The Bigger Picture

A tale of two cities

Belfast has been a sister city of Nashville since 1995 and this year saw the cultural exchange rolled out to food with Belfast’s Deanes group and Nashville’s Monell’s visiting each other’s home cities. HRNI talks to Michael Deane and Michael King about the experience

A tale of two cities

Michael King and Michael Deane in Deane's Deli Bistro

A tale of two cities

A tale of two cities

A tale of two cities

MICHAEL DEANE:

HOW DID THE COLLABORATION COME ABOUT?
We were invited to a meeting by Belfast City Council to brainstorm ideas for the upcoming Nashville In Belfast celebrations and to gauge if we would be interested in being involved. We thought it sounded exciting and so began the plans for a Nashville-themed dinner party at Deanes Deli Bistro pre-Kristian Bush concert at the Ulster Hall and also a Nashville spin on a Dine Around Deanes tour to run during the week of the festivities.

WHAT DID THE DEANES TEAM GET UP TO DURING ITS VISIT TO NASHVILLE?
They said what happens in Nashville stays in Nashville but I did see evidence of lots of eating at Monell’s, a few trips to Broadway and The Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg!

DID THE DEANES TEAM FIND ANY INSPIRING FOODS, COOKING STYLES OR BUSINESS IDEAS?
Monell’s promotes the idea of shared seating, everyone eating together; strangers or friends being served together and passing the food around the table. I know the guys thought this was fascinating; that they came away from lunch or dinner having met new people and had conversations they simply wouldn’t have had in a typical restaurant.

It was so exciting to see all the different ingredients being used – ingredients we had no experience of working with. And the differing cooking methods, techniques such as using the skillet for Southern Fried Chicken and seeing this being cooked properly and authentically. We really enjoyed working alongside the front-of-house staff; the atmosphere they helped to create was brilliant and so laid back but in a good way.

DID THE TEAM BRING BACK ANY NEW CONCEPTS OR IDEAS TO BELFAST?
Most definitely. Particularly with regards to our Dine Around Deanes Tours, and how we try to make it a great social and inclusive occasion. We have adjusted some aspects of the tour to coincide with how Monell’s do things and we find that, as long as we’re talking the customers through it and letting them know how everything will be served, they’re really happy to be treated as a group of strangers now making friends.

WILL THE COLLABORATION CONTINUE?
Most definitely! Michael King’s enthusiasm to promote and widen the connections between the twin cities of Belfast and Nashville was completely infectious. Of course, I’m honoured that he has set up The Michael Deane Foundation in Nashville. I’m looking forward to dawning my Stetson and heading to Nashville this October to further our plans for the coming year.

MICHAEL KING:

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESTAURANTS IN NASHVILLE
Unemployed, no money, no savings account and five gold credit cards is how I began my journey with Monell’s. We opened up on Thanksgiving Day in 1995 and, had I opened up a day later, I would have been bankrupt. At one point I had seven locations. However, sometimes bigger is not better and currently I have three. We are a family-style restaurant in old historic homes. You come in, grab a seat at the table with strangers and we bring out platters of southern food. There is no menu, it is set for each day. We have three meats, four vegetables, two salads, drinks and dessert all included. We do 18 tonnes of chicken a month as we are known for our Skillet Fried Chicken.

HOW DID THE COLLABORATION COME ABOUT?
In January, I was in Belfast for two days. I was introduced to Michael and his crew. I had a concept that I wanted to do for our Nashville Week in Belfast. His enthusiasm and that of his staff made me feel right at home and I knew I had made the right connection.

WHAT DID THE DEANES TEAM GET UP TO DURING ITS VISIT TO NASHVILLE?
I know this is a Deanes question, but the reason I brought them to Nashville was to experience what Nashville is about; the culture, the food, the atmosphere. It paid off because they were able to understand sharing style dining. Chef Henris loved our Fried Green Tomatoes. I know that they enjoyed our family style concept as it gave them a chance to talk with people from all over the world at the dining room table; then it was easier for me to sell the idea of a Sunday Southern Meal at Deanes Deli.

WHAT DID THE MONELL’S TEAM GET UP TO DURING ITS VISIT TO BELFAST?
The culture of Belfast and the Irish people. The camaraderie of Michael Deane and his staff, and the ability to do their job with the help of Belfast. I think they also got an understanding as to the pressure the chefs are under by cooking everything from scratch and to the highest degree.

DID THE MONELL’S TEAM FIND ANY INSPIRING FOODS, COOKING STYLES OR BUSINESS IDEAS?
Deanes Eipic! Hands down the best meal I have ever eaten in my life. No joke. The atmosphere, the service, the detail to the presentation of the food. The execution of the food from Chef Alex Greene was spot on. Belfast should appreciate the fact that they have a one-star Michelin restaurant which is an honour and a privilege to have in any town.

WILL THE COLLABORATION CONTINUE?
Oh my yes! When you find someone as supportive, talented and a visionary as Michael Deane and his staff, there is an energy that is created to do amazing things. Monell’s established a $5,000 scholarship here in Nashville in Michael Deane’s name. This is for culinary students to join us in Belfast next year and to get a chance to shadow Michael’s chefs. We want to expand the culinary opportunity for those in Belfast by partnering with hotels and restaurants here in Nashville. And we have year two of the Belfast collaboration. So, I don’t think either one of us is leaving each other for a while.

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