Meet the two young Irish chefs behind Dublin Pop Up, one of the city’s most exciting new food companies.
This time last year Dublin and social media was abuzz about a pop-up restaurant in Meeting House Square run by two wunderkind chefs, Harry Colley and Cúán Greene. Under the ‘umbrellas’ of the city centre gathering spot, a temporary garden sprouted. Bright tables and chairs were contained within healthy green hedges. As twilight hit, lamps glittered and patrons were universal in their acclaim about the grub being served up. Dublin Pop Up was the name of the reservations-like-gold-dust game, and after a week of charming the pants off every hungry foodie in Dublin, Lidl swooped in with a big reveal. Harry and Cúán were indeed the culinary brains behind the show, but Lidl were the suppliers of all the produce. In the end, Secret Garden became two big news stories – Lidl positioning themselves as the home of great and affordable Irish produce, and two guys with acres of talent.
Dublin Pop Up has been causing in-the-know conversations ever since. We even had the pleasure of attending a private birthday party supper the boys catered in a studio apartment in Portobello. While friends clinked their BYOB prosecco and cans, Cuan and Harry were hard at work in the background kitchen, serving up a tasting menu for easily 35 people. It was intimate, fun, and the food was stunning, with borscht, boa and Negroni cocktails, delivered via Mr. Freeze-esque ice pops, on the menu. Wherever Dublin Pop Up goes, praise follows. Be it in some of Dublin’s coolest art galleries, or at private parties.
We decided to chat to Cuan and Harry about how their food business was getting along.
Give us the elevator pitch for Dublin Pop Up.
Harry: We’re a fine dining events company with a creative approach to Irish food. We use interesting techniques, striking aesthetics and play with traditional dining formats to create an unforgettable experience.
I often see the term ‘guerrilla dining’ used to describe what you’re doing. What does that even mean?
Harry: It’s not a term I use very often and more describes how we started out. The guerilla bit I suppose just refers to activity happening out of sight as if buried away in the jungle. We started out doing pop ups in apartments, closed cafés and galleries. Nobody would have known we were there unless they had seen it on Twitter.
How did Secret Garden come about?
Harry: Well myself and Cúán never had any serious plans for Dublin Pop Up, the whole thing started completely organically, and we had put the project on hold while I was finishing my last semester of college. Cúán had gone to work in an amazing restaurant in Spain too, so we weren’t even in the same country. I was cold called by Catapult Events and pulled in for a meeting. They asked us to be a part of the project and when I left the meeting I called Cúán straight away and told him he might want to come home for a bit.
Why did you both decide to become chefs?
Cúán: Growing up in France generated my love for food. I began working at a young age. Coming from a creative background and always loving food meant cooking was the perfect career choice.
Harry: My route to the kitchen wasn’t quite so linear. I dropped out of college the first time around and found myself unemployed and totally lost. I always had an interest in food so I tried out a short Fáilte Ireland course in professional cookery and got the bug. It became my life and I was consumed by food and cooking. I got myself into a kitchen at the end of the course and went back to college the following year to study culinary arts while I was working. At college you meet so many people who are just as into the industry as you are and you spend all your time talking about food and going to restaurants together and being total anoraks. Now I’ve no idea what else I’d do.
Do either of your families have a foodie history?
Cúán: Yeah, my Grandmother was a cook; she worked in the Gresham Hotel until she got married. Both my parents are keen cooks and passionate about food.
Harry: My mum and dad are great cooks too but my dad especially has been a huge influence on my cooking and me. He’s gone so far as to build his own thermal circulator out of an old rice cooker for sous vide at home and he’s even built a humidity controlled meat curing chamber out of an old fridge and a fog machine. The stuff coming out of it tastes amazing too. He also bakes fresh sourdough every day, which is ridiculous behaviour.
Best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Cúán: It was being served the 45 course tasting menu made by my colleagues and peers at Quique Dacosta Restaurant in Spain. That was a spectacular moment for me.
Harry: Mine was in Spain too actually, in Comerç 24 in Barcelona. It was a college trip, and restaurants can often skimp on the details with large group bookings but we had an incredible tasting menu and saw so many preparations and techniques that we had no idea existed.
Harry, you’re just back from Vietnam and Laos. How does travel influence your work?
Harry: Travel is so important in getting new ideas and experiencing new flavour combinations you would have never come across. I have spent a shameful amount of time looking at Asian food videos on YouTube but nothing compares to actually sitting on a tiny plastic stool in 35-degree heat in the middle of the night with loud scooters zooming past you while you’re slurping a huge bowl of noodles in broth with fresh herbs. You come back home feeling invigorated and inspired. The best thing I took back is probably the simplest, but fish sauce and ketchup are like long lost brothers that go so well together as a marinade for grilled meat. I’m now trying to get Cúán to get on board for a research trip to Mexico but no luck yet. Maybe when he sees this written online he’ll be forced to go with me to eat fish tacos and make tamales and stuff.
