Five Minutes with the Chef and Owner of Michelin Guide Recommended Heaton Restaurant, Rebel
Having only opened their doors in April last year, Heaton's Rebel restaurant have already shown they mean serious business by being featured in the 2023 Michelin Guide
Tell us about your background and how you became a chef?
My first foray into the world of catering was aged 15. I had a part-time kitchen porter job in a local pub in Biggar in Scotland and apparently they had the intention of training me up to be a chef. I remember the head chef asking if I would ever want his job one day, to which I replied, ‘it’s far too stressful’. Fast forward to 2011 and I was studying product design in Dundee. It became clear quite quickly that this wasn’t for me and my interests lay elsewhere. Through the college I was attending I arranged two interviews – one for a journalism and PR course and the other being catering. What happened next is something I will always be thankful for. The first interview I had was for the catering course and the lecturer who interviewed me presumed I had no further interviews for other courses and began measuring me up for my whites. Being 19, I was too shy to correct him, so here we are today.
Did you grow up with a lot of foodie influences?
Until the age of nine I was actually a vegetarian! My mum is an incredible and passionate home cook so this is something that has rubbed off on me. She always encouraged me to experiment (not always successfully) with ingredients and techniques when I was growing up – I actually had a box of out of date food that I was allowed to turn into whatever goop or experiment I wanted, while my mum made dinner.
You have worked at Jesmond Dene House and House of Tides, what made you want to start your own restaurant?
Creative freedom was a huge draw for me. I’ve been lucky enough to work in some incredible restaurants across the North East with some of the best chefs in the region – many of whom have gone on to open their own ventures. Training and working alongside career-driven and motivated chefs gave me the confidence to open my own place. I should probably add, on reflection, I’ve not always been the best at following orders, so this might have come into play too.
Tell us more about setting up Rebel in lockdown.
There’s nothing like an added challenge! Rebel originally started as a Sunday lunch pop-up run from my home kitchen. We encountered a few disasters along the way including ovens blowing up and having to drive prep between two kitchens an hour before collection times, but we progressed to pop-up events once our sous chef and fellow director, Mike Reid, came on board in August 2021. We were then very generously hosted by the Magic Hat Café and The Small Canteen – two venues which are very special to us.
What can people expect if they dine with you now?
We never wanted Rebel to be formal or stuffy, so creating a warm and friendly atmosphere was incredibly important to us. For me, music is also vital for a successful venue and we wanted our playlist to be reflective of our personality. Expect upbeat soul, disco and an eclectic mix of old and new, played in the background throughout your night. Food-wise, we serve a hyper-seasonal tasting menu focused on locally-sourced ingredients, so currently, think autumnal braised featherblade beef with a roast squash purée, or our roast apple parfait with a butterscotch sauce (with a few hidden elements too of course).
Your ethos is all about seasonality and locality, is that something you felt strongly about from the start?
Definitely. I truly believe seasonality is key to a good restaurant and it makes a big difference to a menu. Ingredients are used when they’re at their absolute best and in abundance. Through having a good relationship with suppliers we can plan a truly exciting menu that allows us to keep our menu prices lower in comparison to other fine dining restaurants.
Your restaurant is quite small?
Yes. Currently we’re set up to seat 22 guests which includes our Chef’s Table. It’s a nice number which feels both intimate and lively at the same time.
Is there more pressure when people dine at the Chef’s Table?
There’s nothing better than when you get a Chef’s Table who are totally up for it and engaged with the experience. We get a lot of diners who are really inquisitive which makes a huge difference. As a chef, being able to talk to the diners gives you a better understanding of what they want from the experience and allows us to offer a more in-depth and personal experience.
Why did you decide to offer two tasting menus?
When we opened, being affordable and accessible to the majority was really important to us. The current climate is testing for everyone and it’s preventing a lot of people from doing things that they enjoy – such as going out for dinner. We hoped that offering a reduced menu alongside our nine-course menu would give people the opportunity to enjoy a guilt-free night out.
You host a Shapes pop-up every Monday at Rebel, how did that come about?
We were big fans of Josh and the Shapes team when they had their residency at Patricia, so when we heard they were looking for a new home we jumped at the chance. It definitely feels like a house party with some insanely tasty pasta.
Is the plan to host more local pop-ups?
As we started as a pop-up, it’s something that is very close to us and we love the idea that we can give our space to an industry newcomer as a springboard for their own venture. Shapes is coming to a close at the end of January, so we’re on the lookout for the next new thing.
What are your plans for the future of Rebel?
Well 2022 was a huge year for us. We opened Rebel back in April and found out two weeks later that my partner and I are having a baby. So, 2023 is definitely going to be challenging but very exciting. We also learned that the Michelin Guide have selected Rebel to feature in their 2023 guide and the team cannot believe it! It makes all the hard work feel worthwhile and it wasn’t something we were expecting so soon after opening. It makes us incredibly proud, but also very aware that we have extremely high standards to maintain.
150 Heaton Park Road NE6 5NR
0191 691 2720
What’s an ingredient you couldn’t live without?
Dairy. I tried being a vegan for a month during lockdown (fair play to vegans, but I can’t hack it). I’ve never felt better, but a whole month without cheese or butter felt wrong.
When you’re not cooking for others, where do you like to dine locally?
Small Canteen in Sandyford and Chilli Padi near St James’s Park.
What is your drink of choice?
Depends on the situation! Nothing beats an ice-cold beer after a busy service, but if I’m being honest, I do love a margarita.
Do you have a food guilty pleasure?
We’re lucky to be right next door to an amazing pizza takeaway called On the Go. Perfect for an after-service slice.
Any advice you’d give your younger self?
Being 29, I definitely still have a lot to learn. However, the main thing I would tell myself is not to shy away from making tough decisions – a lot easier said than done!