Chef Profile August 2016: Stuart Archibald, head chef at Horatio Todd’s in Ballyhackamore, talks to Alyson Magee
Stuart Archibald, head chef at Horatio Todd’s in Ballyhackamore
With his chef mother passing on her expertise from the get-go, it was a quick and easy route into the trade for Stuart Archibald.
“I started work in a delicatessen on the Cregagh Road for a wee while and then it closed down and I went to college,” says Stuart.
Attending catering college in Newtownards for four years, before the NVQs were adopted and “it was the 706 ones and twos”, his placement was at Jenny Watts in Bangor, where he was a commis chef for a year and a half.
“Then I went on to the Culloden Hotel,” says Stuart, “and was commis chef in the vegetable section. It was terrible; very, very hard work.”
However, working with Paul McKnight, Brian Magill and Martin Wilson, “I learnt quite a bit from them,” he says. “They were my inspiration really to keep going. I was there about two years, and realised hotel work really wasn’t for me.
“It was too repetitive, and you were sort of stuck in one section. The chefs in the Culloden tend to stay there a long time but I wanted to progress and move on, so I then left.”
Joining the Jamaica Inn as sous chef, Stuart became head chef of the Bangor venue after two years and stayed there in the role for a further four years. Serving a “modern Irish sort of style, I changed it up a wee bit,” he says. “I was given quite a free rein in there to do what I wanted so it was a good place.”
Up next was the Outback restaurant at the Wildfowler Inn in Greyabbey, where he was head chef for five years. “It was a country pub so it was a lot slower,” says Stuart. Replicating an Australian steak house, the restaurant served grill-type fare including exotic meats such as kangaroo.
He then settled in his current location but under different ownership for his first two years, when it was known as Café Rouge. The business unfortunately went into administration but, seven years ago, was taken over by Botanic Inns and Stuart stayed on board as head chef.
He is full of praise for Stephen Magorrian, his boss at the former Botanic Inns and now the Horatio Group. “It’s just a very good place to work,” he says. “They are very staff orientated. That’s why I’ve stayed here so long; they’ve always treated me very well. Our boss would be a good source of inspiration for us and we just try to be the best we can be for him.”
Horatio Todd’s was incredibly busy from the start “because we were the first real proper restaurant for the community,” says Stuart. “Ballyhackamore has exploded but when we first opened here, there was only The Point and Aldens. I’m not blaming the whole of Ballyhackamore on us but because we opened and were so successful, I think that’s where all the growth came from.
“There’s a lot more competition now but you have to deal with that really, and try to evolve and change your menus to keep customers interested.”
With seven chefs in the kitchen, and 12 front-of-house staff, Horatio Todd’s serves modern Irish fare with a few Asian influences thrown in “so people try something different rather than the same old Irish food and mix it up a wee bit.” Direct Wine Shipments collaborates on five-course gourmet evenings held every quarter.
Crossgar Pallas supplies all meat for the restaurant and some dry goods, including flour “to make all our own bread here.” Other suppliers include Ewing’s for fish, Get Fresh for fruit and vegetables and Henderson Foodservice for other dry goods.
Stuart still works 50-60 hours a week. “I still like to still cook,” he says. “The team benefits from having a head chef there and giving direction, rather than being in the office doing paperwork.”
Originally from Londonderry, he lives in Newtownards with his wife and son, and enjoys playing the guitar and riding his Vespa in his spare time.
While not escaping the chef shortage currently facing the local hospitality sector, Horatio Todd’s continues to trade well and has further plans to develop its beer garden and potentially adapt its upstairs office space for functions.
“I’ve been doing this now for 26 years so I can’t see me giving it up any time soon,” says Stuart.
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