Joery Castel's departure in recent weeks from the kitchens at Saphyre restaurant on the Lisburn Road in Belfast cleared the way for up and coming Belfast chef, Jonathan Boyd (32), to take on his greatest challenge yet.
Jonathan Boyd, whose last post was as head chef at the acclaimed River Room restaurant in Galgorm Resort & Spa near Ballymena, is a career chef who has worked in the trade since he turned 15 and embarked on a level one GNVQ in food prep and cookery at Belfast Met. That course included one day of work release each week, which Jonathan spent at the former Alden's restaurant at Ballyhackamore in Belfast.
By the time he was 17, Jonathan was on the move, spending the next two years or so living in a succession of European cities including Copenhagen, Berlin and Dublin. Although he worked in restaurants only sporadically throughout his time away, Jonathan says that the experience taught him valuable lessons about the way in which people viewed the food they ate:
I learned a lot about what people wanted from their food," he says. "In the UK at the time, there wasn't the same level of respect for ingredients and food culture as I saw in the places where I was living. These are things that people here are only beginning to learn about now."
"He'd never intended to stay in Europe and when he eventually came home, his first posting was with Niall McKenna's James Street South restaurant as chef de partie:
"That was a good kitchen and I stayed a few months," recalls Jonathan. "It was a good experience but I don't really think that I was there long enough for the place to have a massive influence on the way that I worked."
His next position, however, made a lasting impression. During a six-year tenure at Coco in Linenhall Street in Belfast, he met a number of experienced cooks who helped him develop in the trade. Among them was Coco owner, Jason Moore, a chef himself who had previously worked at Mayfair's exclusive Le Gavroche restaurant and with whom Jonathan has remained close friends.
Jonathan eventually left Coco about four years ago for a job at the River Room in Galgorm, where he became head chef. He spent four years at the award-winning spa hotel but eventually, the commute combined with a lack of further opportunities for career progression persuaded him that a return to Belfast was necessary.
Joery Castel's move from Saphyre to the kitchens at the new Titanic Hotel in January provided Jonathan with a perfect opportunity at an appropriate level in the trade. He successfully applied and took over the role just a few weeks ago.
"This is a really beautiful restaurant," he says. "I think there are a lot of opportunities for me here and I am going to be aiming to get three AA rosettes, as I did when I was head chef at the River Room."
Jonathan also says that he doesn't think there is any other restaurant in Northern Ireland with the unique appeal of Saphyre:
"Kris Turnbull, who owns and runs this whole project, is an experienced interior designer and artist," he adds.
"He has put in this beautiful restaurant, it's very luxurious, the service is excellent, it's a great experience and I like to think that what I am doing matches well with that."
Like most local chefs, Jonathan's style is heavily reliant on clever use of fresh local produce and he'll be going forward with a focus on excellent food and customer service at Saphyre: "In a couple of years' time, I would like to think that I will be looking after a restaurant that has a real buzz about it. Really, what we need to have is a restaurant with a happy customer base, that's what is most important to us," he continues.
"Long term, it's harder to say. You don't really know what is going to come up from year to year in this trade, but I like to think that I am going to be able to stay here for at least the next two or three years."
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