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Monday, 2 October 2017

5 Questions - Mike Jennings & Ben Humphreys, Head Chef & Sous Chef at WOOD Manchester

Back in 2015, Simon Wood was crowned MasterChef UK champion and was immediately thrust into the culinary limelight. Being a professional chef had always been a dream for Simon and over the last two and a half years, he has worked tirelessly, adding to his skills. From food festivals to cooking demonstrations, writing his first cook book to running the pop-up restaurant at Oldham Football Club, this has all been in preparation for the day when he would open the doors to his own restaurant, WOOD Manchester which launched a few weeks ago on Manchester's First Street.
In order to give the restaurant the very best chance of success, Simon has cleverly surrounded himself with great experience in both the kitchen and front of house with Mike Jennings coming in as Head Chef and James Cunningham appointed as General Manager.
With almost twenty years experience behind him, Mike has worked with top names including Gary Rhodes, Shaun Rankin and Nigel Howarth as well as running the Grenache restaurant in Walkden for two years.
James has been in the hospitality sector for 25 years now, working with Ramada, Whitbread and Harvey Nichols to name a few although for the last 8 years, has been working with Michael Caines at Andrew Brownsword Hotels.
I was able to catch up with Simon shortly after he was named MasterChef Champion and he kindly answered my 5 Questions. Step forward two years and Simon contacted me to ask if I would like to put the questions to Mike as well as Ben Humphreys, the Sous Chef at WOOD Manchester. Always keen to tell a story, especially one that I've been following from the start, it was a no-brainer.
Here's Mike and Ben's stories;

How did you get started?

Mike - started out helping my mum cooking the Sunday roast, and then started washing pots in a local pub, I was always interested in food and the older I became the hungrier I was for knowledge.

I went to college for 4 years to learn the basic skills, then left home and started working in Jersey, in 7 years I learnt so much not just about food. It also life skills.

Ben - I started cooking professionally after moving back home to Llandudno, North Wales from Manchester in 2001. I studied at hospitality and catering school Llandrillo College whilst working my way through many local hotel kitchens!

What's the best advice you could give anyone wanting to start working in the hospitality industry?

Mike - The best advice I can give anyone wanting a career in catering is remember this is not an ordinary job, this is a lifestyle,an addiction, a raw passion, so make sure you prepare yourself properly as the biggest problem I find in the industry today is that there are so many young chefs who want to be head chefs before learning the basics, no successful chef has ever progressed without understanding the basic principles of food.

Ben - Well there is all the usual answers to this question, expect long hard hours, poor pay etc but I’m guessing you know this already! Plus I’m tired of our industry having negative press - those of us that live it love it.

I'd have to say to any young chefs don’t waste any time, apply for positions in all the top kitchens worldwide. Go for it while you can afford it and have little responsibilities, you never know where you might end up and the experience will shape your future. I regret not doing this myself when I was younger.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years time?

Mike - I would like to be working in a more executive role, developing food, chefs, menus etc... definitely still in the industry

Ben - This is a difficult question to answer. I guess like all chefs I dream of opening successful restaurants and heading up kitchens where I can build a team able to showcase my style of food and service.

If you could only cook one of your own recipes, what would it be & why?

Mike - A good old fashioned braised beef in red wine, proper comfort food, good crusty fresh bread, beef cooked for about 6/7 hours, deep red wine, root veg, job done!

Ben - This is also a tricky one because being a Welsh lad I love British comfort food. But a bigger food passion for me is the cuisines of Thailand, Japan and Peru. So I would cook a dish my wife Bo, who is Thai, and I have been cooking for years ‘Nam Tok Neua’. It's made by grilling ribeye steak with hot and sour dressing of roast chilli, lime and fish sauce with Thai herbs, crispy fried egg, bone marrow and jasmine rice. This dish reminds me of happy times cooking with Bo but also of chilling on the beach in Thailand.

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal - who would it be and why?…and whats on the menu?

Mike - Sir Alex Ferguson, the man is an absolute living legend and I know he likes good food, I would probably share my braised beef with him, I think he'd like that, but he's bringing the wine!

Ben - I'm going to cheat on this one because…well just because I can!

I would invite my brother Dan. It would be my mam’s Christmas dinner because it's epic! Plus then she would have to be there to cook it but my wife would have to do the vegetables because I don’t want my mam to work too hard. Also for dessert my nana and grandad used to make amazing fruit pies so they would be there too. With all that food there would be a lot of washing up to do so my stepdad Mike could be the K.P. Happy days.

With just a few weeks of trading so far, WOOD Manchester has proven to be an early success with diners flocking from near and far to sample Simon's food and the team that have been put together, including Mike and Ben, seem to be ticking all the boxes so far.

Things have been manic at the restaurant in the lead up to Launch as well as the first few weeks being very busy so I would like to thank both Mike and Ben for taking time out of their busy schedule to answer 5 Questions. I would also like to wish Simon and his team every success for WOOD Manchester and look forward to catching up when we visit for lunch later this week.

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