20 October 2014
Erika Doolan is one of Ireland’s leading nutritionists. From years of consultancy, to working on cookbooks and collaborating with Rustic Stone and other restaurants, she’s done it all. Erika has had a lifelong passion for nutrition and healthy eating, stemming from health issues and dietary requirements of her own.
You may or may not recognise her name from Rustic Stone, but Erika has been a part of the team from the very beginning. She worked alongside Dylan creating the menu, overseeing its nutritional aspect.
Healthy eating is something everyone struggles with, and Erika can attest. With nutrition trends and fad diets springing up on a constant basis, it’s easy to become confused and frustrated when sifting through the never ending bits of helpful advice.
For Erika, the Irish have got a disjointed relationship with health and nutrition, stemming from misinformation and lack of awareness. She’s been working for years to teach people what really works and how they can make it work in their own lives.
I think in Ireland sometimes people stick to the same foods that they’re used to, so it’s quite difficult to get people to understand that they’re not making the right choices. It’s about changing how people think and to get the word out that low fat and low calorie diets aren’t necessarily a good thing. And it’s about getting people to try new foods that they might not realise are good for them.
Before Rustic Stone, there weren’t many restaurants making a serious investment in health and nutrition. Here and there, maybe you’d find a calorie listing in a painfully small font, but little more. When work began on Rustic Stone, there were sceptics.
We had people who really questioned whether this would work, but we knew that people wanted it. I knew from talking to clients, there were people who were afraid to eat out because they had no idea what the healthy choices were. And Dylan was sincerely interested in looking at food from the perspective of nutrition as well as flavour.
While Dylan’s expertise was the driving force behind the menu, Erika had the unique and challenging job of bringing forward ingredients that he’d never chosen to work with in the past.
Dylan would come up with an idea and then we’d break it down to the base ingredients and then see how we could change them to make it work with the concept.
It wasn’t always easy, reigning in the creativity of a Michelin starred chef known for his innovative dishes. But for Erika, the yearlong process of writing Rustic Stone’s menus was a labour of love.
It wasn’t as challenging as you might expect because it was so exciting. I had a lot of fun, and it was a big learning process for both of us, but there were definitely some disagreements over dishes. But Dylan had to remind me that Rustic Stone was still a restaurant, so it was our job to find a happy medium where we could make the nutritious food appeal to everyone, not just the most health conscious customers.
In four years, things have come a long way in Ireland for nutrition. Not only is it more common for customers to make health conscious decisions in restaurants, but they’re also experimenting a lot more. For Rustic Stone, this has meant regularly revising and updating the menu.
Now that we see the demand from customers, we’re able to introduce some new oils and new grains, play around with the menu a little bit. We’re looking to add to the menu and expand it based on what we’ve seen our customers enjoying and experimenting with.
Finding the balance between providing flavoursome, exciting meals and keeping healthy habits in mind has been a challenge, but one that Dylan and Erika have risen to. Rustic Stone has become one of Dublin’s most popular restaurants, proving that the two traditionally distinct ways of eating and cooking can marry together successfully. What’s more, they’ve proved that restaurants can do more than feed their customers, they can also contribute to their well-being.