Best Young Chef in Ireland 2019 – Meet Max Buller

By ELEANOR MCGILLIE 16 October, 2018

IT’S the calm after the much anticipated Yes Chef Awards and Eleanor McGillie speaks to the Co Down chef who won over the judges to be crowned Best Young Chef in Ireland 2019.

He’s a farmer’s son who has always felt a connection with the land and it’s this connection which has driven this young chef’s ambition to develop his skills and palette to create a four course meal which has totally bowled over the judges in this year’s Yes Chef Awards.

The awards, which were held in Sligo last week, attracted chefs from across Ireland who showcase culinary innovation and excellence in our restaurants and hotels up and down the country.

But it was Max Buller, a 20-year-old chef, who brought the title of Best Young Chef in Ireland 2019 to his home in Loughbrickland in Co Down having beaten off stiff competition.

Mentored by Australian Chef Dean Coppard, Max and Dean, who are both Live It Experience It chef members, combined mentoring, skills and palette to create a four course meal which landed Max the highly sought after title.

Dean Coppard with chef Max Buller - Best Young Chef in Ireland 2019

Speaking from his family farm in Loughrickland this week, Max said: “It’s been a long, hard slog and it took me two months to create a four course menu with wine pairings. I took into account seasonality and ingredients which you would find in a kitchen larder. I developed a menu and then I chose wines to pair with each course.

“I took a few risks with some of the dishes in terms of flavours and textures and I probably really challenged myself in terms of choosing a souffle for the dessert.

“I lost a few points but my overall mark was really high and my choice of wine I used to pair for each course was complimented by the judges.

“The competition was seriously tough but I was so determined to win this and I think the judges saw my determination in my courses. I have finally achieved what I have wanted to do for a long time and being the Best Young Chef in Ireland 2019 gives me so much motivation to further enhance what I do.

Chef Max Buller with his dad Robert on their farm in Loughbrickland

“There is a shortage of young chefs coming into the industry and I hope young people seeing what I have achieved will encourage them to follow a career path in catering. There are so many amazing chefs out there who will mentor and help. It’s a great career and I am excited for things to come.

“My huge thanks goes to Dean Coppard who mentors me daily, my family and friends and of course Shane Smith for making these awards happen.”

Max hit the headlines in 2017 when he got the opportunity to work with the Masterchef 2016 winner, Gary Maclean, to cook a Michelin Star dinner at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Edinburgh. His role in this challenge which was to help prepare dinner for 60 guests attending the Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland (HIT) fundraising dinner.

The visionary chef made his way up through the ranks gaining experience in restaurants and patisseries. When he was in college he came fourth in the IFEX Junior Duck, and, earlier this year, he was part of the team which picked up the IFEX  ‘Best Kitchen Team in Ireland’ award and he was placed as Second Best Junior Chef in Northern Ireland.

But, catering wasn’t his first choice. Max tells me that when he went to apply for college at the age of 16 he initially wanted to do a course in ICT because he wanted to become a pilot.

He said: “At the age of 16 it’s hard to know what you want but catering was never on my radar. I fell into it because I wanted to be a pilot but the ICT lecturer told me I wasn’t suited for ICT. I remember feeling a bit disgruntled at the time because I wanted to be a pilot, but, when a lecturer from the catering department bumped into me in the corridor he encouraged me to consider catering. So, I did and I have never looked back.

“Growing up on the family farm I was always aware of the hard labour which goes into farming and the importance of caring for the land and the animals which graze on it. My father Robert is a dairy and beef farmer so I know how important it is to support local producers and suppliers. I love food, I love different flavours and textures and I love being able to combine what I have learned to create plates which are award winning.”

Chef Max Buller with his award

Mentoring and Development Chef, Dean Coppard, said he is hugely proud of what Max has achieved. The pair have worked together for almost one year.

