A Day in the Life… John Whyte, Head Chef Armagh City Hotel
This month HRNI speaks to John Whyte, Head Chef Armagh City Hotel
John Whyte, head chef Armagh City Hotel
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT ROLE, WHEN DID YOU TAKE IT UP AND WHAT DOES IT INVOLVE?
I’ve been the Head Chef of The Armagh City Hotel for more than 12 years now. I oversee one of the largest hotel function operations in Northern Ireland and often cater for over 1,000 people on a regular basis. I manage a fine dining restaurant, grill bar, carvery lunch, breakfast and deli area. I have good relationships with local suppliers and source the best produce from the borough’s Food Heartland to ensure an excellent dining experience for my customers using quality ingredients.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND IN HOSPITALITY/TOURISM?
I have been a chef for over 20 years. I trained in the old Brunswick Street College of Business Studies. Before taking on the position at The Armagh City Hotel, I worked as second chef in the Hastings Group’s Europa Hotel for 10 years. I’ve cooked for many famous celebrities including President Bill Clinton and his family in their first important visit to Northern Ireland. I’ve also worked in some of the best restaurants in Belfast including The Terrace Restaurant on the Lisburn Road. I also spent a few years working in London at The Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington.
WHAT ARE THE BEST/WORST PARTS OF YOUR JOB?
The best part is that every day is different. Food styles and trends are always changing and I can honestly say I never get bored. I love cooking with local ingredients, cooked simply but to a high standard. I want my food to showcase my area, the Food Heartland of NI, where I live and where I have grown up. This is what my customers want and keeps them coming back. My wife thinks I’m nuts, because when we are off or on holidays it always revolves around food and drink! There aren’t too many industries or careers out there where you can meet so many dedicated and passionate people. It’s infectious! The worst part is the unsociable hours which can affect family life.
WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT THE HOSPITALITY/TOURISM SECTOR?
Changing the perception of the catering industry. It’s still seen as manic, unsociable, low paid and high pressured. These are the messages taught to kids in schools rather than that they can become entrepreneurs, managers, executive chefs, head chefs, sous chefs, product development chefs all of whom are well paid and respected members of society. The sky is the limit for kids who work with the right coaching, attitude, mentoring and education process.
OUTLINE A TYPICAL DAY
The first thing I do when I come in is to check that all orders from the previous day have arrived and are of a high standard. I then make sure all the chefs are well prepared and that their work stations are clean and tidy – an untidy work station means a disorganised chef! The customer is priority in this game and I constantly remind my staff the importance of this. I then work alongside my chefs during prep and service. We work as a team. I’m still a hands-on chef and try to spend as less time in the office as possible.
PROUDEST MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE
My proudest moment was when I received a Head Chef Janus award. I was up against very tough opposition from other top hotels. I really thought I was the underdog and didn’t prepare an acceptance speech! To be given respect from my fellow colleagues as a head chef was a great thing for me personally. It was also a great thing for the Armagh City Hotel. We have come a long way since then, through careful planning, knowing our customers and looking forward. I think the hotel and the borough has surpassed a lot of people’s expectations.
BEST THING ABOUT BEING INVOLVED IN THE LOCAL HOSPITALITY/TOURISM SECTOR
The best thing this year is becoming an active member of the Food Heartland Hospitality Forum. County Armagh is where a lot of Northern Ireland’s best ingredients come from including Bramley apples, cider, eels and beef. The Forum was set up by local chefs who are passionate about artisan food produced in their local area. We promote local suppliers and their produce on our menus and cook it at demos at festivals and events. We work to promote these great ingredients not only to local customers but also to international guests.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO TO UNWIND AWAY FROM WORK?
I love to run. It helps clear my head and de-stress. I have finished three Belfast Marathons. I find that you really get to know yourself as a person in endurance sports. I enjoy endurance sports and pushing myself. In the New Year, I will be cycling a lot more. It’s a little easier on the knees!
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF FEW PEOPLE MAY KNOW
I love classical music. Most people who know me think I’m an old grunge rocker but I listen to Classic FM constantly at home and whilst driving. I’ve even started going to the Ulster Hall to listen to performances like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons…years ago that used to be Stiff Little Fingers, how times change!
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