Aidan McGee brings modern Irish cuisine to City Hall Plaza: ‘We’re not just potatoes’

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What do you want people to know about Irish cuisine?

We are not just potatoes. Obviously, we will have traditional dishes like fish and chips and shepherd’s pie. We will obviously have a good steak. But, also, we’ll have our own smoked salmon, and stuff like that. We will make our own Irish soda and freshly picked crabs. A true marriage of New England and Ireland together. This is the link we want to convey.

Where I come from, in Donegal, you could go by boat and go all the way to Boston Harbour. If you look at the coastline, the people, the farmers, the Berkshires, that area, it’s very similar to Ireland. Oysters are huge in Ireland, as they are in Maine. Soups, Chowder, Stews: When you really step back and look at it, the cuisine of New England and Ireland is pretty much the same. What new Irish cuisine is, it’s healthy, much like people. It’s accessible, not too difficult, no micro weeds or anything. It’s simple, clean and very close to the approach of farmers and fishermen. And the Irish cheese is amazing. We just need to shout louder about it.

Why Boston?

My wife is from upstate New York near Saratoga. We met in London. She is currently working at Harvard, as a fellow, on nuclear weapons. I had worked in London for 14 years – all Michelin high end fine dining restaurants, and had a pub too. In the middle of the pandemic, I was sitting at home. I ended up going from Mayfair – the Manhattan of London, silver service, fine dining – to feeding the homeless in the mornings during COVID. It was a humbling experience. [My wife] had an offer to come to Harvard. You know what? Let’s try. Let’s change. I took some time off.

A podcast in Ireland mentioned me, and one of the guys from East Coast Tavern, also from Donegal, where I’m from, heard it. We talked. This site popped up, and we went. They have Emmet’s and Carrie Nation, and Scholar’s. It’s an Irish band owned by Irish people. It made sense. I want to make a gastronomic and contemporary restaurant all along the line.

What are your impressions of Boston so far?

People are amazing. They are really welcoming. You could go for a beer in a few bars; you mention you’re working, and the first thing is, ‘What do you need from us?’ It is a testimony for the people. They are ready to change and fight and get rid of COVID and keep going, get things done. Great people. It’s a little cold. The first winter was a bit of a shock, but this one is going well.

Why did you become a cook?

My father was a cook and a farmer. I had this past, I was exposed to it from an early age. I saw the cultivation of vegetables, animal welfare, but also the cooking aspect.

I started working as what you would call here a busboy or porter. I’m not sure of the American term. I started working in bars and I really liked it. I loved going to work and the long hours didn’t really affect me. I didn’t look at it as a long job. I had taken a course in industrial design, which requires a creative mindset, and I said to myself: “No, it’s not for me”.

I went to my local culinary school in Donegal. They had a library full of hospitality cookbooks. Read books like French Laundry and stuff like that? Are you looking for Paris books? wow. There is something more here than meat and two vegetables! I did an apprenticeship in London. I went from a rural town in the northwest of Ireland to Knightsbridge, Mayfair. Naivety helped me. My father told me: “Buy a good bed and a good pair of shoes.

I worked there for 14 years, including 7 at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge. I have been to Bangkok for a while. It was an excellent base. This is where I met Daniel Boulud for the first time. We opened Bar Boulud in London. He is an absolute legend of a guy. Then the Truscott Arms was a gastro pub in London, and that’s where I got my first real job as a chef. We won the best Sunday roast in Britain. I was a rising “Tatler” star. It came very quickly.

What is your impression of Boston cuisine?

I think that’s really good. Really strong. And tourism is huge here. I think the city needs it more than ever. There are so many markets, from high volume places to gourmet restaurants. I think people appreciate really good food here in Boston and can tell right from wrong. They are not ready to accept mediocrity. I think the scene here is very strong, and when you see people like Gordon Ramsay coming, it’s positive.

What are your favorite local restaurants so far?

Asta. I really like Asta. It’s right there. They’re trying something new, which is reassuring to see. I also like The Sevens. And I have to say Emmet’s Irish Pub. Boston bars have zero tolerance for people who misbehave. They should continue like this. It is as it should be.

Favorite snack?

A toast with ham and cheese.


Kara Baskin can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.

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