Chef Profile May 2019: Matthew McKinley, group executive development chef, Mount Charles
WHEN DID YOU FIRST GET INTO COOKING?
As soon as I could stand up on a chair to reach the kitchen counter, I was helping my mum, who was a fantastic baker. Of course, by helping I mean licking spoons and spatulas. I loved everything to do with baking and adored raw cake mix straight from the bowl. I was an absolute mummy’s boy with a sweet tooth; she inspired me from day one.
HAVE YOU ANY CULINARY QUALIFICATIONS?
NVQ Level 2 in Professional Cookery.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND IN THE TRADE?
My first ever job was at the Causeway Coast Hotel by the famous Giant’s Causeway. I then spent a short summer in Ballycastle seaside staple, the Central Wine Bar. It was a busy and hectic summer that reinforced that the kitchen was exactly where I needed to be. Deep down I wanted more than a busy seaside restaurant though. After a few phone calls and a short interview in Belfast, I arranged a trial at Paul Rankin’s second iteration of Roscoff Brasserie on Linenhall Street. My first day was spent shucking and cleaning 150 hand-dived Irish king scallops. Despite my hands being completely shredded at the end of the day, I absolutely knew I was in the right place. Absolutely spoiled with the best local produce we could find and every plate of food I ever saw leave the pass, I wished I was eating myself. Following a fateful meeting with chef proprietor of the Mourne Seafood Bar Andy Rea, I was soon plying my trade in Bank Street. It was there I developed the confidence and approach to running a kitchen that still influences me heavily today. A year short of my 30th birthday, the opportunity to run an Irish-themed restaurant in Thailand was too much to pass up on. But I struggled to adjust to the culture and before long I was on a plane to Australia and landed in tropical Cairns. There, I was lucky enough to work with a local award-winning chef, James Wort at Dundee’s waterfront restaurant. After two and a half years with Dundee’s, I took the reins at Cairns’ hotspot, Salt House. A dream venue, set in the yacht club of Cairns Harbour, I was awarded best restaurant in North Queensland by the Australian Restaurant Federation. I returned home to Ireland to run the Old Inn Crawfordsburn, in turn winning the AA Hotel of the Year award while running the two-AA rosette Lewis restaurant. More recently, I began my new role with Mount Charles as the Group executive development chef.
HAS ANYONE INSPIRED YOU THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?
I have been inspired by virtually every chef I have been lucky to work with across three continents, and many others along the way. Special mentions go to Paul and Jeanne Rankin, Andy Rea and my oldest mentor Ryan Adams. There are literally too may chefs to mention, everyone from Anthony Bourdain, to Georgio Locatelli, to Joel Robuchon. I could go on forever.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD SOURCING POLICY?
I once drove for two hours to meet a farmer who kept stunning hand-reared pigeons. Where possible, I’m a strong advocate for Alice Waters’ farm-to-plate policy. Having worked across three continents, I am lucky enough to truly understand how amazing the local produce is in Northern Ireland. Across the spectrum, we have some of the best livestock in the world, some of the best seafood in the world and a vast array of award-winning artisan produce.