Chef Profile August 2019: Chris Rees, head chef of The River Room at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort
Chris Rees, head chef of The River Room at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, talks to HRNI
WHEN DID YOU FIRST GET INTO COOKING?
I started cooking when I was about 15 when I worked as a kitchen porter. I always loved ‘messing about’ in the kitchen as a teenager and grew up trying out lots of recipes – I gave everything a go. I started in small restaurants and bistros and over the years have worked my way into the best restaurants and hotels in Northern Ireland. I’ve also had a stint in Jersey in the past and I had a couple of contracts on cruise ships as well. Now I am always searching for quality ingredients to use in my cooking, especially given the wealth of produce available here in Northern Ireland. I feel inspired by my peers to make fine dining into fun dining and that is something I have carried into my menu at the River Room.
HAVE YOU ANY CULINARY QUALIFICATIONS?
I have a qualification in Basic Food Hygiene. Other than that, it’s been years of experience within some of Northern Ireland’s top restaurants that has got me to where I am now in my career.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
My first job was a kitchen porter role – this is where I discovered my love of cooking. I had a few stints in different places after that and then joined the Galgorm Resort as a sous chef in 2009. I quickly worked my way up, becoming head chef in 2014. After four years as head chef at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, I left and worked for nearly three years in the one-Michelin-starred Ox restaurant in Belfast. I returned home to the kitchens of the Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort as executive head chef in June 2017 and I’ve been here ever since, heading up the three-AA-rosette River Room restaurant.
WHAT STYLE IS YOUR COOKING?
I would say modern Irish/European cuisine but ultimately, my signature style is to keep things simple and sustainable. Quality produce is paramount and creativity with your ingredients is key for me, and the freedom of creativity I have with the menu for the River Room, one of only four restaurants in Northern Ireland to be awarded three AA Rosettes for culinary excellence is truly wonderful. It embodies the ethos of Galgorm in its menu and dishes, offering a unique and memorable dining experience for each and every diner. I love that I can give people an amazing evening through this menu and it inspires me every time I step into the kitchen.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD SOURCING POLICY?
I always like to source my produce as locally as possible but sometimes the French produce is just a little bit better, so depending on what I need, I might order it as well so I can be sure of the quality for the menu.
WHAT SIZE IS YOUR STAFF?
At any one time, we have five chefs and a kitchen porter working in the kitchen. For front of house, it would be about the same, plus two bar staff as well. We look after our guests well at the Galgorm.
WHOSE CAREER WOULD YOU WISH TO EMULATE?
I want to carve out my own career. I have my own ideas and style and, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll make my own path rather than following anyone else.
HAVE YOU ANY INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF WORK?
I really like getting outdoors and getting some fresh air. Whether I am out with the kids, on my motorcycle, doing a spot of fishing, or meeting friends for a few drinks, it’s important to get some downtime where I can completely switch off.
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