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Food fight as rival erupts after Ulster chef named Ireland’s best

By Maureen Coleman

One is head chef at a much-loved restaurant in rural Northern Ireland. The other is a Michelin-starred chef with premises in an affluent Dublin suburb.

But temperatures reached boiling point when the Ulster chef Danny Millar walked away with the top prize in the culinary version of the Oscars, leaving Michelin-starred Oliver Dunne choking on his after-dinner mints.

Dunne’s sour grapes episode happened after Millar, from Balloo House in Co Down, was named Best Irish Chef at the prestigious Irish Restaurant Awards in Dublin on Wednesday night.

But Millar’s victory was too hard to swallow for Dubliner Dunne, who said he would boycott the event in the future due to changes in the judging system. He said part of the voting system was based on public support and hinted that Millar had canvassed votes to win the top gong.

“If you’re nominated for something, it should be based on your ability, not begging people to vote for you,” said Dunne, who owns Malahide restaurant Bon Appetit.

“I for one have had enough and am bowing out,” he added.

However Millar, who represented Northern Ireland in BBC2’s Great British Menu in 2009, dismissed the comments as “bad craic”.

And he said he wouldn’t let Dunne’s “childish” outburst overshadow his delight.

“I can’t believe the way he has reacted, he’s just a sore loser,” said Millar.

“Balloo House is a great restaurant with good food and people keep coming back time and time again.

“He’s just throwing his toys out of the pram, or should I say, his whisk out of the kitchen.”

Danny said he agreed with Dunne that awards should be handed out on merit alone.

“We also chose to opt out of the customer canvassing, so I am happy that results were based solely on the judging panel’s findings,” he said.

“I suspect many credible restaurants did not ask for diners’ votes as it is not ideal to ask your customers to support you by spending money on a text vote.

“Perhaps Oliver has overestimated how much influence the customer vote had over the results.”

This is the second year that Danny has been nominated in the Best Chef category at the RAI awards. Balloo House won Best Chef, Best Restaurant and Best Customer Service in this year’s Co Down regional finals to get through to the All Ireland finals.

A spokeswoman for Balloo House restaurant said: “After the regional finals, the RAI asked finalists to canvass for votes from customers through posters/table talkers in the restaurant.

“We decided not to involve ourselves in this process as we did not like the idea of intruding on our diners for votes and preferred to leave the results up to the judges so that awards, if won, were on merit alone and not popularity.

“Traditionally, restaurants north of the border have not featured in the awards in previous years, so for the Best Chef All Ireland to be won by Danny for his cooking at Balloo House is quite an achievement in the industry.”

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