Chef Profile September 2016: Jason Bowen, co-owner of The Fatted Calf
Jason Bowen, co-owner of The Fatted Calf
As with many of the chefs gracing HRNI’s pages, Jason Bowen acquired his love of cooking from his family and studied at Belfast Met’s Millfield campus but from there his backstory diverges.
Hailing from Vancouver Island, the Canadian may be familiar to many in Northern Ireland for another reason; he arrived here to finish his ice hockey career with the Belfast Giants, having played professionally in Canada and the US for many years. And when he hung up his skates for the Giants in 2006, Jason decided to stick around and find something else to do.
“My uncle was an executive chef on Vancouver Island and it fascinated me, everything he did,” says Jason. “I always loved cooking, and everybody I knew could always cook and make the best ever dish. I had always thrown parties for the team, cooking for them after the hockey.”
After gaining his NVQs in catering, Jason found a business partner in Justin Donaldson, and the pair set themselves up as premium, bespoke catering service provider The Fatted Calf. “We were from different backgrounds but both had a passion for food,” says Jason.
“Our knowledge and skills have grown a lot over the last 10 years, and are always evolving. We started out with modest recipes doing corporate stuff but our main focus now is wedding. From April to October, we would do about 70 weddings.
“Every wedding is bespoke, so we cook what they want; it just really depends on our client. A lot of our food is simple but we pack as much flavour as possible into it. We have been asked to do Mexican, Thai and all these different cuisines. We have our clients in to taste our food, and see if they want anything changed.”
Crossgar Pallas supplies the majority of meat used by The Fatted Calf while, with its ties to the Glenarm Castle for which The Fatted Calf has the contract for the tea room, Glenarm Shorthorn beef from Peter Hannan is also used. Having started the business out of their homes, The Fatted Calf has progressed over the years to a café in Stranmillis, then Balloo Industrial Estate and now operates from a larger premise on Montgomery Road in Belfast. The business employs around 60 part-time workers, many as waiting staff, and over the busy wedding season, Jason would work up to 80 hours per week himself.
In terms of inspiration: “We both love Gordon Ramsay and Tom Kerridge,” says Jason. “That to me is just great food. We get a lot of great ideas from Tom Kerridge. And being from Vancouver Island, I love seafood. Anything from the sea is always exciting to cook. “I’ve just bought an American-style smoker, and you can put a high volume of briskets in there at one time and just let it go. It works well for big numbers, and any big festivals. Being Canadian, I barbecue all the time and when there’s a gathering, it’s always a fun event.
When I played hockey, that’s what I would do to relax.” Now settled in Northern Ireland, Jason lives in Seahill with his wife and 10-month-old son and still goes to see the Giants, while also enjoying mountain biking if he can find the time
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