Tell us about your plans for Will Brown at The Old Schoolhouse Inn.
My plans for The Schoolhouse are to keep improving as a business and to keep the level of food at a high standard. I plan to refurbish our 10 guestrooms commencing before Christmas to a 5 star rating.
I am also putting in a Schoolhouse garden with two polytunnels, raised beds and a heated polytunnel for growing microcress and micro vegetables.
I plan to keep foraging – learning more about it and using ‘nature’s larder’ as much as possible.
The Old Schoolhouse has had some great publicity recently, what impact has this had on business?
It has been fantastic for business; we keep going from strength to strength getting busier each week. Also, it is brilliant that customers travel from all over Ireland, and the UK, to eat at the Schoolhouse, word is spreading!
Tell us about your experience on Great British Menu
It was an amazing experience, what an opportunity for me to represent Northern Ireland. It was an honour to be asked and I thoroughly enjoyed my time on GBM – I just wish the scores had been a little higher! I have taken the positives out of it and have learnt so much I am grateful to have been chosen to be on the show.
How does working in Ulster compare with your stints in restaurants in London?
London is a very busy place, I enjoyed every minute of my time away. London is where I learnt my trade; it was a fantastic opportunity to learn in some of the best kitchens in Europe. I was glad to come home and bring my knowledge and skills back to Northern Ireland. My restaurant is on the same road as I was born so it is brilliant to be able to cook where I grew up and also to take over the family business.
Do you feel Northern Irish chefs and restaurants get enough recognition on the world stage?
Yes, good restaurants in Northern Ireland are doing very well for themselves across the UK. There are great vibes coming from the food scene in Northern Ireland which I love and am proud to be a part of.
Why is local sourcing so important to you?
Locally grown food tastes and looks better. The crops are picked at their peak, and farmstead products like cheeses and are hand-crafted for best flavour. Livestock products are processed in nearby facilities and typically the farmer has direct relationship with processors, overseeing quality - unlike animals processed in large industrial facilities. Also, local food is better for you. The shorter the time between the farm and your table, the less likely it is that nutrients will be lost from fresh food. Food imported from far away is older and has travelled on trucks or planes, and sat in warehouses before it gets to you.
Local food benefits the environment and wildlife. Well-managed farms provide ecosystem services: they conserve fertile soil, protect water sources, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. The farm environment is a patchwork of fields, meadows, woods, ponds and buildings that provide habitat for wildlife in our communities.
Furthermore, local food is an investment in the future. By supporting local farmers today, you are helping to ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow.
What have been the highlights of your career to date?
The position I am currently in is the highlight of my career to date. I am cooking the best food I have ever cooked, working with the best team I’ve ever worked with – which encompasses our housekeeper, Eddie the head chef, Pete Mckenna restaurant manager and my fiancée Karena.
Who has inspired you most in your career?
Anthony Boyd, Glasshouse, Kew Gardens.
The most important thing for any good chef is to be organised. Anthony Boyd taught me the art of organisation in the kitchen to respecting produce and to using them in the right manner
What advice would you give to young chefs?
Less chit chat, more chop chop!
Any other plans for the future?
My plans are to get married in the next year, and to take the Schoolhouse from strength to strength into 2015.