Dean said: “I work with a lot of young chefs to prepare them for cookery demonstrations and culinary competitions. I am so proud of Max because it was clear to everyone that Max really wanted it. He wanted this title. He’s like a sponge. He listens to advice and guidance and he takes it on board. He is a keen learner. He takes the information and guidance and translates that into something very special.

“There are chefs out there who cook something really good but then continue to use the same dish rather than developing new plates. Max is the opposite. He loves the challenge, the judges saw his determination to win this title, his performance was exceptional. He took in all the information and guidance but he tweaked it and made it his own. As a result he developed his dishes to create an All Ireland winning set of courses which won him the title which proves his resilience, skills and knowledge.

“I can teach a chef how to be a chef but I can’t teach them palette. Max knows how to balance flavours. That’s a skill and an ability and not everyone has that natural ability.

“Northern Ireland, as a place, produces amazing produce. Max and I work in County Armagh which has built a strong reputation as Northern Ireland’s Food Heartland. We don’t have many young chefs coming up through the ranks but those we do have are so good and mentoring them is something I am very proud of.”

Dean added that it was Max’s confidence, and self belief that he could deliver, which really impressed the judges.

He said: “For the Amuse-Bouche, Max went to the judges’ table and shucked the oyster in front of them. This allowed the judges to engage directly with Max so he got to show his skills and it also gave the judges the chance to talk to Max so they could clearly see his personality and confidence.

“For his starter, one of the judges said he had not tasted a pasta like that in 25 years. His dish was stunning and he got top marks for taste and texture, his pasta was hand rolled and it was the right thickness.

Hand rolled raviolli, rabbit, cherry and rabbit jus, wilted spinach, poached langoustine, clam foam

“Perhaps the most impressive thing Max did with his main’s course was putting a gooseberry puree with the pork. Not a lot of chefs would have taken that step. He was able to balance the gooseberry with the pork and the judges commented that that took great skill.

“And of course his dessert impressed the judges massively. The souffle was cooked to order. When one of the judges read the menu he commented that there was nowhere to hide. This was a ‘do or die’ dessert. Max had 12  minutes. If a souffle is wrong it spells disaster but he was going for the all Ireland title and he wanted to impress. And that’s exactly what he did.”

Souffle made by Chef Max Buller

So, what was on the menu which that earned Chef Max Buller his new title?


The Winning Menu:

Oyster Amuse-Bouche:

A freshly shucked oyster served on a parsley emulsion and Burren Balsamic pearls


Surf N Turf

Hard rolled pasta ravioli, rabbit stuffed with poached langoustine tail, rabbit and cherry jus and clam foam

Main Course:

Pork Head To Tail

Sous vide pork fillet, crispy pork belly, braised pork cheek pie, potato dauphinoise, sous pastry and mashed potato, gooseberry puree, baby heritage carrots, Irish Black Butter and crispy pork ear crumb.



A souffle dessert served  with pistachio brittle, set ginger and gin Anglaise homemade rhubarb sorbet



Live It Experience It Member

Live It Experience It’ is a group of tourism businesses working together to promote our region through water, air and land based activities, food and drink and great places to stay. If you would like to become a member business in our ‘Live It Experience It’ cluster please submit your information through our online form –  Sign Up Here. Pitch your business and meet like minded tourism businesses who you could cluster with. #liveitexperienceit

Live-It-Experience-It -




Follow Us

Eleanor McGillie

About Eleanor McGillie

Eleanor spent eight years working in the south west of England - one of the UK's most popular tourism hotspots. During her stint working with key players in the tourism sector she developed a love for all things outdoor adventure. As a journalist she got to travel to remote corners of the world to write travel features about the experiences of a particular place. Northern Ireland's story needs to be told and needs to reach new audiences. Live It Experience It aims to attract tourists from outside Ireland, people from Ireland and people who live in Northern Ireland but aren't aware of the extent of the adventures on our own doorsteps. Eleanor is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) at Associate Level