Jordan Bailey is the co-owner of Aimsir in Ireland, along with his wife, Majken Bech Bailey. Aimsir was one of the most awaited openings of 2019, and they were awarded not 1 but 2 Michelin stars within the first 4 months. After working in places from all over the world, like Maaemo and Sat Bains, they finally decided to jump and open their own restaurant.
Aimsir celebrates Ireland by chasing the seasons and relying on Irish suppliers and producers. We had the chance to talk to Jordan and find out more about their journey, their dedication to finding the right suppliers and ultimately the feeling of having their hard work paying off so soon.
Hey Jordan, how are you?
We're pretty busy at the moment. The restaurant keeps running, and we're doing a box that you can cook at home. We cook 90% in the kitchen, and then we pack it all nicely and give you everything you need, including tools like tweezers to make you feel like a chef at home. We even give you a QR code with links to videos. It's eight courses for two people, and it's our fourth month doing this. When it started in January, it was crazy. We did around forty or fifty boxes, and it was selling out in minutes. And that's what we've been doing for the last four months.
Aimsir is known for being loyal to seasons and relying on seasonal supplies. Have you been able to continue doing business with your suppliers during these times?
We have, and that was also a key factor for doing this box. It was a little bit that I was getting bored, and I just wanted to get back to being creative again. I had lots of ideas floating around in my head, and seeing all this produce with no one using it was really hard.
These producers are niched, so they can't sell it to supermarkets because we don't have those established organic shops here in Ireland. We've been growing towards that, but it's not enough. So the producers were struggling a lot. They cut back on the productions because no one was utilizing their projects, so one of the reasons we thought of doing this box was to help them. And because we're doing many boxes, we can help them more than when we were doing 20 covers in the restaurant. Now we do 100, 150 per week.
We've built up this very close network. I don't go to one single supplier and have them talk to the farmers.
I speak to them myself. It's nice to have such a close relationship. I find that having a relationship with your producers is vital, especially working at Maaemo; you learn that the more they feel involved in it, the better because they feel more invested within you and your restaurant.
You and Majken met worked at amazing restaurants and met each other at Maaemo. What were the best learnings you took from working there?
Definitely the locality and seasonality of everything. Before that, I was in the UK working at a restaurant where the owner is Indian. He would tap into his Indian heritage, and source produce whatever is best at that time. Everyone was doing it back then in England. The whole Scandinavian movement changed it a bit and attracted me to go there.
When I landed in Norway, I had never been to Norway, and I didn't know anyone who had been to Norway. I think even back then if you asked me to plot it on a map, I'd probably have to think about it for a couple minutes. It was exciting for me to go somewhere completely new. I knew little bits about Maaemo, but it wasn't really a world-renowned restaurant back then. So when I got there, it was kind of a culture shock because they worked directly with a farm, and everything was coming from this one farm. They were chasing the seasons.
Everyone says they're very seasonal, but they let things go under the radar a little bit at the end of the season, so they don't have to change it so quick. But there, we were very much in the season. We were asking the farmers what they had instead of telling them what we wanted. It really opened my eyes.
We used only things from Norway, so we didn't use products like citrus and chocolates and olive oils and all this stuff you kind of get used to. To to get me out of that mind frame was very inspiring for me. It's tough to actually come up with ideas or develop when you have too much. If you could have anything from anywhere globally, it's almost like telling a kid to choose ten pieces of candy from a great store. He's going to have a meltdown. When I went to Maaemo, I had ten pieces and could use all those ten.
And for me, it is a lot easier to make things interesting and work with ingredients that I haven't worked with before or just look at them in a completely new light, which is definitely a massive part of the concept that we have here.
And how did you decide to take the leap and open your own restaurant with Majken?
Opening a restaurant has been my dream from day one. It's just about finding the right time to do it. And I never felt it was the right time until maybe the last year I was at Maaemo.
I had all these ideas and wanted to do everything my way. I wanted to try and even fail. I wanted to know if the ideas in my head were good. So I thought I needed to make the jump. I'm very loyal to the places I work. I would never look for another job behind anyone's back. So I think the way I could fully dive into this new kind of journey was to take myself out of it and look for something new. I knew it was going to take a lot of time to find the right place.
It ended up taking about six months to find the proper place. And luckily, Majken was still working, and she looked after me financially. Without her, I couldn't have taken this leap. And while she was working, she was also opening a restaurant for somebody in Oslo. So she was gaining knowledge on how to open a restaurant from scratch. So we took that knowledge and brought it here.
You could have chosen a lot of countries. Why Ireland?
We were very open to any place in the world. We weren't sure how many (if any) opportunities we would get. So we didn't know how picky we could be. So we spoke to as many people as possible. People we had worked with in the past, past bosses and head chefs.
We talked to literally everyone I could think of. And we were stunned and humbled by the amount of response that we got back from people. We got so many offers that we had the chance to narrow it down to what we wanted, which we're very thankful for. We were getting offers from Australia and Asia, Scandinavia, England, and many different places.
So we sat down and thought about what we wanted because we were making it last. We were fully committed. We put down a lot of personal things. For instance, Majken is Danish, I'm English, so we needed to live in a country that was two hours flight from both countries just in case something happened. We also wanted to have a place close to a city, but not in a city. I found this when I was in Oslo.
Every weekend and every spare time I got, I would leave the city. I've lived in cities for the past 10 years, but I always found myself leaving the city to find inspiration. So obviously, when you have in your own place, you must be surrounded by inspiration and constant ideas. For me, living in the country was the only way I could see this working.
