Pretty much from the age of 15, all I have done is cook. Admittedly there have been a few gaps in my career, I’ve been distracted by the usual things, like most chefs. I spent a few years delivering coal whilst living on a bus and generally “doing my own thing”. I’ve worked on building sites, farms, loads of pubs, butchers shops and bakeries but nothing comes close to the buzz of a busy Saturday night and a full restaurant.
Coming to Manchester, just before I was thirty, was about settling down and getting stuck in. Time flies when you’re having fun! At 39, in August 2011, I joined the kitchen brigade here as Executive Head Chef having spent the last ten years of my career at The Lowry Hotel. The last three years at the hotel was spent as their Executive Head Chef and I was really looking forward to the challenge of a new kitchen, brigade and style of venue.
I have a fantastic team of nine full time Chefs, four casual Chefs, two full time kitchen porters and three casual ones. This makes me responsible for a team of nineteen on a good day. I mean don’t believe everything you see on TV but kitchens are lively places and managing any Brigade is a challenge. You are only as good as your team, my teams’ top.
As Executive Head Chef I have direct responsibility for food production in its entirety in all outlets of The Lowry. Believe me that’s a lot of time with a pan in one hand and a knife in the other. Over the last six years everyone has seen food prices increase, at home and in restaurants all over the world. Turning what we purchase into profit becomes more and more of a challenge.
There are five main areas we produce food for are: The Lowry Restaurant, The Terrace Bar, The Tower Coffee Shop, for visiting conferences and events (including weddings) and the staff canteen.
The Restaurant can see over 250 diners in busy day, we open both lunch and dinner most of the week. I change the menu with the seasons and try and keep the food as regional as possible whilst complementing the best local produce with outside influences.
The Terrace bar can get pretty busy too. With Manchester United being just across the water from us, on a match day – and with a busy show in too – we can do over 100 meals in a service alongside the restaurant. I keep the food simple, everyone wants to see a burger, pie or a Caesar salad but it’s about making sure it’s the best.
Conferences and events are a massive part of our business. Weddings are very popular and in the summer months we can regularly do two a week. Corporate business is great, we do all sorts, from looking after judges in well-known talent shows and their crews to multinational companies and their employees.
When I re-wrote the menus with my team, we tried to ensure there was something for everyone and every occasion. At Christmas, it’s mad, Christmas parties and back to back full restaurants, it really is all hands on deck.
An army marches on its stomach and the staff canteen (which we call ‘The Village’) is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner to make sure the employees, visiting theatre, ballet and opera companies are fed on a daily basis. The menus here are very honest and homely. There is fantastic choice for a staff canteen and we try and provide healthy options alongside the usual favourites.