April 15, 2024

Manchester Incoming!

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Treehouse Hotel Manchester is set to launch later this year, and we are pleased to introduce you to our Chef Partner and iconic Mancunian, Mary-Ellen McTague.

Chef Mary-Ellen McTague

How did you get into the hospitality industry?

I was at Manchester Uni, studying French and Italian (allegedly studying, as I don’t think it was my calling!), working part-time at Roadhouse, an underground gig venue, doing a mix of bar work and catering for touring bands. I was in a pinch, I had a huge piece of coursework due that I couldn’t finish, and I had a eureka moment in the bath, that I wanted to be a chef instead.

I loved cooking, food has always been a big part of my family, I have a lot of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and we love hosting huge family meals, so it’s always a lovely time where everyone gets involved. I took the plunge and told my university that I wasn’t coming back, I bought a copy of the Good Food Guide and read it cover to cover, and wrote to 6 top Michelin-quality kitchens that I admired, asking to gain experience with them.

One of the venues was the Fat Duck in Bray, and I got a response from Heston Blumental himself, telling me to get more experience and reapply. It was Sharrow Bay however that took a chance on me, and I worked my way up from housekeeping into the kitchen. It was a real baptism of fire working in such a high-level kitchen as my first chef role, especially learning the physicality of the job, but the areas that I struggled with before are the ones I love the most now.

Tell us about your experiences as a leading female chef within a male-dominated industry?

I won’t pretend it didn’t have its challenges. I was young, fresh, and green, learning in a high-pressure environment with Michelin quality standards. I was the first female chef they ever hired, so I had to learn a lot on the go, had to prove myself before senior leadership were acknowledging my work.

I found some chefs didn’t know how to communicate with me, and it was a real culture shift within the kitchen. However, the fact that some people thought I might not belong, really lit a fire in my belly, and made me even more determined to prove them wrong. I used the challenges as motivation to work harder, be better, and outperform their expectations.

What’s the best advice you can give to young budding talent?

The biggest advice is being open to learning, trying to let go of any ego, and being open to direction, the quicker you’ll progress and the more you’ll enjoy the journey. One of my favourite things about the job is watching people learn and grow in the kitchen, because these are such functional skills that help people all through their life.

Equally it’s so important to take care of yourself as much as you prioritise your work. Hospitality can have a reputation for long, physically demanding shifts and anti-social hours. Especially in kitchens, we can tend to give all our energy to work, but it’s so important to make time and space for yourself too. We don’t want to lose people to up burning out and losing their passion for being there.

One of the things I love about working for Treehouse is that the wellbeing support is paramount, it’s all about taking care of our teams just as much as our guests. That’s what chefs can expect from working with us, a culture where they will be supported, valued, appreciated, and empowered to learn and grow with us.

What are you most passionate about within your work?

First and foremost the priority for me is enjoyment, the music, the atmosphere, the interactions with the team, and the styling of the table, and of course the food. My input is to make sure the food looks beautiful, tastes fantastic, and is consistent every time you come to dine. The core of hospitality is taking care of people, and that’s definitely an ethos I carry personally within my work, that resonates with what we’re trying to achieve at Treehouse. The primary goal is that people have a lovely time that they want to tell all their friends about.

Beyond that, the focus is offering that hospitality in a way that is as sustainable as possible, on all levels, and our aim is for the financial, environmental, and people goals to all be in alignment. Whether that be through prioritising support and wellbeing for our teams, to making sure we reduce our environmental impact as much as possible.

A key area of this we explore at Treehouse is trying to ensure minimal waste, a concept you will see a lot in my work. This is something I saw a lot in fine fining kitchens, where you may only be using 50% or less of an ingredient with the rest going to food waste. At Treehouse we want to treat each ingredient and its components as having value, and we put in a lot of processes into place to avoid waste, from the menu selection to the team infrastructure.

The goal is nothing goes in the food bin unless it’s spoilt. But equally there’s no point implementing a process, if it doesn’t make the additional product a useful, delicious addition to your larder of produce. This is why we choose the ingredients so carefully, and something you will see in the menus for the restaurant and within the event spaces which we also look after.

What are you most proud of with your new restaurant?

In addition to being environmentally mindful with our menus and ingredients, we have also carefully selected our suppliers, and are very proud to working with some amazing local independent suppliers who share our sustainable values. Suppliers are absolutely crucial to the success of our restaurant and maintaining that eco-friendly ethos of minimal waste from the start of the food chain to the restaurant plate.

Our produce suppliers like Platt Fields Market Gardens will pick to order, releasing produce availability as soon as the week before, for use in the restaurant days later. We have built in flexibility into our menus so we can get the freshest produce, and also support suppliers as crops perform better or worse, working collaboratively with the supply chain.

We work with some amazing suppliers like Cinderwood, an incredible growing project run by the team at Higher Ground, with leading chefs running the market garden with a grower. The produce they grow is perfect for restaurants, really lovely, interesting ingredients that are very useable, and some rare items you might not find elsewhere.

We also love working with family businesses, our cheese for example come from Courtyard Dairy, run by a lovely couple, Cathy and Andy. They work closely with local farms and are experts in finding fresh and interesting products that flavour match menus perfectly. They have won the Cheesemonger of the Year award, and are an absolute joy to work with.  

What do you love about Manchester?

Manchester is a city that works very hard to support culture, including the hospitality industry, theatre, music, and all the creative arts. We have amazing, nationally recognised events like Manchester International Festival, but also brilliant independent businesses like Home cinema. From a cultural perspective there’s so much going on, and the food and drink scene has absolutely exploded in the last 10 years. Also, it’s home for me, I’ve lived here most of my life and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. 

Discover Treehouse Manchester 

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