Gaz Smith Talks Recipe Book And Industry Life

By Emily Hourican
Gaz Smith Talks Recipe Book And Industry Life

GAZ SMITH has made an impressive mark with Michael’s Mount Merrion. Now, together with Rick Higgins of Higgins Family Butcher, he has produced a lavish book of recipes (which has already been snapped up by Nigella Lawson). Smith talks to Hospitality Ireland about life in the industry.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in December of 2021.

Where did your interest in food and cooking come from?

I’m not sure, if I’m completely honest! There was no food culture in my house – just lots of it! We ate food like waffles and beans, so I had no grounding in local produce and stuff like that. I wasn’t great in school, so decided to leave early and was offered two jobs: one in an office, and another as a kitchen porter. The kitchen porter job won out, as it paid 50p more an hour than being the office coffee boy. I then got a chance to be a cook and earn an extra £1 an hour. I came back to Ireland when I was 17 and realised I didn’t know anything about cooking, so I read cookbooks and basically taught myself how to cook. Delia Smith has a lot to answer for!

How was lockdown for you?

Lockdown was stressful, but strangely successful. During the first days of lockdown, I found it so upsetting to see staff being let go in the industry when I so desperately wanted to keep my team together. It wasn’t until I sat down to go through the books that I saw our own bills were haemorrhaging. The restaurant game is all on 30-day terms, so it’s not until your revenue stops that you realise how much you owe. To get through, we tried everything once. We started doing click-and-collect, which kept the kitchen staff in jobs, but meant no work for the floor staff, so we turned the front terrace of Michael’s into a market stall, which helped support local producers and gave the floor team something to do. It worked very well.

One day I was talking to Rick Higgins of Higgins Family Butcher about the non-meat offering in his shop, and a beautiful collaboration was born. The partnership worked so well in Mount Merrion that we decided to open at Rick’s shop in Sutton. We realised how well we can work together, and that’s how And for Mains came about.


Lockdown was the biggest learning curve of my career, and I learned more in 18 months than I had in 15 years. The biggest thing I learned, though, was how important the team is, and how important it is to treat your team well.

What is your assessment of the restaurant industry now?

Over the next six months, I think we will see restaurants adopt smaller menus that change frequently. With shortages in staff and the supply challenges, the options for restaurateurs are to do less service and smaller menus, or include more convenience foods. Your customers are the ones who will dictate what you can and can’t do. Like the previous recession, I think recent challenges will continue to breed a lot of creativity. The industry definitely has a more diverse offering, with lots of new food trucks, start-ups, bakeries and more – it’s wonderful to see.

What are the major challenges right now?

I believe the biggest challenge will be managing the cash flow for next six months. Those who couldn’t pay suppliers may now be facing huge bills, especially when last year’s VAT bills land, and then when grants end – plus wage and general costs have skyrocketed. For Dublin restaurants, in particular, the cost of living presents a major challenge, as potential punters and staff are moving abroad, or out of the city and county.

What could the government be doing to make life within the industry easier?

Despite the ambiguity about opening, etc., I think the government schemes and supports have been very fair, and the industry has had good support through the pandemic. The communication was poorly managed, but I don’t think that any country got things done perfectly, to be honest.

(Cover) And For Mains (Photography by Katie Quinn) (1)

What are the key differences between Michael’s and Little Mike’s?

When we opened Little Mike’s, we were thinking small plates and tapas – like Barrafina, in London – while Michael’s is more where you would bring your parents. Both have the same ethos, but Little Mike’s is more of a playground for testing new, more creative dishes, and Michael’s is more your safe, steady pair of hands. Little Mike’s has a great snug, where you can hole up for the afternoon and mill a bottle of wine or two! There’s also the Chef’s Counter – it’s loud, raucous and engaging. Little Mike’s is how I love to eat.


Are you involved in any other restaurant/food projects at the moment?

Other than launching And for Mains, I have two projects in the pipeline that I am not allowed to talk about yet, but something very special is on the way. We are always looking two years down the line. We actually have landlords actively trying to get us into their premises, as we are known to be good tenants.

How has the restaurant industry changed since you began your career?

There is definitely a shift to treating the teams better. I never saw too many instances of bullying, but, in the past, it was very stressful, with bigger menus and lots of tension in the kitchen. Now the focus is on ‘less is more’ – less customers, less dishes. More chefs know now who they are and what they want to cook. Also, with the ease of travel and so much food knowledge online, chefs are keener to travel and experience new cuisines and ways of cooking, and reignite their passion for food.

What has been the most challenging part of your career?

Trying to get Michael’s across the line in the early days. We returned from Vienna and had no trading history and no money, but got the chance to take over Michael’s. It was a painful trek from where I lived in Clontarf to Michael’s. The bank and the food suppliers laughed at us when applying for loans and credit. In fact, Michael’s is still called Michael’s as, at the time, we simply didn’t have enough money to change the sign. We opened on a shoestring, with no knowledge of business, and suddenly had to deal with a massive amount of logistics that I hadn’t even considered. During lockdown, I have stepped away from the kitchen, more towards the business side, and I am loving it.

What has been the most rewarding aspect?

Coming out of the lockdowns with my team intact. They were by my side through good and bad while dealing with their own dramas. I can’t pretend it was plain sailing – it was tough. Also, to get And for Mains out during all this is pretty amazing, I and don’t know how we did it, to be honest.

How do you switch off – hobbies, etc.?

I don’t really switch off. I pretend that I will put the phone down, but I never do. I’m always on, in terms of social media for the restaurants, but it doesn’t feel like work. Once in a while, I will sneak away to London or Vienna, and I will put the phone away and focus on eating. Eating is my own personal form of meditation. Any plans for the next six to nine months? For the first time ever, we are closing for a full week over Christmas, on 23 December. I am going to take a couple of weeks in January to smell the roses. It’s been a frenetic two years, so my aim is to try to achieve a work-life balance. If that happens or not, we will see.



And for Mains (€40) is available now, in store – at Michael’s Mount Merrion, little Mike’s, and Higgins Family Butcher, Sutton. For online and corporate orders, see www.andformains.ie

Keep up to date with the latest news from gaz Smith and rick Higgins at @Michaelscodub and @higginsbutchers.

Michael’s Mount Merrion

57 Deerpark Road, Mount Merrion, Dublin, A94 F761



Little Mike’s

63 Deerpark Road, Mount Merrion, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, A94 PN23


Michael’s Sutton,

Higgins Family Butcher

2 Sutton Cross, Burrow, Sutton, Co. Dublin, D13 E2Y4


Read More: Hospitality Ireland Winter 2021: Read The Latest Issue Online!