Ollie Keenan has been crowned as the Sodexo All-Ireland Chef of the Year for 2019, winning gold for his sustainable themed menu.
Ollie will now progress to compete in front of a live audience at the Sodexo UK and Ireland Grand Final at the HRC Show (formerly Hotelympia) in London in March 2020.
The theme of this year’s competition is Celebrating Our Sustainable Future and the focus was on the creative use of sustainable ingredients that support the Future 50 Foods initiative. 75% of the global food supply comes from only 12 plant and five animal species and the initiative is to help promote the top 50 plant-based foods identified by WWF-UK and Knorr Professional, that need to be incorporated more into daily food consumption to drive positive change in the use of natural resources.
The contestants had 90 minutes to produce three dishes; a seasonal plant-based starter, the use of organic chicken and specific garnishes for the mains and a pear-based dessert. Ollie impressed the judges, including Michelin-starred TV chef Derry Clarke and Audrey Crone, executive chef with competition sponsors Unilever Ireland, with his starter of wild mushroom and wild rice Asian dumpling, followed by chicken supreme with potato puree, roast baby vegetables, wilted kale and spinach, micro watercress, smoked bacon and parmesan cream and a dessert of chocolate fondant, almond crumble, poached pear and crème Chantilly.
Ollie, who comes from Ballinode in Co. Monaghan, said: “I was surprised but very happy as it’s my first time to enter a competition like this. I leaned towards an Asian style dish for my starter because of the diverse range of spices and flavours and kept my main simple. For the dessert, I opted for the classic flavour combination of pears, chocolate and nuts, always a crowd pleaser! I’ll be getting a lot of support and mentoring from the chef development team in preparation for the final, I am looking forward to the challenge and proud to represent Ireland at it.”
Ollie was presented with gift vouchers from Unilever and will attend plating masterclasses with Derry Clarke and Audrey Crone. He will also attend a mentoring day in the UK in November 2019 to focus and refine his dishes in advance of the grand final.
Julianne Forrestal, executive development chef for Sodexo Ireland, said: “Congratulations to Ollie on what was an exceptional effort for his first time competing, and especially under the time pressures of these competitions. His starter was beautifully executed and tapped into the current high street trend for Pan-Asian cuisine. A nostalgic, nicely seasoned main and for his dessert, he managed to execute the perfect fondant, a difficult feat for even the most seasoned competitor and which greatly impressed the judges.”