AT the slovenly age of eighteen, Anthony’s waiter-friend gave him a call to tell him that a chef had walked out of their kitchen and that they were buggered. He knew Anthony could cook (and had no job), could he come and save the day? Course he bloody could. Five years later he was Head Chef at Castlefield’s Dukes 92 and Albert’s Shed. Not bad – at 23 I was still watching the Chuckle Brothers.
I’m not much of a fighter. I did once get pinned up by the neck to a fridge door. I’d gone for a cigarette and the Sous wasn’t best pleased.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu?
I’d probably say the roast suckling pig. We get it from Barry Pew, he rears all of his own piglets on the farm, sends them off to the slaughter and then brings them back to the farm. It’s a fantastic product, you barely have to do anything to it, score and salt the skin then blowtorch it.
What’s your favourite cut of meat?
Pork, it’s so versatile; sausage, bacon, chops, black pudding, ham, cuts like the shoulder and loin. A real Englishman can’t live without sausage or bacon. A bacon sandwich is one of those great little things in life that make it all worthwhile. Pork gets a bad rep, people think it dries out too much, but not if you treat it right. On Sunday morning, stick it on a slow cook for about 6 hours, go for a nice walk with the family, have a couple of beers, come back and whip it out. It’s a fantastic meat, very underrated.
Could you slaughter a piglet?
Yeah I think I could, but I haven’t. I’ve only ever killed a fish, whacked it over the head.
Nice. What’s your favourite dessert?
Cheese for me is the ultimate dessert. But apart from that anything fruity and tarty. I like anything tarty, except for when it comes to my wife.
Any tropical fruits, so mangos, papayas, passion fruits. Pop a bit of passion fruit in a pornstar martini.
Pornstar martini? Very fruity. What’s your favourite veg?
Cabbage. I love all cabbage, white, red, green. With a bit of butter and black pepper, dead simple but again, really versatile and it’s very good for you.
What’s your favourite takeaway?
Indian. Nothing too spicy, you don’t want the chilli to numb your mouth. But nothing too mild either, anything with bananas, almonds, none of that. I’m quite into my keema curries at the minute.
And your favourite piece of kitchen kit?
I’m not into my kitchen gizmos and gadgets. As long as you’ve got a couple of decent pans and a good set of knives then you don’t need things like water baths and a big box full of tools. You know what, just use your hands, get to know the food, how it feels. Pans, knifes and hands, that’s all you need. Oh and fire.
So why did you become a chef?
As with a lot of chefs I sort of fell into it. I started baking as a kid with my mum so I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I had a friend who was a waiter at a restaurant in Swinton and one night their cold starters chef just walked out. My friend knew I was into food so rang me up and said there was a job there for me if I wanted it.
So I jumped in at the deep end and fell in love with it, the whole buzz of the kitchen. I realised I was good at it and the rest is history. From there it was a very quick progression, making my way through one kitchen into another. I started at 18 and by 23 I was Head Chef of Albert Shed and Dukes.
You were a Head Chef by 23?
Yep, in one of the biggest and busiest sites in Manchester. I was umming and ahhing about whether to take it on or not and the owners just said to me ‘look we think you’re good enough, so it’s there if you want it.’
Being such a young boss, did you have many problems with your staff?
At points I have had staff under me that were a lot older. It’s been like running a ship full of pirates sometimes. But I’ve never really had any problems with it, people questioning my authority and that sort of thing. But people do say I’m quite old for my age anyway so maybe that helped.
You do get those chefs that rant and rave and throw pans across the kitchen, you do get a lot of it and I’ve been there myself in the past. But I’ve since realised that it doesn’t get you anywhere, you lose respect from your staff. When you start screaming and shouting, then you’ve thrown your final card in. You’ve got nowhere else to go after that.
Ever had a scrap in the kitchen?
Not me personally, I’m not much of a fighter. I did once get pinned up by the neck to a fridge door. I’d gone for a cigarette and the Sous wasn’t best pleased.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Taking on the kids, teaching them and watching them develop in the kitchen. Then hopefully at some point they’ll move on to a higher position and even move out of our kitchen. I’m all for it. I’ve had a part in teaching them, someone did it for me, so it’s about passing on your knowledge and helping people progress. There’s a very high turnover in kitchens anyway, there are a lot of people who will stay in the kitchen for six months to a year, learn what they can learn from that kitchen and then move on to another one and learn something else.
