Chef Profile Summer 2017: Graham Burns, executive head chef at the Crowne Plaza Belfast
Graham Burns, executive head chef at the Crowne Plaza Belfast, discusses his culinary CV, inspirations and aspirations with Hospitality Review NI
WHEN DID YOU FIRST GET INTO COOKING, AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU?
Basically my mother’s cooking; licking the spoon from the pavlova mix and watching her. And then, back in high school, we had home economics class before lunch so I thought it was a good idea to get a free lunch out of it. Also, there were only three boys in the class so we were surrounded by the girls and you couldn’t go wrong with that…
HAVE YOU ANY CULINARY QUALIFICATIONS?
I went to Newry Catering College with two others from high school in Banbridge, and we were the only ones to finish our course three months early. I have also just finished level four in food hygiene and management.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND IN THE TRADE?
After catering college, I went to work at Kilkea Castle in Co Kildare and it was quite an experience, leaving home at 17 and getting paid 60 punts a week to work 60-70 hours. It was hard work and I learnt a lot. I was entered into the Salon Culinaire competition at a young age, picked up a few gold and silver medals and was picked to compete in Germany.
From there, I went to the Burrendale Hotel in Newcastle for three years, moving my way up to sous chef.
After that, I was in Australia working at The Rocks in Sydney as head chef of a group of three restaurants serving 3,000 people at lunch and dinner. That was very different from anything I’d done before and, with the diversity of food available, it gave me a new mindset.
Four years later, I decided to come home and use those skills here, and went back to the Burrendale as head chef before moving on to Rooney’s restaurant in Newcastle.
HAS ANYONE INSPIRED YOU THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?
At the Burrendale, chefs Denis Orr and Alan Foster were great mentors, as was the late Kem Akkari, who was general manager at the Burrendale. He was strict in his ways but a gentleman at the same time.
WHEN DID YOU JOIN YOUR CURRENT VENUE?
Then I decided to move to the big smoke, started as sous chef at the Ramada Plaza Belfast and, within a year – 11 years ago now – I became executive head chef of one of the busiest wedding, conferencing and banquet facilities in Belfast.