Chef Profile February 2020: Nigel Mannion, executive chef at Titanic Hotel Belfast
WHEN DID YOU FIRST GET INTO COOKING?
My interest in cooking was instilled in me at the age of 15. My aunt got me a summer job working in the kitchen in Gulliver’s Restaurant, Sligo. I discovered a love for creating new dishes and the excitement of working in a busy kitchen. I loved it so much I ended up returning every time I was on a break from school and ended up working there for a further three years.
HAVE YOU ANY CULINARY QUALIFICATIONS?
Inspired by working in the kitchen at Gulliver’s, I decided to take a home economics class at school. While cooking during class, we would usually be in a team of three and I would always take the lead.
It was my teacher who recognised I had raw talent and advised my mum I should be a chef.
After secondary school, I attended Killybegs Catering College in Donegal for two years where I developed my skillset and achieved a degree in Culinary Arts. To gain further experience in a professional environment, I used to drive from Donegal to work at the Sligo Park Hotel during weekends.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
I have had a varied career in the catering industry which spans over 22 years. I have worked all over the island of Ireland and the United States. I had the pleasure of working in Molly’s, Cape Cod for six months.
I had intended to stay there longer; however, during a holiday at home in Sligo, I was asked to help in a restaurant and ended up staying. Travelling has allowed me to experience different cultures and culinary techniques which I implement into my work to this day.
HAS ANYONE INSPIRED YOU THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?
I found working under Eleanor Walsh, owner and original head chef of Eden, Dublin, was the most valuable of lessons. She has the most amazing talent for matching flavours. She is a real inspiration.
WHEN DID YOU JOIN YOUR CURRENT VENUE?
When I heard the former Harland and Wolff Headquarters and historic drawing offices were being restored and opened as a luxury hotel, I knew it would be an incredible addition to Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector. It is such an iconic and significant venue, where over 1,000 ships were designed, including the world-famous Titanic.
To come on board as the original executive chef when Titanic Hotel Belfast opened in August 2017 was an honour. Creating entire menus for the hotel from scratch was certainly one of the greatest challenges of my career so far but one I am immensely proud of. The restaurant remains popular among the local community and tourists alike.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD SOURCING POLICY?
I have always been passionate about using the best of Irish produce. Some of the finest and freshest ingredients can be sourced from small, local suppliers. One of my favourite suppliers is Northern Ireland-based Carnbrooke Meats. They have a purpose-built dry aging chamber on site which allows us to order our beef to the exact specifications we require.
WHAT SIZE IS YOUR STAFF?
I have a team of 14 chefs and five kitchen porters. Working as a team in such a busy kitchen is imperative to delivering the high quality of food and service that is expected of such a luxury hotel. On any one day, we cook a wide variety of dishes in order to cater to all our guest needs, from the traditional and comforting bar food in Drawing Office Two to the more refined dining in the Wolff Grill restaurant. We could have a busy morning with breakfast followed by a host of afternoon teas or even banquets, feeding up to 300 guests at a time.
I enjoy working in close partnership with Belfast Metropolitan College School of Hospitality which provides placements and apprenticeships for students wishing to grow their career within the industry.
WHOSE CAREER WOULD YOU WISH TO EMULATE?
I have been inspired by many great chefs but one in particular who stands out is Keith Floyd. I appreciated his talent for creating traditional meals in an entertaining and interesting fashion.
HAVE YOU ANY INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF WORK?
I am a proud father to three kids: Haylee, Archie and Charlie. I look forward to spending quality time with them and my wife Christine, as we celebrate our upcoming 10-year wedding anniversary.
Outside of work and family life, I thoroughly enjoy running. My goal is to complete a half marathon this year. I appreciate visiting critically-acclaimed restaurants when I can. One I particularly enjoyed was the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire. Heston Blumenthal is an innovator who marries science and cookery; his ideas are so original and inspiring.