Long hours. Paperwork. I’m used to the long hours but paperwork is the least enjoyable. Then again you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth because we’re very lucky people, to love what we do. It is hard work, I’m not going to shy away from that. There are long unsociable hours, all of your mates are on nine fives and all off at the weekend when it’s your busiest time. But I can’t complain because I’ve found something that I’m good at, something that I have a passion for - and I get paid for it.
What has been the craziest moment of your career?
There was one night down at Dukes and Albert Shed when I was Head Chef, I had someone call in sick and someone walk out on the same shift. So there I was cooking meat and fish, risottos, pasta, side orders and running the pass for around 70 covers. I only had a guy on starters and a guy on pizzas. It was hectic to say the least - I was only 23.
Ever wanted to pack it in?
Oh yeah loads of times. I’ve never been on the verge of jacking my career in though. But yeah the stress has brought me close to tears a few times.
So what would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
A delinquent probably. I really don’t know. I like fire, maybe a firemen… or an arsonist.
How do you spend your days off?
I spend them with the family. My wife and I have just had a baby, she’s five and a half months at the moment so that is my time off really. Unlike many chefs, I actually enjoy cooking at home as well. It’s a more therapeutic experience, a glass of wine, a few beers, and all the pressures off. You can take your time, enjoy it.
What do you cook at home?
I cook a lot of Thai food, very fresh and clean flavours. And barbeques, I’ve got one of those big Weber outdoor ones. I like to throw a suckling pig on there, slow smoke it.
Where’s your favourite place to eat outside of your own restaurant?
There’s a small place on Princess Street called Koh Samui, it’s a little Thai restaurant. Dead cheap and cheerful place, no fuss, no faff, great service and some of the best Thai food I’ve tasted outside of Thailand.
What if you had to eat one thing for the rest of your life?
Pigs and derivatives of pigs. Oh and cheese. Cheese and pig are all you need in life.
We did say one thing but ok. And one drink?
Alcohol. I’m not fussy when it comes to booze really, beer, wine, a mixture of both.
Again that’s two, you cheat. What’s the most complex dish you’ve ever made?
I don’t really go into that complex stuff. I’m not into this molecular gastronomy, it has its place but it’s a lot more about the experience, the whole kit and caboodle rather than the food. I’m more about keeping it simple; let the flavours speak for themselves. I’m about decent honest cooking with little faff. You don’t need all these fancy pans, purees and water baths.
Having said that, your signature ribs do have sixteen ingredients.
Yes they do. So yeah, the ribs are probably the most complex. There’s a lot of love gone into those ribs, I've been perfecting that recipe since I first started chefing about fourteen years ago.
Ever cooked for anyone particularly famous?
Lots. In Manchester you get a load of musicians, footballers, all of the Corrie lot. I cooked for David Beckham whilst he was at United. I cooked for Elbow the night after they won the Mercury Music award. When Duran Duran reformed I was working at Piccolino and they came in after playing the Arena. Simon Le Bon came up to the pass and we spoke about scallops. That was quite amusing.
What is your proudest achievement to date?
Probably becoming a head chef so young at 23. Or maybe getting in to the Michelin Restaurant Guide for the first time a few years ago. That was pretty special - we’ve had it three years in a row now.
How do you go about getting into the guide?
The first time a guy came in, he had something to eat, then we sat down and had a conversation. You invite them in and say why you’d like to be included and why you should be included. So he said there’ll be people coming to eat on three separate occasions and we won’t know when or who they are. Next thing you know you’ll either be in the guide or you won’t. Easy as that. I think there’s only five or six restaurants from Manchester in right now.
Speaking of Michelin, who’ll be the first in Manchester to get a star?
Simon Rogan at The French. I’d be surprised if they’ve not got a star by next year.
What are your aspirations for the future?
Getting my own star would be nice, but branching out would be good. I’m actually a partner in this restaurant now, so we’ll maybe look to open another one. We’ve got plans to refurbish the cellar downstairs, make this place much bigger. It’d be nice to get out into the countryside for a while. Get my own little country pub.
The Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar, 108 High Street, Manchester, M4 1HQ.
0161 832 7115
TNQ throw gourmet nights every month or two. For a list check here.