Buy 'Food for Life', Kevin Thornton's book of photographs.
All proceeds will go to The Children's Medical and Research Foundation in Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin
Kevin Thornton was awarded the Title as Chef of the Year for Ireland 2007 by Food and Wine.
on was Chef Kevin Thornton has a spiritual, almost reverential, approach to food. The two star Michelin chef believes each ingredient passing through his Portobello kitchen should be treated with absolute respect.
"Food is not about just the finished product, it's about life," he said. "Everything we eat is living at some stage.'' Fish, fowl, game and vegetables are transformed almost sacramentally into superb meals for his adoring customers. Since 75 per cent of his clientele come back regularly, they must agree with his philosophy.
Thornton's attitude is not born of pretension but of his semi-rural upbringing. He was one of nine children born to a truck driver and his wife in Cashel, Co Tipperary, and became intrigued by the gardens and farms he encountered in his youth.
As a child he worked in the gardens of Cashel Palace Hotel and spent summers on an uncle's farm helping with the chickens and sheep. "I was fascinated with how things were transformed with nurturing - from a seed to a vegetable or a calf to a cow,'' he said.
His curious mind led him on a sensory journey where each taste, smell and sight revealed new possibilities and food combinations. Later stints working in an abattoir and a vineyard and taking up diving cemented his education in the way creatures live, grow and die. By understanding their anatomy and life cycles, he believes he can respect them more fully.
Early on, Thornton saw a natural link between food and community. Although his mother did most of the cooking, all the children helped out in the kitchen by cleaning or preparing food.
"Sometimes going back to school at lunch time I'd be five minutes late and the teacher would say, 'Where were you Thornton?' and I'd say, 'I was cooking dinner'. Everyone in the class would giggle but to me it was normal.''
Young Thornton was unsure what to do when he finished secondary school until his sister Maura suggested he study the culinary arts at Galway RTC. Surprising even himself, Thornton quickly took to the new role.
After graduation, his traditional training began in earnest in kitchens throughout the world. Despite tough times emotionally and physically in France, Switzerland and Canada, he emerged as a chef with solid foundations and a strong work ethic. Anyone meeting Thornton on the street, with his medium-length curly brown and grey hair and single earring, might mistake him for an ageing rock star or folk singer. Looking closer, they might see a wiry and determined man whose powerful hands tell of a more disciplined and demanding profession.
In life, he constantly inspects and dissects his own skills and pushes himself to reach the next level. His wife and business partner, Muriel, calls him a workaholic, but Thornton said it is simply who he is and what he must do.
The pair first came to Irish diners' attention when they opened the Wine Epergne in Rathmines in 1990. The restaurant was small but attracted rave reviews for its traditional yet delightful cuisine. For such a young man, Thornton's food was daringly confident and uncompromising.
"It was very difficult in that kitchen with just myself and a commis chef. There was one oven with two rings so the timing had to be absolutely perfect. The music went up and down according to my moods even though it was an open kitchen,'' he said.
Two years later, the lease ran out and it was time to take a break. Thornton weighed seven or eight stone and he knew he needed to refuel. He traded 8am to 2am days for regular hours teaching culinary techniques at a Dublin college.
In 1995 the couple opened Thornton's at 1 Portobello Road in Dublin 6. Within a few years, their 40-seat restaurant had earned its first Michelin star. In January 2001 it gained a second one. In the Republic, only Patrick Guilbaud shares this status. Thornton was also named Chef of the Year 2001 and his restaurant was named Restaurant of the Year 2001 by Food and Wine magazine. In August 1998, the magazine had predicted his culinary ascendancy in an eight-page article, entitled 'Ireland's Best Chef'.
Although Thornton is famous as a culinary genius in Ireland, he thinks the celebrity chef phenomenon is ridiculous.
"Most of them are wallies. They are good at what they do on TV but put them into a real environment and they wouldn't last five minutes.''
Most of these celebrities have restaurants but they are never there, they are simply riding on their name, believing their own hype, he said. Food fashions are also a big waste of time.
"Trends are ridiculous, fads come and go, but solid cooking and fresh ingredients remain.''
To Thornton, chefs who follow trends have no self-confidence. He believes you should stay true to yourself and follow your own rules. There is something refreshingly raw and honest about Thornton. He admits he is shy and often says the wrong things when trying to socialise with customers. He comes into his own downstairs in the heated, pressurised environment of the kitchen.
The man they simply call "Chef" is a demanding boss who requires self-discipline, good grooming and positive energy. Visitors along the canal at night can peer through the window to see his multinational team in action.
Thornton said the atmosphere is Eastern, almost military, in its focus.
