Salford-born chef, Terry Quinn (44), came back to his roots earlier this year when he took on the top job at the Café Bar in The MAC, Belfast.
Chef Terry Quinn spent most of his younger years in his native Salford and since graduating there in 1992, he’s been working at a series of prestigious venues in Manchester, the Channel Islands, Spain and America.
But Terry has strong links with Northern Ireland. His parents, Jim and Anne Quinn, came from Belfast but moved to Salford, where Terry was born, to facilitate Jim’s involvement in the construction trade.
Terry’s fiancée, Nora Rodden, also comes from Northern Ireland, so when Terry took on the role of head chef at The MAC Café Bar early this year, it was something of a homecoming for him.
It was chef John Benson-Smith who gave Terry his first leg-up in the trade in the early 90s. After qualifying with NVQ levels one and two in catering, Terry accepted the offer of a two-year traditional chef’s apprenticeship with Benson-Smith at his prestigious Victoria and Albert Hotel. And after completing his time there, he embarked on a period of travel, beginning in the Channel Islands.
His first post was a chef de partie at Soleil on St. Helier:
‘When you travel, it means you’re working with different people from all over the world. I worked with people from the likes of Portugal, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and South Africa and because of the way they work, you’re picking up a lot more than you would if you’d just stayed at home. It’s like going around the world in a season.’
At the age of 24, Terry found himself in Spain for a year, then he took a restaurant post in the US city of Boston:
‘It was completely different over there,’ recalls Terry. ‘Even the names they gave to herbs were different to what I knew and everywhere you went, it was like having to start again.’
In 2016, Terry returned for a brief stint in the Channel Islands and while he was there, he met Nora.
Throughout that time, he was involved in an online forum for chefs and among the chefs that he was talking to was Belfast restaurateur, Michael Deane who suggested to Terry that he come to Northern Ireland and experience the burgeoning food scene here:
‘Michael told me that the food here was great and that there were opportunities everywhere,’ said Terry.
Eventually, Michael won his argument and Terry arrived in Belfast last October to a temporary post at Michael’s Meat Locker restaurant in Howard Street. He worked there throughout the Christmas period and applied for the post of head chef at The MAC when it came up in the new year.
‘The food scene here is brilliant, it’s buzzing,’ says Terry. ‘From Monday to Thursday you have busy restaurants and there are lots of new corporates coming into Belfast which is going to help a lot. You could pick up any of the venues in Cathedral Quarter and set them down in London or Manchester and they wouldn’t be out of place, it’s definitely ‘on trend’ here.’
Terry has only been in post for a few months, but he has already switched up the food offering at the venue, which recently brought its catering operations in-house. The café is open to the public as well as MAC patrons and in the morning, they can now get ‘grab and go’ breakfast food such as fruit pots and granola with yoghurt. It’s the same format at lunchtime, when ‘grab and go’ salad bowls are on offer. And in the evenings, theatre-goers can use Terry’s new ‘deli boards’ to order a selection of cold meats and cheeses with a glass of wine. These are proving particularly popular, says Terry.
‘The priorities now are building the team, consolidating the offering and training,’ he adds. ‘Five years from now, I think we would want to have evolved more into a destination food business, we want people to know that The MAC has a really good food offering and we want them to consider coming here just to eat.’