Guest Chef Mikael Viljanen


From time to time we invite a chef whose food we admire and enjoy, to come to the school to teach a guest chef course.

Last weekend a Finnish chef who has been making waves in Co Clare for the past few years bounced into the school to share his skills, techniques and boundless enthusiasm for food.

Mickael Viljanen took over the kitchen at Gregans Castle on the edges of the Burren in 2007 and soon began to cause a stir.  In 2011 he was awarded Best Chef in Ireland by both Food & Wine Magazine and the RAI (Restaurant Association of Ireland). People travelled far and wide to taste his food often falling in love with Co Clare in the process.

Like all good chefs he is passionate about the quality of his raw materials, but he is also fascinated and intrigued by technology and the possibilities of the many new and gadgets that can extend his range of textures, flavours and the impact of his food.

The audience at his course was a mixture of keen amateurs, chefs and students, so Mickael chose a variety of dishes that could be cooked either by traditional or more avant-garde methods. He demonstrated the advantages of the sous vide technique. He cooked a crown of chicken in a vacuum pack in a water bath at 63º for two and half hours. This produced moist succulent chicken which he then seared off before serving to crisp and caramelise the sweet skin. This was served on a bed of lentils with Gubbeen pancetta and fresh tarragon.

Rosé veal cheeks were also cooked slowly for four hours and served with a quenelle of rich mashed potato, pickled herb stalks and puffed rice –a delicious combination.

To make the puffed grains we needed a dehydrator but could also have been done in a very low oven. They were then popped in hot oil to create long grain rice, spelt,  quinoa or wild rice crispies.  The contrast of flavours and textures was delicious and like many talented chefs, he teased the flavour out of inexpensive cuts of meat (order beef cheeks ahead from your butcher) and with long slow cooking transformed them into a triumph.

For several other dishes he added pinches of Trimoline, Methocel and Ultratex.  These products were totally unfamiliar with but after this course we can have fun experimenting. A siphon originally used to aerate cream can be used in a myriad of ways to add lightness to both sweet and savoury dishes.

Mickael oomphed up a Jerusalem artichoke soup with cepes (dried mushrooms) sabayon and some micro greens. Even a Bamix (stick blender) can be used to produce a cheffy foam and lots of bubbles and fizz.

We all know chefs who do lots of tricksy stuff on plates, but the end result doesn’t necessarily deliver on flavour but Mickael’s food certainly does.

Dinner at Gregans Castle is a special treat, one can choose 3 – 5 or 7 courses with lots of little extras thrown in but if you are in the area don’t miss the simple and delicious lunch food served in the bar also (you’ll need to book)

Here are a few of the recipes that Mickael wowed us with.


Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Mickael Viljanen Gregans Castle


Jerusalem artichokes have an affinity with thyme.


100g (3 1/2oz) butter

700g (1 1/2lb) Jerusalem artichokes, peeled, diced and vac-packed to prevent discolouring

150g (5oz) finely sliced shallots

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 sprigs of thyme

150g (5oz) Riesling

1.5 kg (3lb 5 oz) white chicken stock

600g (11/4 lb) cream

salt and freshly ground white pepper


Soften the shallots in the butter.  Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the artichokes and sprigs of thyme and cook without discolouring for a further 4 minutes. Add the Riesling and reduce to a syrup, add the stock and simmer for 5 minutes.  Pour in the cream and cook until artichokes are fully softened, remove the thyme and purée in a blender.  Taste and correct the seasoning.



Pickled Herb Stems

100g of long herb stems eg: dill, fennel, chervil or even parsley (use the leaves for another use)

200ml (7floz) white wine vinegar

200g (7oz) castor sugar


Mix the white wine vinegar with the sugar and salt. Vac pack the herb stems in 5 separate bags, add 2 – 3 tablespoons of pickle to each bag and vacuum on full pressure. Alternatively lay the herbs in a non-reactive dish overnight, cover with the pickle. Infuse for 24 hours.

