Kyle Greer (31), the recently-appointed executive head chef at Belfast’s Europa hotel, got his first taste of life in a commercial kitchen when he stood in for a breakfast chef who had phoned in sick at Antrim’s Holiday Inn.
At the time, Kyle worked on reception at the hotel and had no experience of what it was like to cook for the guests.
‘I still thought I’d give it a go,’ he told LCN this month. ‘And I’ve not looked back since.’
It was a harsh baptism for Kyle, but it left him with a real desire to follow what he felt was a new calling:
‘I might not have had any formal qualifications, but it’s like I say to those people who come to me looking for work today, if you’re passionate, if you want to work, then you’ll be able to do it.’
Kyle left the Holiday Inn shortly after his stint in the kitchen and came to Belfast where he started knocking on doors, eventually securing a position in the kitchens at the former 27 Talbot Street.
All told, he spent four years at Talbot Street, but in between, he gained valuable experience in London where he did a stage at Tristan Welch’s Launceston Place restaurant. During that time, he became acquainted with acclaimed English chef, Tom Aikens and ended up working for him for 10 months.
During his time with Aikens, Kyle was in the kitchen from 7am to 1am, five-days-a-week:
‘It was tough going’, he concedes, ‘but it taught me a lot about discipline, no matter what else was going on in your life, you knew that you had to get up and go to work and get it done. You might not see the benefits of that in terms of the money you were making, but you were working with people who were moving on to the kitchens at La Gavroche or whatever and that’s inspiring. It gets you through it.’
At 21, Kyle was back in Belfast and back at Talbot Street, where he remained until the venue closed its doors in 2012. From there, he took up a post as junior sous at the Europa, but Kyle had recently made the acquaintance of French chef, Marc Amand and through him, he secured a six-month posting at the prestigious Restaurant Patrick Gilbaud in Dublin.
It was a dream come true for Kyle, but the ensuing reality put him under a lot of strain:
‘To be honest, things were slightly overwhelming at this point,’ he recalls. ‘I had a girlfriend, a car, responsibilities and moving down there, working a 90-hour week, it’s hard on your relationships. It affected me and my home life. My partner was with me in Dublin, she wasn’t that happy either and we ended up moving back to Belfast.’
Kyle admits too, that the regimented nature of the Gilbaud kitchens made for a mentally exhausting experience, and because the menus for lunch and dinner were entirely different, ‘it was like working I two restaurants at once’, he says.
Back in Belfast, he worked as head chef at Malmaison before transferring to the Balloo Group under chef Danny Millar and eventually to Wine Inns where he helped open The Doyen on the Lisburn Road in 2017.
Then, six months ago, Kyle successfully secured his most prestigious position as executive head chef at the Europa in Belfast.
Since arriving, he’s made some changes. Menus have been revised throughout the property and he’s established an 18-strong team of chefs that he’s very happy with. Also, rather than have one executive sous chef, he has three sous chefs, each one responsible for a single element of the catering operation.
Kyle has plenty of praise for his predecessor, Adrian McDaid, but he points out the benefits of ‘a fresh pair of eyes’.
‘I can see areas where we can be more effective and offer a bigger selection than we’ve done before,’ he says, and he adds:
‘One year ago, I would have loved to have the top job in a big hotel in the city and then this job came along. It’s early in my career, you don’t normally expect this at 31, so I genuinely have no aspirations to move anywhere. I want to put my roots down here and develop this place into something special. I can see myself being here for a very long time.’