Profile of Group Head Chef Nick Mcgeown

Lussmanns Group Head Chef Nick McgeownThey say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Lussmanns Group Head Chef Nick Mcgeown might just be the exception that proves thatrule.

You might have thought that after 16 years as one half of the culinary design team at Lussmanns (with a small break in the middle of that time), Nick could be forgiven for losing his enthusiasm for creating new dishes and building the group’s seasonal menus. Not a bit of it, as he explains with the same glint in his eye as when he responded to an ad for the Head Chef job at our St Albans restaurant in 2008.

“I just hope I’ve brought my skill level to the table and since I first started I think our food has got better and better and every menu has improved.

“That’s what I hope I bring – we don’t rest on our laurels. Yes, I am quite old school but even at my age I want to improve and still have the excitement of bringing different dishes to the table. I love reading and visiting other restaurants to get ideas for dishes to tweak so as we grow, we get better and better, and each menu is better than the last.”

Nick says he and Andrei just clicked immediately. They know each other’s place. With Andrei as the owner and Nick the chef they share an understanding of what works and a commitment to keep creating new and even more delicious dishes – all built with the same ethos that Andrei imbued in Nick.

“It was clear from our first meeting that sustainability was a big part of Lussmanns. Andrei never forced it on me, I just bought into it. I’d worked a bit with Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) before and understood about the provenance of meat too from my time at the Meat and Livestock Commission.

“As a chef, this approach just makes you look at things in a fresh way, makes you look at your suppliers. It’s so exciting to meet people who are equally excited about their produce. For a restaurant on the high street, I reckon we’re the only ones out there looking for the kind of produce we do and we’ve had loads of the same great suppliers for years.”

Having worked his way up the cheffing ladder with De Vere hotels, run his own gastro pub and catered for large events and banquets, Nick brought a wealth of experience to Lussmanns. He was though stepping into somewhat unchartered waters, so to speak, with the number of seafood dishes on the menu.

“Since I came to Lussmanns I think the fish cookery is what I’ve enjoyed most. It’s something we do well and it’s brilliant to work with a good supplier like Stickleback and the MSC. You can really play with fish, use subtle flavours and not go overboard. It’s Andrei’s dedication to the sustainability side of it that’s probably the reason I’ve stayed so long.”

One of the fish dishes stands out as Nick’s favourites – the halibut with shrimps and creamed spinach. “It’s a beautiful bit of fish with just a handful of ingredients, simple, clean and delicious and photographs so well. That for me is Lussmanns on a plate.”

And just how would he describe the Lussmanns style?

“If I’m honest I’d probably say I wouldn’t have a clue – apart from the ethos and sustainability. It’s just about trying to make things simple but with the best produce. Andrei has always said it’s about what’s on the plate, two or three flavours and not over elaborating.”

With that guiding principle front of mind, Nick takes huge pleasure conjuring up the new Lussmanns menu six times a year.

“It’s always turning over in my head, thinking of new ingredients and combinations wondering if it’s going to work. My brain is working overtime and I’m constantly turning things over in my mind.”

With the shared vision and 16 years of close collaboration, Nick is now confident that nine out of the 10 dishes he presents to Andrei will get the Lussmanns seal of approval.

“It just feels like we are creating better and better dishes all the time. And it’s wonderful planning ahead, talking to the supplier about what’s going to be great over the next couple of months, thinking about dishes we’ve done before and adding new tweaks to make them different and even better.”

For those who can’t make it to a Lussmanns restaurant or would like to try their hand at recreating their favourite dishes at home, Nick says the Lussmanns formula is ideal.

“My advice for anyone cooking one of our recipes at home? Just follow the recipe. There’s nothing difficult about our food and, if you read and follow the spec, it’s really not rocket science.”

Providing more people with the chance to enjoy the Lussmanns experience still motivates Nick. Large events he’s managed at St Albans Cathedral, The Sustainable Restaurant Association Awards and at Hatfield House gave him that bigger audience and he’s excited at the prospect of our next opening.

“I love a new opening. It gives me a real buzz and it will be fantastic to put our product out there in London.”