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Danni takes on a new challenge

December 1st, 2017 | by LCN Editor
Danni takes on a new challenge

Former Eipic head chef and Michelin Star winner, Danni Barry has surprised many people by signing up to a new partnership and tackling a restaurant revival project well away from the centre of Belfast…

Danni Barry (31) was the name on everyone’s lips in 2015 when she helped her employer, chef Michael Deane, recapture his coveted Michelin Star at his Belfast eatery, Eipic, where she was head chef.

Now, the Mayobridge-born chef is back in the news as she launches the latest chapter in her career, as a partner in the revival of Clenaghan’s, at Aghalee, three miles from the village of Moira, which closed its doors in 2015.

In the project with Danni is Lisburn couple, Stevie and Christina Higginson, proprietors of the popular Square Bistro in Lisburn.

Clenaghan’s opened its doors to a warm reception in mid-November and the partners say that business has been brisk in the weeks since.

It’s a big step for Danni, who is only the second Irish female chef to secure the industry’s most sought-after accolade, the other being Myrtle Allen, who was head chef at Ballymaloe House in Co. Cork in 1975.

“To be fair, I’m still adjusting to all this myself, we’re still working at a certain level here in Clenaghan’s, of course, but there is much more of a work/life balance now.”

That need for personal space was a big factor in Danni’s decision to step away from Eipic, where she was expected to be on duty Wednesday to Saturday evening every week:

“That was a big commitment for me and there’s a certain shelf-life to a situation like that,” she says.

Danni began her culinary career with Michael Deane at the age of 17. A part-time dish-washing job in Mayobridge had been enough to convince her that a career in the restaurant trade was right for her.

She went to college in Newry and left with a level two in NVQ cookery, part of which had involved work experience with Michael Deane and his head chef at the time, Ricky Hay.

“It was very demanding and I wouldn’t have known what a Michelin Star was back then,” recalls Danni with a smile. “I just saw Deane’s as the best place to be if I was going to work at that level.”

But Danni’s career hasn’t all be spent in Belfast. In 2007, the urge to see something of the world led her to embark on an extensive working tour, travelling to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and other locations in Europe.

Eventually, she settled in GB where she began working at Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume, now widely acclaimed as one of the leading restaurants in the UK with Five AA Rosettes. At the age of 26, she was appointed to head up the kitchen at Simon Rogan’s other venue, Rogan & Co. in Cartmel, where she remained until Michael Deane persuaded her to come back to Northern Ireland and work for him in his new restaurant, Eipic.

Danni stayed with Michael until she was approached by Stevie and Christina during a visit to The Square:

“I knew their business and I knew they’d been doing well,” says Danni. “They said that they wanted a head chef for Clenaghan’s and did I know anybody. I told them that I was thinking of making a move myself and the partnership just developed from that.”

Danni was further convinced after a visit to the building itself on the Soldierstown Road:

“It’s a wee gem”, she says, “I just couldn’t say no”.

Inside the refurbished venue, a cosy ambience is enhanced by open fires and original artwork by Irish painter, Sir John Lavery. A brand new kitchen has also been installed and one of the venue’s existing bars has been converted into a dessert counter which serves to extend the kitchen out into the dining area.

When Danni spoke to LCN, the restaurant had been open for just two weeks and everyone was still “finding their feet”, she said:

“We’re just going to let the customers decide what we can do with the place,” she adds, although there is space at the front of the building and Danni indicated that this could be turned into a kitchen garden.

As for her personal ambition, she smiles when she says that up until now, she’s just been “winging it”:

“I’m still ambitious, I still have things that I want to achieve,” she adds. “I’m going to see where Clenaghan’s takes me and what happens from there is hard to say. I’ve had some great opportunities so far and I am happy now just to wait and see what happens.”

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