Jack Mooney fell so much in love with the seaside town of Ballycastle and his role in the kitchens at the Marine Hotel there, that he left his native Whitehead behind and set up home in the Glens of Antrim seven years ago.
Twenty-six-year-old Jack Mooney took over in the post of head chef at the refurbished seafront property in July of last year, but his association with the hotel goes back much further than that.
Raised in a family where both parents were committed foodies, Jack grew up surrounded by food and from the age of 15 he was convinced that his future lay in catering. He spent the next four years studying the subject at the University of Ulster in Belfast, during which time he was sent to a variety of venues for on-the-job experience. One of those properties was the Marine Hotel in Ballycastle.
Around 2013, Adrian McDaid was going through a spell as head chef at the Marine when Jack attended for interview. He recalls that after talking to Adrian, he was offered a job and embarked on what he calls ‘a fun summer’ at the hotel:
‘I loved it straight away,’ he says. ‘It was a great way to live, better than anything I’d done before and with a great, hard-working team. I was here for three-and-a-half years and I went through a couple of head chefs in that time, but Adrian was always the one that stuck out for me.’
That said, Jack does admit that the work itself wasn’t always easy. There were many challenges he says, and soon after starting, the amount of banqueting business at the Marine began to increase significantly. Nevertheless, he says, it was a great experience and one he really enjoyed:
‘I didn’t go travelling like lots of chefs do, but I did leave the Marine for two-and-a-half years from 2016 to go to the Ballygally [Castle Hotel] as a sous chef. It was very different, there was a lot of banqueting work and the hotel itself was very highly regarded, something which we constantly aspire to here at the Marine as well.’
Jack returned to the Marine as head chef in July and was delighted to find that many of those who he had worked with in the past were still on the roster at the hotel:
‘We’re still busy developing our offering here, we have a new bistro, the restaurant and the ballroom have just been renovated and more rooms have been added,’ he says. ‘Business is certainly on the increase, particularly on the banqueting and function side, growth has been massive, and the new bistro is helping us a lot.’
As for the future, Jack couldn’t be happier with his lot:
‘To be honest, I’m very content here, I want things to be as good as they can be and I want to bring the team on that that if the time comes when they have to leave, they’re able to go and do the best they can.
‘In terms of the hotel itself, there will certainly be more new developments here, we’re always looking for a challenge, we’re looking at what others are doing and we’re trying to stay ahead of trends and make sure that we’re an interesting place where people want to come and stay,’ adds Jack.