At the same time, having a city next to you is obviously significant for the restaurant to fill every night. And we obviously still liked things about the city. This balancing act between the two was crucial for myself and Majken. And it led us to where we are today. We hopped on a plane, came over, we visited the place, and it was exactly what I was looking for.
So grabbed hold of the place and turned it into what it is today. It's funny; we've actually been closed more than we've been open now, which is a bit ironic.
You've been faithful to Ireland, travelling around the country for many months to find the perfect ingredients and suppliers. It means a lot to you, right?
When we came here, the first thing was spending some time on the road, visit as many places we could, as many suppliers we could. We spent three months doing that.
We hopped in the car and just started driving. We found out the first places from chefs that are here and have restaurants. They were open and told me where I needed to go and who I needed to meet. They were so supportive from the day we came here. That would not happen in England! No one would welcome you in without even knowing who you are.
And I was literally getting phone calls saying, "hi, if you need anything, I can take you out foraging, I can show you some spots here." It was incredible. Selfishly, we took in all that information, and we started plotting a route all the way around Ireland and Northern Ireland as well. We came across all these unique producers; I feel like I could have probably been doing that until today since there were so many people to go and meet.
They were so inspirational, and a fantastic thing that happens is they don't know how good they are. We went to a farm, which is only about 20 minutes away from where we are now, which started growing garlic. And they then diversified into growing asparagus. They are the first asparagus farm in Ireland. And the produce is world-class.
And I told them it was amazing, and they said, "yes, it's okay." And I said, "No, I'm telling you, this is world-class." They were so humble about it, and it keeps driving them to be better. Some of them were not organic but wanted to be. They feel there was no market for it, so they had never invested in it. So we want to work with organic produce, and we hope more people start doing the same so that the producers have a reason to pursue it. We only wanted to work with Irish produce.
Only use things in the restaurant that can survive naturally here and are as native as possible. From day one, we also wanted to be a very kind of intimate experience, so we can have a lot of control over it and spend a lot of time at the tables. That was very important for Majken, being very outgoing. She likes to talk is very welcoming. You'll feel like you've known her for ten years, even though you've met her once.
We wanted around 20 seats and as good a work-life balance as possible for our team. We work four days a week. We also wanted to do it rights give it 100%, and that's why it took so long to open the restaurant. We gained two Michelin stars after four months, but the work started 18 months before that.
We started well over a year before we even opened. We were very fortunate to be able to do that. And we've been closed longer than we've been opened, so we haven't even really started yet. There are so many things we can do better and keep improving. We're focused on turning these three acres of land at the back of the property into a mini-ecosystem.
So we're extending our growing capabilities, so we can source the restaurant from our own land. But growing things that don't already grow here in Ireland or things that don't travel very well. I don't want to stop using the suppliers we've already built up a tight relationship with and stop promoting them. So, like, I still want to work with these people.
Aimsir was one of the most anticipated openings in the industry, and it must have come with some pressure. Were you expecting it?
No, not at all. We were so focused on what we were doing here that we didn't have time to look outside the restaurant. I didn't even have time to think about what other people were thinking.
The most significant amount of pressure was coming from myself. And Majken putting pressure on herself, both putting pressure on each other. We wanted it to be world-class from day one, and people knew where I came from, where Majken came from. So, of course, there must have been pressure, but we didn't really let it get to us as much as it probably seemed natural. We never dreamed of getting two stars so soon. Nobody has done it this fast, so why should we be the ones to do it?
And then we realized that a star might be coming our way, and of course, we were thankful to be on the radar, and we knew that we could take it to the next level from there. But then, when they were giving the awards, I saw our name showing up, and I was thrilled because we were getting a star. I look at Majken, and she's crying, and it was very emotional.
But then I sat back down again, and then I see the two stars go up, which is what she'd seen before me. And I froze. It was all very blurry after that. And we had some very good friends with us who literally picked us both up and pushed us out to go up and get it, which is crazy. They interviewed us on stage, but I can't remember what I said or what they asked. And I have not watched it back to this day. I don't intend to because it's probably embarrassing. It was very surreal, and I got to share that experience with a good friend of mine who also got two Michelin stars that day, Greenhouse in Dublin.
You are part of changing the food scene in Ireland. You need to have a plan forward, right?
Yes, you need to have these things in your back pocket to keep moving forward. As I said, this is just phase one.
We would definitely be on phase two by now if Covid hadn't hit. We're constantly evolving, and that's not just within the restaurant; it's also other parts of the property like the gardens and working with a close-knit team and working with producers. We're always learning from each other.
There's no way I can do this by myself; I went in together with Majken because knowing that I can just leave and she can run the place. She runs basically everything other than the menu. Having that freedom and security with someone build trust, and that's the thing that's made us so successful. Having Majken alongside me has also been a massive part of it.
And I honestly believe that we wouldn't have gotten to where we are today without being there for each other. Having a good team is also excellent. We have a solid team that we can lean back on and rely on. The amount of work that they put in before we opened was very inspiring.
The week before we opened, we did a soft run through three nights with friends and family. We invited all our suppliers to one of the nights to show them what we're doing. We did the full menu tasting the day before the first soft launch. And we started by the time they prepped everything, we started at five o'clock in the afternoon, and it's 18 dishes, so we didn't finish the full tasting until five o'clock in the morning the next day. To stay that focused during such a long shift really shows how committed we were from day one.