Born in Chennai, India, Meeran Manzoor started cooking for his family at age 12. At the age of 17, he moved to London to do a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts. He went on to work in the Metropolitan Hotel, Park Lane, and then 45 Park Lane, at the Dorchester. From there, he went to Florida’s Frenchman’s Creek and then to Belgium, where he worked in a number of prolific restaurants.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in July of 2023.
Meeran took the executive chef position at the Blue Haven Collection in 2019, and Rare opened in 2020. With the menu leaning towards rural South Indian cuisine, changes have been made to the interiors, to equal the refinement of Rare’s unique menu and the marriage of Irish produce and Indian flavours. The concept of Rare was born throughout Covid, from Meeran’s vision of bringing all that he had learned and applying it to incredible local produce. During the numerous lockdowns, he worked on bringing the concept to life, designing the kitchen and spending time visiting and getting to know local artisanal suppliers.
Locally sourced ingredients extend beyond the food menu, with a carefully curated cocktail menu including locally foraged ingredients and spirits sourced in West Cork distilleries prepared by the restaurant’s master mixologist. Rare also houses a unique Irish whiskey collection, featuring rare and exclusive whiskeys. Wines are exclusively selected by Rare’s expert sommelier and include organic, vegan and biodynamic wines. The cocktail menu includes in-house creations, such as the Perfect Spritz and Mexican Rabbits, plus a take on classics – Mai Oh Mai is Rare’s version of a mai tai.
Tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.
Born in Chennai, I started cooking for my family at age 12, and by 16 I was ready to embark on my culinary studies. At 17, I moved to London to do a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts. I did my stage at the East India Club in Mayfair and went on to work in the Metropolitan Hotel, Park Lane, and then at 45 Park Lane, at the Dorchester. From there I went to Florida’s Frenchman’s Creek and then on to Belgium, where I worked in a number of award-winning establishments. I took the executive chef position at the Blue Haven Collection in 2019.
What first drew you to cooking?
All my childhood memories are mostly related to food, be it a movie scene or a family get-together. The main thing that keeps bringing me deep into cooking is the fact that I could put a smile on guests’ faces and be part of that memory.
When did you first realise that you wanted to do this professionally?
The moment I landed in London to do my bachelor’s degree, I saw how the profession of a chef is admired – back home, at that point, cooking wasn’t considered a great career choice, compared to being an engineer or doctor. I knew 100% I wanted to be part of this industry for a long time.
What was your first big role?
I have considered all the roles given to me as my biggest roles, but, to state one, I would say my first practical test at my university in London, where I had to come up with a menu and manage the kitchen for that day.
What was that like?
It was nerve-wracking, but a very good experience. I learned a lot from that day, which gave me an insight into how important mise en place – everything in its place – is in the kitchen and in life.
When did you move to Ireland?
February 2018 – two weeks before the snowstorm, when the whole of West Cork shut down.
How did you find the move?
To be honest, it took me a while to settle down. It was difficult for me at the beginning, to adjust to the lifestyle, the pace, and everything else. I’ve moved around a lot in my life so far, but this move to Ireland took me the longest to settle down, but now I can’t think of anything better than what Ireland has given me.
Why did you set up Rare?
Kinsale is situated around such amazing food producers, be it meat, fish, vegetables or dairy. I wanted to use it to its fullest advantage, create something unique, and keep it as local as possible, and be the place where local ingredients shine.
Tell us about Rare – the ethos, food, service, etc.
Rare has continually evolved since opening in 2020, executed by managing director Ciaran Fitzgerald and through my role as head chef. With the menu leaning towards my Tamil Nadu [South Indian state] heritage, changes have been made to the interiors to equal the refinement in Rare’s unique menu and the marriage of Irish produce to Indian flavours.
The style of food is very simple – let the local seasonal ingredients shine, and my food dances when the energy is happy. Using influence from rural South Indian cuisines and techniques, we use flavours to uplift our locally sourced ingredients. With the new enhancements to the dining room’s look and feel, Rare provides an ever-evolving experience to its guests.
What makes a great restaurant?
What are the changing trends in hospitality – people’s expectations, new elements, etc.?
We see a lot of businesses publicise a four-day work culture, which is good, especially in the hospitality industry, where it can be really fast-paced. Lately, there is an emphasis given on using local seasonal produce, which is very heart-warming to see. A lot of research is currently being done on fermentation and how good it can be for us, and slowly we are seeing it pop up on menus.
People’s expectations are very simple: they want good food, a good laugh, and good wine.
What are the major challenges at the moment?
Pricing is something that has gone beyond control – no one knows what the price of butter will be in two weeks – which puts the industry in an awkward spot in which it’s already fragile. Staffing is another issue – to be able to get passionate people to work with is getting more difficult by the day.
What are the main opportunities?
There are huge opportunities for the taking in the Irish hospitality industry. Whatever difficulties we have, we always come out on top of that, with flying colours. There is now a real opportunity to shape the industry for the best, keeping in mind the future, to make the industry more attractive than what it is now.
Any other plans on the horizon for the next year or so?
I am one person who is always planning something, and with Blue Haven, we are always thinking about how to keep up with the trends. Only time will tell.
Given your role in Chef Network – a community and professional network connecting chefs across the island of Ireland – what are your thoughts about the industry at the moment? Are we continuing to improve, in terms of providing respectful working conditions and opportunities?
It’s a great initiative to be part of. I am delighted to be included in the Chef Network Advisory Council. We are constantly discussing what needs to be done to improve and benefit the industry. I am a strong believer in a fair kitchen atmosphere. I have an opendoor policy towards my team. With regards to the industry at the moment, we have a lot of positive initiatives happening. Chefs across Ireland are leading the way forward.
Is there more that can be done?
There is no limit as to what can be done. We will continue to implement and improvise as we travel ahead into the future.
RARE AT A GLANCE:
How many covers? Twenty-five  covers for dinner.
Number of staff members – front and back of house? Four to five front-of-house, three back-ofhouse.
Percentage breakdown between food and beverage? Sixty to seventy per cent food.
Signature dish? At the moment, it’s cured Goatsbridge sea trout – apple cider – Xo – neer moru [spiced buttermilk].