Chef Profile December 2019: Michael McKnight, head chef of Millbrook Lodge Hotel
Michael McKnight, head chef of Millbrook Lodge Hotel, talks to HRNI
WHEN DID YOU FIRST GET INTO COOKING?
My mum inspired me to become a chef. We were always in the kitchen cooking together. The best meals always come from your mum.
HAVE YOU ANY CULINARY QUALIFICATIONS?
I have NVQ levels 1, 2 and 3 in hospitality and catering. I went to college between the ages of 16 and 19, and worked in kitchens throughout my education. I enjoyed college but found it was in the busy work environment where I really flourished.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND IN THE TRADE?
I have been a chef for over 16 years and, like I said, was in the kitchen environment throughout my training also. My first position was as a commis chef in the King’s Head in Belfast. I then transferred to Shu and then to James St South. With this experience, I then began to realise that I wanted to focus on fine dining. I loved the flair for cooking it provided, the fast past at which service was carried out and the enormous focus that was put on the quality of every single ingredient. This is something I still try to implement into my cooking today. I quickly realised that I needed to spread my net wider and for that reason I decided to travel and explore and learn about different cultures, food flavours and dining experiences. I appreciate that to be the best chef I can be, I needed to learn from a vast array of people, with their own way of cooking. I try to bring all these new techniques I have learnt and use these positive influences into breathing new life into the NI food scene, all while keeping true to our culinary heritage.
HAS ANYONE INSPIRED YOU THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?
There have been many inspirational chefs I have came across in my career, but if I had to name a few I would say, Fernand Point. I read his book Ma Gastronomie and it was the most passionate book I had ever read in my life; I couldn’t put it down. Paul Bocuse also was an inspiration, a protégée of Fernand. The Roux brothers, because of how they revolutionised cooking in England. And of course Marco Pierre White; his track record speaks for itself.
WHEN DID YOU JOIN YOUR CURRENT VENUE?
I joined the Maguire Hotel Group as head chef in the Millbrook Lodge Hotel in late June of this year. The thing that most attracted me to this position was the country lifestyle. I want to bring a new approach to cooking in the Millbrook, and what ‘country cooking’ really means.
WHAT SIZE IS YOUR STAFF?
We have a tight knit team of five. Since I have been with the business, I have seen some remarkable passion and growth with some of the junior members of the team, who are capable of producing some top-quality dishes. So much so, that I have promoted Judith to be my right-hand woman in the kitchen. She joined the Millbrook when she was just 17 and has quickly risen through the ranks due to her sheer love of cooking. I have a goal of instilling the appreciation I have for good food into the younger generations and am always willing to mentor them where I can.
WHAT STYLE IS YOUR COOKING?
I always try to source fresh, local and in- season produce. The availably of good, locally-sourced, locally-grown produce in this area is a really exciting prospect for me. Northern Ireland has some of the world’s best produce, grown right on our doorstep. I’m excited to showcase it. It is my firm belief that we should support the local suppliers, and thus support the local community. I want to make Millbrook a central part of that mantra.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD SOURCING POLICY?
I practise responsible sourcing throughout our supply, ensuring our customers get great quality, high welfare and sustainable food on their plate but, as I said, always local.
HAVE YOU ANY INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF WORK?
I have two young sons. This is a very special and precious time with them. On my time off, I love nothing more than to spend as much time as I can with them. I love to travel, fishing and foraging are also some of my favourite pastimes, and hopefully these are hobbies I can share with my children.