Chef Q&A: Robert McQueen, The Rattle Owl | Living North

Chef Q&A: Robert McQueen, The Rattle Owl

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Robert McQueen, The Rattle Owl
Since making the jump to Head Chef three months ago, Robert McQueen’s been busy in the kitchen – he chats about how long it takes to design a dish properly, cooking potato fritters for half of Oban, and making a silk purse from a pig’s head
‘We use a lot of cuts that people don’t particularly use, but we put a lot more time in, and love’

How are you settling into The Rattle Owl?
I’ve been here a year and two months now, and I’m settling in fantastic; I really enjoy it. The boss is amazing. People say their boss is amazing just for the fact of saying it, but for me, our boss is amazing. She doesn’t want people to work crazy hours. For me being the Head Chef, I do more than 40 hours a week, but I don’t let her know that.

Do you think that workaholic thing is on the decline in kitchens? 
Not really, no. A lot of places will say you’ll work 50 hours, but you’re always going to be doing 60 or 70. I think a lot of places would like to, but for the business end you’d need to double your staff to actually achieve it. A lot of places in London are going to four-day weeks. It definitely would be a great thing for the industry, because at the moment it’s really hard to find good chefs. I do believe that will be something that will happen more in the future.

That’s something I’m hearing quite a lot – it’s hard to find really good young chefs in the North at the moment. Why is that? 
It’s really difficult. We’ve had times when we’ve been looking for staff and you don’t even get a CV. I don’t know if it’s the youth of today picking different things, and they’ve maybe heard that this industry is difficult. You have to really love your job to do this. For me, I’ve done this job for 16 and a half years now, and I see my work colleagues more than I see my family or my girlfriend.

Can you remember when you realised you loved it enough? 
I was quite fortunate growing up. I grew up in a town called Oban. My gran and grandpa had a farm on an island called Lismore, so we always grew up with livestock; cows, chickens, sheep. My gran and my mum were amazing cooks. My dad was a pilot, and he wasn’t too keen on me going into cooking. I used to make potato fritters for everybody on the street, and I was only, like, 13. My mum used to sit and we’d be making things and I’d be going out giving it to people, seeing what they thought.

What ingredients do you like to work with?
I like using lesser cuts that people might not use, that you have to put a little bit more work in. We use the rump and pig’s head, and we use the neck, ox cheek; we use a lot of different cuts but we put a lot more time in, and love.

What’s pig’s head like?
If you have rump or pig’s head, the flavours are the same really; it’s just that we braise it for, like, four hours with lots of aromatics and red wine, and what that does is break it down and then we press it again. It’s a really light flavour.

What have you brought to The Rattle Owl over the last three months? 
I’m changing the style; I’m looking to make it a little bit more modern. We are always about seasonality as well, so just pushing local seasonality and tightening up the design of the plates and the presentation.

Where do you begin when you start designing how something’s going to look on a plate? 
I look for what’s in season, then I also look at where it comes from, and what’s around it. Is it local? Is it seasonal? When I find that out, I start to match it with flavours and combinations from things it actually eats and are close to it, so it’s in habitats with things like that. It can take up to three or four times; if you plate it first time and that’s it, then you’re doing something wrong. For me, I’ll plate something and then I’ll look at it – does it need some more texture, can I get some more flavour into it – and it’s just building it bit by bit. I usually do a dish three times before I get to where I want to be. It’s just building the blocks: you build the flavours first, then you build the textures, then you look for the presentation.

The Rattle Owl 
104 Micklegate, York YO1 6JX 
01904 658658 
www.rattleowl.co.uk

Published in: November 2016

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