There are big changes happening in the kitchens at Malone Lodge Hotel’s Knife & Fork restaurant, and many of these changes come down to the new head chef, Michael Irvine.
Michael, who has previously worked at the Hilton Hotel Belfast, Tedford’s restaurant, Flame restaurant and the Four Winds, now calls Malone Lodge Hotel home.
A new addition to the team, Michael has big plans for Malone Lodge Hotel and in particular, for the menus on offer in the hotel’s Knife & Fork restaurant:
“I recently joined the team here at the Malone Lodge Hotel, just before the Christmas party nights kicked off. After a very successful festive period, I’m now well settled in and am working on improving our Wedding breakfast menu, conference menus and changing the style of food served in our Knife & Fork restaurant.”
Speaking about some of the culinary changes we can expect, he explained the desire to return to the original aims of the Knife & Fork restaurant:
At the moment, we’re trying to return to our roots as a good value for money restaurant, so we’re hoping Knife & Fork will be more of a grill-style bistro going forward.
With a style he describes as “traditional Irish”, Michael will be bringing his own personal touches to the new menu: “I appreciate traditional Irish dishes. Sometimes I feel that when we modernise classics we are losing a little of the original charm of the dish. For example, I’m trying to now use more pulses and recently designed a lamb dish with a lentil stew.”
The new Knife & Fork menu will launch this month, as well as a new bar menu. Michael says the whole menu development process has bee “enjoyable to work on” and he’s looking forward to seeing it in action, with a curried sea bass being one of his personal favourites on the new menu.
While they’re still looking out for their favourite producers, supporting them is key: “I feel strongly that supporting our local suppliers is important for the industry; where possible we endeavour to use as much local produce as possible.”
Now that he’s a head chef, Michael understands the pressures associated with the job, but also recalls the various steps that led him down this career path.
I really enjoyed Home Economics at school and an encouraging teacher suggested it could be a career choice for me so I explored the opportunity further. On leaving school at 16, I completed a BTech and then continued to study at a business studies college.
Remembering some of his earliest experiences in the industry, he said: “Starting off in catering wasn’t easy, with long hours and intense training. Some of my earliest experiences relate to working hard to stay focused and putting pride into what I did.”
That hard work certainly paid off and Michael feels that a bit of pressure can go a long way in helping you thrive in your chosen field:
“I really enjoy the pressure of the role and I feel like if you didn’t enjoy the occasional stressful and chaotic moments, it would be a lot more difficult to continue to thrive in a head chef position.” But he admits that “it is challenging to achieve a work/life balance due to the commitment of hours required.”
The struggle to achieve this balance is not lost on Michael, who puts achieving this balance down to “meticulous time management”:
“When a working day is well managed, you can enjoy more quality time at home. This is greatly enhanced by having a strong kitchen team. Striving to ensure team members feel motivated and supporting their own work/life balance is a priority for me.”
Not blind to the issues facing the food industry, Michael offered his thoughts on the current chef shortage, saying: “I feel we can tackle the chef shortage by ensuring chefs are paid closer to the reality of the hours they are actually working.”
It’s also important to ensure that younger members of the team are not overworked. Offering opportunities for development is extremely important, as well as moving away from a ‘sink or swim’ mentality while Chefs are training.
On that note, he had some advise to offer young chefs who may be considering a career in the food industry: “I’d advise any young chef to invest time in gathering as much information as possible on the reality of the industry.
“Talk to chefs from different backgrounds and really analyse whether your passion will compensate for the potential impact on your work/life balance. Set goals and talk to your seniors regularly about what you want to achieve to help them establish an environment that will allow you to grow.”
From young chefs to those with more experience, Michael offered some insight into his own personal interest in food, and the different ventures he’s most excited by:
“I’m very excited about new high end tapas bar, Edo, which opened just last year in Belfast. I had the privilege of supporting Chef and owner, Johnny Elliot, with the openin and am excited for what the future holds for him.
“I previously worked with Alan Foster at Tedfords and believe he offers the best fish restaurant in Belfast. Alan continues to trend set and raise the bar, despite being in the restaurant industry for over 16 years.”
So, it looks like there’s a lot of good things happening for both Michael and Malone Lodge, especially given the changes afoot, and Michael is embracing these changes with open arms:
“My future looks bright at the Malone Lodge Hotel and I intend to continue to invest a lot of my time and energy in developing and improving a strong kitchen team who bring passion to the food we deliver.”
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.