Are you doing something completely different from your former classmates? What’s the usual route after training as a chef?
Harry: Normally a chef goes into a kitchen after college, if they hadn’t already been in one during their studies, as a commis chef. A commis is an apprentice and watches, takes notes and does a lot a mindless repetitive work until they have that skill in their repertoire. You do a few stages, internships, in good restaurants that will hopefully lead to a job. You work your way up the ranks to be a chef de partie, sous chef and eventually a head chef. That’s the traditional route and a good few of our friends from college are on that path. Cúán and I still do stages to improve our skills but there’s plenty of us from college who have spun off in a different direction. A friend of ours started a doughnut company, another opened a market stall, someone else does pop up restaurants too and another has been running a bread-making workshop so lots of us are being creative in finding our own place in the industry.
How does the average day look for you?
Harry: There really is no average day, which is why we love doing what we do in Dublin Pop Up. We could have a rake of meetings to go to one day and the next we’re hanging out, brainstorming and trying new dishes or working on our own food projects to bring to the next meeting. We could be prepping for an event for 20 or 200 people. It’s great, there’s way more deskwork than I thought there’d be though.
What kind of clients have you had so far?
Harry: We’ve had loads of variety in our clients. There’s the heads who come to our pop up events who could be anyone that subscribes to some form of social media. Bit of variety in that sphere, I’d say. Aside from that we’ve worked with pretty big corporate clients in the food and beverage industry as well as supermarkets, gallery owners, PR companies looking after product launches, private functions. That sort of thing.
You’ve run events in various art galleries around Dublin. In what other locations have you put on a spread?
Harry: The very first event we did was in my flat, which you can see in the photos. That was actually really fun, considering we were squeezing 24 people on one long table that ran the length of the whole building. We’ve also done a few in cafés after they’ve closed for the evening, which is sometimes a tough gig disassembling and reassembling somebody else’s space in one night as well as cooking a ten course meal for 30 guests but our next one is going to be in the beautiful and newly opened Fumbally Stables at the back of The Fumbally Café. It’s a really nice room with a real kitchen so we’re very excited about it.
Who and where would be the ideal location for Dublin Pop Up?
Harry: We’re still looking for the perfect location. We’ve done an event in a brewery before which sounded amazing but at the last minute we were told we couldn’t have any source of heat in the building. So sometimes things seem ideal and then they’re absolutely not ideal.
What can you not resist putting on your menus these days?
Cúán: With every event we undertake, our menus change, tailoring food to the clients’ needs. Our focus however is always on flavour, produce and the visual. One of our favourite summer dishes though is the dish we did here today. Sea bass ceviche, with Leche de Tigre. It uses a combination of techniques, balance of flavours and loads of nice fresh herbs.
Harry: People love our Negroni cool pops. They’re really fun, nostalgic and taste amazing. It’s the adult version of a Mr. Freeze and they always get the room buzzing.
Okay, we’re getting serious about cooking and being adults. The ultimate cook book we need to buy, and what kitchen utensils are indispensible?
Harry: I won’t lend anyone my copy of Momofuku by Peter Meehan and David Chang. I use it too often and it is one of the only restaurant cookbooks that anybody actually cooks from at home. I’ve a total soft spot for Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson too. It was the book that got me into cooking and it’s really nice in the hand. As far as utensils go, Cúán never goes anywhere without his chef’s tweezers. He uses them for absolutely everything. I’ve yet to get in the habit.
Favourite takeaway food?
Cúán: I love Indian food; Naan bread does it for me.
Harry: DiFontaine’s slice of pepperoni with a tub of garlic sauce from Zaytoon, eaten on the Grattan Bridge. Hands down.
And now, the most contentious question in 2015 Ireland, where does the best brunch?
Cúán: When we’re hungover, it’s become a ritual for my friend and me to drop into Dillinger’s in Ranelagh as it’s just around the corner. We order steak and eggs. Every time.
Where can we catch Dublin Pop Up in the next few weeks?
We’re doing free snacks as part of Bloom Fringe on the Why Go Bald Square on Georges Street on 30th May as long as you tweet. It’s called Tweet to Eat. We’re working with Happenings for a Bloomsday event on 14th June. It’s a brunch on North Great George’s Street. Info and tickets here. We’re working with Designgoat in Kilkenny on an event called Appetite For Design the 20th June. Tickets can be bought here. Abnd then there’s our own event in the Fumbally Stables on July 4th, tickets are available here.
Keep up to date with further Dublin Pop Up events by following the lads on Twitter at @dublinpopup
Want to read about another Irish foodie business we think is doing Great Things? Check out our interview with Julianne and Lydia of Blacksheep Foods. How Two Irish Girls Started Their Dream Food Company
Questions by Jeanne Sutton. Follow Jeanne Sutton on Twitter @jeannedesutun.
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