told to go to the kitchen or go home. It was busy, hectic… and I had the best time of my life. Endless covers. Weddings. Functions. Bar food. Fine dining. Split shifts. My first executive chef put the fear of God into me, but I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor. He told me to read up and to cop on. I’m still trying.
There were no social media. I had no idea what was happening outside the walls of that hotel. I was young, inexperienced and clueless, in a bubble. I had no decent knives. My uniforms were borrowed. I didn’t know my sauces nor my fish. What I was lacking in search engines or modern aids was made up for with the incredibly knowledgeable mentors that I had, inspiring me daily. And even now when I need advice, I can always count on them. I didn’t know the latest trend or if seaweed was all the rage. I didn’t know who was cooking were or what they were cooking. I was none the wiser. If I did something well within my own walls, then that was all I needed to keep going. Back then, cheffing was inward-looking and I was unaware of other chefs and their innovations in different areas.
I have worked everywhere and made hundreds of friends through food.
When Facebook came along, I found that I could reconnect with former chef colleagues and mates from overseas. Then we discovered Twitter, showing me food I’d never seen or cooked before, from places I didn’t even know about. Twitter introduces you to strangers with a common interest. In my case, we connected through food. I talk with people on regularly and share recipes and stories. Acquaintances I have worked with briefly some years ago are all just a click away. I’ve also been introduced to some serious chefs through the power of social media. People have invited me into their homes and lives through social platforms. I’ve reached out through my phone for help and there’s always twenty different answers to one question.
Instagram set social media apart for me. I’ve connected with chefs as far as New Orleans, Florida, Seoul, Paris and countless other places. Tattoo sporting, Wu-Tang knife-wielding, Abe Froman from Fort Worth with a love of light and fluffy carrot cake. Sharing oysters with the King of Korean cooking. The ability to stay connected to these people is an amazing gift. Some have come to visit me, and we’ve shared our food and drink.
Food is such a universal medium. I’ve seen my recipe for chowder at a tailgate in Baton Rouge. My brown Bread is being served in the Appalachian Mountains. Sharing recipes and knowledge is how we grow as a global food community.
Social media doesn’t just make chefs accessible but connects us to everyone along the food chain. I’ve met great food producers, farmers, fishmongers, bakers and just about anyone connected through food on twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram. To see their passion outside the confines of the kitchen. They proudly produce photos of their potatoes, their fattened, happy pigs and the rich soil. With the advent of social media, we as chefs can see where our ingredients come from, and the work and care that goes into producing food, while in turn producers get to see what we transform their raw materials into.
Chef Network was a great step forward, so many chefs in Ireland finally getting together to discuss kitchen culture, their fears and worries, their highlights and low points. So many different chefs from different backgrounds. All connecting through the medium of social media.
Most chefs have similar patterns of behaviour online. I don’t think we put up photos of our dishes to showboat or brag. I put photos of my food up so people can see what sort of chef I am and what I’m proud of my dishes. I’m always open to advise on how to change things or how I could have made that sauce differently. However, this is a double-edged sword, because anyone with an opinion and a keyboard can call themselves a critic.
There are multiple chefs online that I obsessively fanboy over. Josh Niland for example, his take on fish and his dishes are superb. I can’t go to Spain without knowing what invention Jordi Roca comes out with through the medium of ice cream. Check out his Instagram for some mad concoctions. There’s plenty of inspiration online to glean recipes and ideas from.
Meeting the chefs and producers behind the twitter handles or hashtag is a pleasure. It enforces the idea that the calibre of the chefs here is awe-inspiring. We communicate online and share our work. We collaborate, listen and post on our WhatsApp groups. It’s a good tool, allowing us to connect with the rest of the world.
Set up an account and display your food proudly. Go out and meet chefs. Actively get involved. Go out and eat and read up on dishes.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to learn from some great chefs and continue to do so. And the way things are going now, especially in Ireland for younger chefs, we’re in good hands.
Follow @chefnetworkirl for all their hard work and all they do for us chefs.
Here are my top 10 Instagram people you should follow
- Chapter One: My all-time favourite spot. Pure perfection every time.
- Mister Eat Galway: JP MacMahon posts always showcasing terror cooking at its finest. Still planning my way over to eat in Aniar. But his ethos and philosophy and passion for food in education is great to see.
- Jordi Roca: Love his outlook on dessert. And his take on ice cream with his Rocambolesc shops. Every time I visit his shop brings back that childhood feeling of wanting everything at once. Wonderful.
- Matty Matheson: He's big. He's hilarious and his shows are brilliant. Messy and insane. He's like a big tattooed Teddy. And his recipes work.
- Lew Griffin Knives: Check them out. Beautiful works of art. Irish workmanship at its finest.
- Virgilio Martinez: His style of cooking and passion for Peruvian cooking is inspiring. Always a place in my heart for his beautiful cooking. Helps my family are from his neck of the woods.
- Cochon Butchers: This little hipster deli cum butcher shop is great. Star Wars toys, knives on sale. And some incredible sandwiches and deli meats. I'd walk back to New Orleans for their pig head cheese pate and rillettes.
- Josh Niland: Just check it out. His fish butchery is next level. I see his posts and I'm lost for words.
- Andrew WK: Thrash metal lead singer. But foremost he is a self-help guru and self-motivator. His self-help talks are spot on. His appearance throws people off, but he is excellent.
Fingal Ferguson: Anything he puts his hands to turns to gold. His knives look the part. His smoked meats and cheese. Had the pleasure of seeing him break down a whole pig in 15 at Big Grill Fest. Great Irish representative