As a chef with Irish heritage, how would you like the cuisine to be regarded in 2016? Any chef who has done well in their career takes what they've grown up with and makes it their own. I grew up on secondary cuts that were braised and stewed and I have incorporated them on the menu at 4Fourteen. There are elements of Ireland in dishes like the colcannon, but it's not an Irish restaurant. I embrace my heritage without being over the top. I see my restaurant as being influenced from my Irish heritage and my travels around the world.
What are some of the big Irish traditions that you would love to see transplanted here? The whole country closes down on St Patrick's Day in Ireland. I'd love to see that! Irish traditions are all based around food and family. Even funerals are popular in Ireland, as you know you will get well fed.
What is the one dish you think of when it comes to getting you through a cold Irish winter? When I was growing up, you'd get home from school in winter and there would be a lamb stew on the stove and some soda bread in the oven. I love an Irish stew.
… And the most memorable food experience from your childhood? We used to get a house by the sea in Courtown in Wexford and we'd go for three months with all the family and cousins. All the cousins would sleep in tents in the garden and we'd have these big cook-offs of roast meats and vegetables, fish and chips and ice-cream. When I filmed My Ireland for Channel Seven last year I returned as an adult who has travelled the world and I visited a few places that I'd never been to and felt a lot of guilt for leaving my roots. I saw Ireland through different eyes. Would I go back? No, my wife and kids and I love it here.
There are nine Michelin-starred restaurants in Ireland. Why is Irish food causing such a stir? When I was growing up in Ireland, times were tough and the mindset was that when you left, you didn't go back. When money came back into the country, there was a shift in thinking. All those chefs that gained skills around the world moved back to Ireland and that's been behind this new wave of amazing restaurants. I worked at Thornton's, which had two stars in 1994 and, since then, a lot has changed. Back in the day, Irish people didn't care what they ate. They just wanted lots of it. That's what I moved away from. When I went back last year, I ate at a place called Forest Avenue in Dublin that was so on point. It didn't have a Michelin star but it was better than a lot of the Michelin-starred restaurants. It was very modern and fresh and seasonal, which I hadn't seen before. Ireland has come a long way.
You and your business partner sold the two-hatted Four in Hand last year. Apart from your role as executive chef at 4Fourteen, what else can we expect from Colin Fassnidge in 2016? My business partner Joe Saleh and I have got a few things on the go. We are looking at taking over a few other pubs. We are not aiming for two hats… just really good bar food. I'm going back to cooking whatever I like. It is very liberating.
What Irish ingredients do you crave?
I buy Clonakilty white pudding and black pudding from my Irish suppliers. Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter is also coming into Australia. That's standout. Everything from the black tea we drink, to the black or white pudding and potato bread to the crappy sweets and crisps.
Your death-row dish? My mother does fried bread, eggs and sausages with white pudding and mushrooms. It's great but after a few days it starts to kill you. The Irish are synonymous with potatoes. When the new season potatoes come in, you boil them and you put Kerrygold Irish Butter on it and that's all you want.
You have a mystery bag of two green ingredients: Cabbage. Brussels sprouts. What do you cook? I'd do a cabbage and brussels sprout salad with lardons.
How has your cooking style here in Australia evolved over the past decade or so? I came to Australia in 1999. I was trained in Dublin and then worked for Raymond Blanc, Oxford, which is top of the top. When I came to Sydney I worked at Banc, which was also top of the top. As I got older, my cooking got lighter. Everything gets lighter. It got more nutritional. It's not all about dots on plates or awards. It's about what you're feeding people.
So if the apple doesn't fall very far from the Fassnidge tree … who in your family inspired you to get in the kitchen? My mother inspired me but my father was also a very good cook. He cooked a lot of lamb chops and lamb liver. He was known for his onion rings. Wednesday was onion ring day. Mum made stews and tarts. We used to take the phone off the hook so nobody could call us during dinnertime.
What Irish dish do you cook your daughters that you know they will love? I buy a pork rack so it's about five cutlets with crackling. I roast it with the crackling on whole on the bone and then cut it and they all fight over it.
You are all set to compete in the annual Hunter Culinary Association annual food fight in June where you will be cooking alongside the former team from Sydney's three-hatted Banc restaurant. What's the one carb-heavy Irish dish that could help fuel you to victory? A pint of Guinness and a bowl of colcannon or a nice barley stew.