A quick scroll on Instagram will yield endless flicks of mouth-watering food, exotic places, and general adventure. Though the photos often seem too good to be true, Chef Sean McKenna is actually living this dream, cooking, traveling, and eating his way into greatness. 

McKenna is the head chef at Blasta, a new Tex-Mex outpost in Monaghan, Ireland. While the Monaghan food scene has grown past the meat-and-potatoes foundation of the culture, according to McKenna, “Mexican food DOES NOT EXIST here.” Until now.

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The menu is simple, featuring burritos, tacos, guacamole, nachos, and breakfast, but McKenna loves to get creative with weekly specials. Inspired by his travels, McKenna recently cooked up a ‘Taste of Jamaica’ night with jerk chicken, goat curry, and daiquiris. 

Blasta opened in early January as a pop-up at Tapas de Noche, but has stayed on as a full-blown restaurant due to popular demand. McKenna noted that the name Blasta has proven to be a good omen, as “Blasta is the Irish word for tasty.”

Blasta has come a long way from its beginning as a last-minute thought developed on a 10-hour bus ride by McKenna and his fiancee, Nikita McCrory. The pair met at Sligo Institute of Technology seven years ago, where McKenna earned a degree in archaeology and McCrory focused on graphic design and marketing.

While McKenna had started cooking at 14 thanks to a home ec class, neither had degrees in culinary arts, and thus the foundation for Blasta was built more so on the pair’s travels. Their first trip together was to Venice, and by the end of college, they had gone all around Europe.

Their next stop was New Zealand for two years. While touring around the country, they worked everywhere from small hotels to peanut farms. This wasn't conventional chef training, but it all proved pivotal to Blasta's success. The pair learned to work hard, serve others, have fun, and above all, to be fearless in trying new flavors.

grass, coffee, beer, water
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Yet the definitive inspiration for the restaurant came from a pop-up called “The Argentine Experience,” which they visited while they were making their way around South America this past Fall. The tiny restaurant had one large table, which fostered a strong community atmosphere and lively conversation over fresh, flavorful food. According to McKenna, “It was the best food experience I had ever had.”

After returning to their native Ireland this past Christmas, they still had Argentine eats on the mind. They decided that “if we were going to hang around Monaghan for a while… we needed good food in our lives.” So in early January, the pair put their noses to the grindstone and approached every restaurant in town to ask if they could use their kitchen and space when they weren’t in use.

Paula Deery, proprietor of Spanish wine bar Tapas de Noche, was happy to oblige. Not only did the Spanish and Mexican influences go hand in hand, but it was kismet that she only likes to work weekends. McCrory put her degree to good use, designing the menus and promoting the pop-up on social media while McKenna prepped the food. Just a week later, Blasta opened on a Monday morning at 10 a.m.

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“As the other lady does Sunday nights, we had to move ALL our stuff in that Monday morning at 6 a.m. We had to hire a taxi bus to haul it all in...at 6 a.m.! In the rain! Right then we started to question our decision: five weeks previous and we were lying on a sunny beach in Colombia,” noted McKenna with a laugh.

But they stuck it out, and with huge success. In a town of around only seven thousand people, Blasta has had a few hundred customers every week, Monday to Thursday. Locals have been loving the farm-to-table fare, and they are the whole reason Blasta is still around.

That said, McKenna and McCrory are still travelers at heart, and are already feeling the itch to explore. So what’s next? Blasta is going mobile. “I used the profit from our first five weeks and bought a trailer. We made a food truck,” McKenna said with a proud smile. Since the pop-up closed, the pair have been catering various social events around Monaghan. 

While Blasta is a plane ride away, pictures of the scrumptious eats can be found on Instagram and on their Facebook page, “World Food Porn.” The name speaks for itself.