Twenty-nine-year-old Ciaran McMullan is new to the helm at The Cultra Inn at the Culloden Estate & Spa
One of the most striking things about Ciaran Mullan (29) is his determination to achieve the goals he sets himself.
Ciaran, who comes from Bangor West and is the current head chef at the Cultra Inn, was convinced from an early age that his future lay in hospitality. He was determined to be a chef, he just had no idea how to go about it.
Leaving school at 16, he secured a post as kitchen porter at the former Bangor Bay Inn. The job was ‘an eye-opener’, he says, and within a couple of months he was performing a whole range of tasks from dishwashing to disposing of the rubbish.
Ciaran stayed at the inn for a couple of years until a chef called Michael Dargan arrived. Michael had worked with the late Robbie Millar at Shanks and he and Ciaran became friends. When Michael left to take up a job in the kitchens at the newly-opened Fitzwilliam Hotel in Belfast, he kept in touch with Ciaran and was soon able to offer him a job.
‘I was 18 at the time and Belfast was a lot bigger than Bangor, I got my eyes opened,’ recalls Ciaran. ‘It was very busy. [Irish chef] Kevin Thornton’s name was on the menu at that time and that’s the level of expertise that we are talking about, it was a big operation and very demanding. But I just got the head down, I wanted to prove myself.’
In the end, Ciaran stayed at the Fitzwilliam for three years, climbing to the rank of junior sous chef before departing for the Boat House in Bangor which, in those days, was still owned by the acclaimed Dutch brothers, Jasper and Joery Castel. Ciaran worked in the kitchen with Yoery and another chef, Patrick Rowan. When Patrick left a short time later to take up a position with Saphyre in Belfast, Ciaran was left working in the kitchen with just Yoery.
Three more years passed, during which the Boat House paid for Ciaran to take part in a ‘stage’ at a Michelin three-starred restaurant in Zwolle, near Amsterdam. He learned a lot during his time away, he says, and was even offered a job although he couldn’t accept because his wife, Catriona, was at home and expecting the couple’s first child.
On his return, Ciaran spent a further year at the Boat House before departing for a job as head chef at a bar in central Belfast. That didn’t work out and he quickly relocated to Saphyre on the Lisburn Road as senior chef de partie. Within three or four months, he had been made pastry chef.
At the age of 24, Ciaran embarked on a period during which he worked in a series of venues, including Howard Street in Belfast at Jonny Elliott’s Edo in Upper Queen Street, where he was head chef at the time of opening.
Four months ago, he took on the post of head chef at the Cultra Inn, in the grounds of the five-star Culloden Hotel & Spa near Belfast. Hastings Hotels, which owns both venues, has a policy of continuous investment aimed at maintaining high standards, most recently installing a brand new kitchen at the Inn.
‘At the moment, I’m excited to be showcasing the fresh, local produce we have available and the unique menu we’ve created for Ireland’s Taste the Island promotion,’ says Ciaran.
He also says that while he sees himself at The Cultra Inn for ‘a good few years’, he would like to look at owning his own venue in the future:
‘I have a wife and three beautiful kids, so maybe I could have a wee country pub-style place that serves a good pint but also gives you a top class meal.’