Effervescent by nature and infectiously enthusiastic about her love of food and cooking, Ethna Reynolds has poured her personality into Nook Cafe in Collooney. No wonder she and Nook have garnered a slew of awards since opening in May 2016. We talked to Ethna to find out a little more about her.
Originally from Mohill in Leitrim, Ethna first came to Sligo to study Fine Art. From the tender age of 16 she took part time student work in various kitchens, beginning with the basics but learning quickly and moving up the ‘food chain’ towards cheffing. Her aim at the time was to become a teacher using her Fine Arts degree, but opportunities were scarce and the lure of a big world outside the northwest proved strong.
Several years travelling around southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand and working in different types of kitchen helped to shape the budding chef. The result is Ethna’s signature style which she describes as ‘modern Irish’. It’s a seamless blend of cultures and cuisines, using the best of local and Irish produce to create sometimes quirky and always delicious food. A great example is the Naanwich, which she literally can’t take off the menu – softly folded naan bread with a mouth watering filling of Donegal buttermilk chicken.
After her travels, a BA in Culinary Arts at Killybegs beckoned, and a fully fledged chef emerged. She does have a culinary pedigree behind her; both her mother and aunt were chefs as well, though Ethna says, laughing ‘My mother tried to warn me off!”.
A spell working at the delightful Shell’s Cafe in Strandhill was followed by opening her own business ‘My Lovely Lunchbox’ selling healthy, convenient and nutritionally balanced lunchboxes at the markets. The search for a larger kitchen led her serendipitously to Collooney and to opening Nook.
Ethna is totally committed to quality produce and changes her menu monthly to reflect seasonal availability. She buys from local producers, choosing organic where possible and believes strongly that fresh, quality ingredients are essential. Her philosophy is gaining her a lot of attention: Ethna was chosen as Georgina Campbell Newcomer of the Year 2017 and she has two Best Newcomer awards on the mantelpiece – one from the Sligo Business Awards and the other from the Restaurants Association of Ireland who also selected her as Best Chef in Sligo. Nook hit the cover of Food and Wine magazine earlier this year with a pages long feature inside. That’s serious recognition for a youthful chef.
Her arty background is visible not only in the charming decor, but also in the truly beautiful plates of food emanating from the busy kitchen. Nook is currently open from Tuesday to Saturday and for occasional Supper Clubs.