"There is no bad energy in my kitchen. You have to be one with what you are doing and let it flow through you.''
Thornton's food takes its cue from French haute cuisine. The dishes require a highly skilled hand and the freshest ingredients.
"If I have an ingredient that's not good, I feel dirty,'' he said. "I couldn't even touch it, it's like a sin, an absolute waste, it should never have been allowed to get like that.''
To ensure quality, the chef visits his regular suppliers at Dublin Corporation's fruit and vegetable market in Smithfield each morning to choose the best produce for his customers. Then it's in and out of his canal-side restaurant until it's full-on from 1pm to the small hours.
The menu changes with the seasons and the availability of fish, game and other produce. In November, starters included foie gras and quail terrine with trompete de la mort and jurancon jelly (£19.50) and ravioli of lobster with courgette and lobster coral sauce (£ 25).
To follow, diners can choose from his famous braised sucking pig and trotters with maxim potato, glazed turnip and light poitin sauce (£ 34) or seabass with fresh shrimps, artichoke souffle, braised white onion with squid ink sauce (£33). Game-lovers are tempted by his delightfully composed pigeon (£33), duck (£34) and venison dishes (£ 33).
For an experience to remember at any time of year, diners may choose the six-course surprise menu (£79). Thornton customises the selections for each table so no two surprise menus are the same.
The sommelier also recommends wines appropriate for each course. Foodies who have tried it say the experience is wonderful and, although the final bill for two may average £225, it is worth saving up for.
Despite praise from customers and lots of awards, Kevin Thornton is never satisfied. A list of goals, including a cookbook and getting a third Michelin star, remain. Thornton believes in always reaching for the stars because no matter how hard you try, they are always beyond your grasp.
Thornton's, 1 Portobello Road, Dublin 6, tel: 01-4549067, is open from Tuesday to Saturday for dinner and Fridays only for lunch
Chef Kevin Thornton has a spiritual, almost reverential, approach to food. The two star Michelin chef believes each ingredient passing through his Portobello kitchen should be treated with absolute respect.
Name: Kevin Thornton
Address: Thornton's Restaurant
128 Saint Stephens Green
Telephone: 00353 1 4787008
Fax: 00353 1 4787009
Awards and Achievements:
1988 represented Ireland in South Africa World Association of Cooks
1990: Hotelympia Brons Medal
1992: Hotelympia Silver Medal
1992: Bocuse Do'r
1987 National Competitions Silver Medal;Certificate of Merit
1989 chef Ireland : Silver Medal;Bronze Medal
1991: Chef Ireland; Two Gold Medals with Distinction; Silver Medal
1995 : 1 Michelin Star thornton's Restaurant
1995: Chef of The Year Egon Ronay
1996; Gilbeys Gold Medal
1996: Restaurant of the Year, Egon Ronay
1997: Wedgood Chef of the Year
1997 Restaurant of the Year Jameson Good food Guide
1998: 3 Rosettes AA food Guide
1998: chef of the Year Food and Wine Magazine
2000 : Restaurant of the year AA Food Guid
2000: 4 Rosettes AA Good Food Guid
2001: 2nd Michelin Star Thornton's Restaurant
2001: Restaurant of The Year, Food and Wine Magazine
2001 Chef of The Year Food and wine Magazene
2002: Runners up Restaurant of the Year
2003; Restaurant of the Year Jameson Food Guide
2003: Voted no 25 in The World's 50 Best Restaurants ;Restaurant Magazene UK.
2003: Runner up Chef of The Year Food and Wine
2004 Runner up Chef of the Year Food and Wine
2006; Food for Life; Photographic Exhibition Singapore/ Bangkok/ Dublin
Dublin Fringe Festival Art Installation
No experience Required
2007; Chef of the Year
1990 - The Wine Epergne, Dublin Chef / Proprietor
1992- Lecturer College of Catering Dublin Students won Gold Medal among European Colleges in Brussels competition
1994 - Thornton's Restaurant , Portobello Dublin 1 Star Michelin / 2 Star Michelin
Chef / Proprietor
2002 - Thorntons Restaurant, 128 Saint Steohens Green, Dublin. 2 Star Michelin
Chef / Proprietor
'Food for life’ 2005
Demonstration Dinners and Theatre:
1987 Cape Town, South Africa
2000 Frankfurt, Germany
2002 Turin Italy;
Slow Food 2003; Dublin
2006; Photographic Exhibition / Dublin Fringe Festival/ Singapore/ Bangkok
2007; No Experience Required ~Designed a Rickenbacker Guitar for exhibition Rock Chick