A totally delicious way to use up herb stems – serve with roasts, stews, braises…



Roast Chicken, Lentils and Bacon Stew

Mickael Viljanen Gregans Castle


Serves 8


4 x 1.2 kg (2 1/2lb) chicken crowns (we used Dan Ahern’s chicken)

200g (7oz) butter and sunflower oil

4 sprigs of tarragon

4 sprigs of thyme

Maldon salt

freshly ground white pepper


To Serve

Lentil and Bacon Stew (see recipe)


Season the chicken inside out.  Place the chickens in individual vac-packs with 50g (2oz) of butter and a sprig of each herb and vac-pack on full pressure. Put in a 63°C/145°F water bath for 1 3/4 hours. Dan Ahern’s organic chicken which we used are larger so they took 2 ½ hours to poach (2 served 8 people.) Take out and cool to room temperature, remove from the bag. Brown the skin side of the chicken in oil until caramelised, carve and serve with Lentil and Bacon Stew.


Lentil and Bacon Stew

Mickael Viljanen Gregans Castle


Serves 10-12


500g (18oz) Puy lentils

100g (3 1/2oz) butter

8 shallots finely diced

250g (9oz) carrot cut into ¼ inch dice

250g (9oz) celeriac cut into ¼ inch dice

250g (9oz) celery cut into ¼ inch dice

2 sprigs of thyme

10 pieces dry cepes in muslin bag

300g (11oz) smoked Gubbeen bacon lardons

2.5 litres (4 1/2 pints) chicken stock

600g (11/4lb) cream reduced slowly to 300g (11oz)

salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoon tarragon, freshly chopped


Soak the lentils overnight, change the water and bring to a simmer. Rinse lentils again.  Melt the butter and sweat vegetables with the cepes and bacon. Add rinsed lentils and the chicken stock. Simmer until just cooked. Drain extra liquid if there is any left, remove the muslin bag. Stir in the reduced cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and cover for 10 minutes. Fold in freshly chopped tarragon and serve as desired.



Hazelnut Shortbread

Mickael Viljanen Gregans Castle


600g (1 1/4lb) flour

400g (14oz) salted butter

200g (7oz) icing sugar

seeds of 2 vanilla pods



toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped

grated orange zest

sprinkling Maldon Sea salt


To Serve

castor sugar


Preheat the oven to 140°C/275°F/Gas Mark1 fan oven


Put the flour, butter, icing sugar and vanilla pod seeds in a food processor. Whizz until it begins to clump together (alternatively mix in a bowl until the mixture forms a dough.)  Shape into a log. Roll out the mixture between two sheets of greaseproof paper to the thickness of a €1 coin. Transfer to a baking tray. Sprinkle the top with toasted finely chopped hazelnuts, grated orange zest and a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt.


Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until light golden in colour. Once cooked cut into fingers whilst still warm. Sprinkle with castor sugar and serve.



Hot Chocolate Mousse

Mickael Viljanen Gregans Castle

I reckon it’s worth considering investing in a siphon bottle just to make this super quick chocolate mousse.


Serves 10


400g (14oz) dark chocolate (70%), finely chopped (Mickael used Opera  but you could use a less bitter chocolate if you prefer)

300g (11oz) egg white

300g (11oz) cream


Scald the cream and pour on to chocolate, mix with a hand blender. Add the egg whites and blitz until smooth. Put into siphon bottle – don’t fill more than ¾ – charge with C02 gas and keep at 45°C/113°F.

Serve in little glass pots with a little crème fresh, crystallised orange peel, frosted mint leaves, fresh raspberries…




Gregans Castle re-opened on Friday 10th February 2012


Source some Trimoline, Methocel and Ultratex at Vanilla Ventures in Co Kildare, ask for Rocky  Or try MSK Food Ingredients for all these food products –


Have fun drying banana, orange, beetroot, mushroom slices, we bought our dehydrator from Liam Lennon at Enhancing Health and Wellness – 01 4429958 – –


If you want to oomph up your food Siphon bottles and CO2 gas capsules can be bought from catering suppliers or mail order from Nisbets 021 4946777


One of my granddaughters celebrated her 10th birthday recently; her most exciting birthday present was a one day fashion course for children to learn how to stitch, sew and dress make with Fashion Designer Mia O’Connell – how cool is that?


About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters

  • Recipes