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Out Of The Frying Pan: Michael Campbell

Alaka Prodhan finds out the dos and don'ts of the Doubletree by Hilton chef

Written by . Published on November 12th 2012.

Out Of The Frying Pan: Michael Campbell

MICHAEL CAMPBELL is enjoying the challenge of his first Head Chef position at DoubleTree by Hilton. Prior to joining the Hilton family, he spent seven years at The Lowry Hotel.

What’s your favourite dish on the menu at the moment?

It would have to be the crab risotto, flavoured with chilli, ginger and garlic, and finished with coconut foam. I like spices – it’s my roots. My parents are Jamaican, so spice and heat is something I’ve grown up with and enjoy.

Crab risottoCrab risotto

What’s your favourite pudding?

I’m a very simple person. I love apple pie and hot, homemade custard. As for our menu, I love the Eton Mess, which is presented a bit differently than usual.

What’s your favourite fruit?

Michael Campbell, man and machine powered by bananaMan and machine via bananaIt has to be the banana. I like to keep in shape; I ride my bike to and from work – 20 miles a day. Bananas are great for releasing slow energy throughout the day. I also love soft, ripe peaches. For cooking, I love prunes, dates and apricots – they make a great puree alongside chicken and lamb. 

What’s your favourite vegetable?

I’m probably a bit biased, but I’d have to say either sweetcorn or sweet potato. For me, it’s the taste of home. If I’m in Birmingham on a Saturday, my mum always makes a Saturday soup, which is a traditional Caribbean soup, and it’s full of both.

What’s your favourite cut of meat?

On the pricier side, I like to cook venison; water-bathed to make it really tender and pink all the way through. But I also like the cheaper cuts too – the cuts that need braising for a long time. One of my favourites is featherblade – it’s beef but with a line of fat that runs right through it. It’s a cheap cut and it takes a long time to cook, but the taste is immense.

What’s your favourite fish?

I love red snapper. It’s nice and meaty. I like to prepare it Asian style, baked with chilli and ginger, with rice on the side.

Red Snapper Catches WomanRed snapper catches woman

Do you prefer Chinese or Indian?

Chinese, although my favourite is anything South East Asian. I love Thai food. Tom Yum Talay is delicious - it’s a spicy, coconut fish soup.

Your guilty pleasure?

[Laughs] I’m a little bit childish really. I love sweets! Wine gums, gummy bears, Haribo… Drumsticks, Refreshers… stuff I probably shouldn’t like anymore as an adult. In Cheadle village, where I live, there’s a tobacconist that does traditional old sweets in big glass jars. I love that place.

Chef foodChef food

What’s the biggest mistake chefs can make when starting to learn the trade?

Thinking that you know it all. Some young people can be over-confident when it comes to their abilities and what they know. When I first started out, I made sure to listen to everything my Head Chef told me and to learn from the people above me. I like to say that your attitude determines your altitude. If you have the right attitude you’ll go far.

What's your favourite meal ever?

Jerk chicken, rice and peas on a Sunday, with a side of coleslaw and a bit of mash.

What’s your idea of a perfect service session?

When everything goes out on time, when everything is plated the way that I want it to be, and all my customers are happy. You work long hours in this job and it can be hard, but when someone tastes a dish and tells you they’ve really enjoyed it, or that that they were surprised because they didn’t think two certain flavours would work well together – that’s what we do it for.

Trio of pork at Doubletree by HiltonTrio of pork at Doubletree by Hilton

What inspired you to become a chef?

It’s kind of weird. Believe it or not, I was a joiner and carpenter in London. I used to make bespoke doors and sash windows, that sort of thing. But then the recession hit and I lost my job, so I moved back to Birmingham. My friend was a chef and he said to me, why don’t you try it out, it’s great fun. So I went to college and I really enjoyed it.

As a carpenter, you start out with a raw piece of timber and then you mould it and you shape it into something new, something beautiful and artistic: a finished product. I think being a chef is the same, except that you’re using your taste buds instead of sight. So it wasn’t too big a leap in the end.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the interaction I have on a daily basis with the staff. During service, the heart rate is pumping, but I like to make my service fun – keeping the energy levels up in the kitchen, keeping everyone on the same wavelength, keeping things upbeat and up tempo. I like to push my team.

And the least?

Paperwork. Admin. I became a chef to cook; that’s all I want to do. But there’s a whole other side to the job like training and keeping up to date with health and safety regulations – all necessary, but it results in time away from the kitchen, and ultimately that’s where I want to be.

Eton MessEton Mess at Doubletree by Hilton

What is the craziest moment of your career?

I was working at The Lowry and we did a charity function at The Mere Golf Resort And Spa in Knutsford. Each table of ten had its own dedicated chef cooking for them, so in this one kitchen you had about twenty to thirty high-profile chefs; people like Brian Turner, Andrew Nutter and Anthony Flinn. It was fantastic to see all these acclaimed, celebrity chefs all in one place and to be able to pick their brains, to see what techniques they were using. It was a long day – I was there from about 6am ‘til 11.30pm – but it was a lot of fun. 

Michael CampbellMichael Campbell

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