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Out Of The Frying Pan: Bryn Evans, MC Café Bar & Grill

David Blake talks pigs, pans and fighting in the kitchen.. Ding ding

Written by . Published on May 22nd 2013.


Out Of The Frying Pan: Bryn Evans, MC Café Bar & Grill
 

NOT only is Bryn Evans a bloody nice bloke, he also produces some of the most consistently spot-on food in Manchester. Talented but grounded, skilled but not overly fiddly, Bryn began his career at the Michelin-starred Chester Grosvenor, before taking up residence in starred eateries in Wales and the Yorkshire Dales.

People are jumping on the bandwagon and taking that concept as far as they can. But all these pop-ups, they can pop-up and fuck off.

Celebrated around Manchester for stints at Obsidian and Harvey Nichols, Bryn now heads up the MC Cafe Bar & Grill at the Abode Hotel (Gordo's review) in Piccadilly. This is the restaurant above Michael Caines fine dine venue in the basement.

What’s your favourite dish on the menu?

Probably our burgers. It sounds a bit simple and generic but we’re just much more British about it, they’re less Americanised, than the norm in Manchester. It’s a recipe I got from (Northcote Manor chef) Nigel Haworth when we worked together. The recipe contains beef rump and minced white beef fat, the fat is at about a 10% ratio to the meat. As the burger cooks all the fat melts and soaks through because they’re like little lighter flints. It’s always so moist. The flavour with the rump is just immense anyway, we don’t need to add any salt, any ketchup or anything shite really. As much as I like one now and then, it’s not packed with any of that Almost Famous or Man vs Food stuff.

What’s your favourite cut of meat?

Fillet on the bone. Problem is it’s just very pricey, but anything that’s cooked on the bone is just awesome – I’m really in to that.

MC Café Bar & GrillMC Café Bar & Grill

What’s your favourite dessert?

Well I’m mental about my cheese, so apart from cheese and biscuits, chocolate pudding probably. I’m getting more simple with age. Trying to condense more flavour into one simple dish rather than having loads of bullshit on a plate. Ten years ago I was a bit more the other way around, downstairs fine-dining kind of stuff. But with age I just think you become more simple, concentrating more on flavour. I’m big into cakes as well. No one really does cakes anymore, the 80s & 90s were all about the cake trolleys. I wouldn’t necessarily wheel out a trolley but I do like my cakes.

What’s your favourite fruit?

Can I say tomatoes? Yeah tomatoes. They’re just so versatile, they’re in everything, everything that people don’t see. You wouldn’t really make a demi-glace or a jus without tomatoes, they’re everywhere. On everyone’s breakfast, with your steak, pasta, sandwich, everything. If it’s sweet fruits you’re after then it’d have to be raspberries. It’s impossible to get any better than a Scottish raspberry in season.

What’s your favourite vegetable?

Harry Yeung said asparagus didn’t he? Artichokes then. When I used to work at Bodysgallen Hall In Llandudno, Wales, we used to have all these gardens. I think they sold them off to the Heritage Trust in the end. Well they used to have all these gardeners and every morning through spring to late summer they’d just dump baskets upon baskets of all these home-grown veg on our door. Artichokes were a massive thing, they were awesome. They were a bitch to prep though because they were so raw, cut up that morning and dumped on your doorstep. The flavour from them was incredible, much better than the crap you’d pick off a shelf.

ArtichokesArtichokes

And your favourite takeaway?

Indian. Curries, I eat a lot of curry, I shouldn’t but I do. It’s hot jalfrezi at the minute, or madras. I went through a stage where chillies just weren’t affecting me actually. I once had a vindaloo with a chilli naan bread and hot spicy Bombay potatoes and just thought, this is getting ridiculous.

What’s your favourite piece of equipment in the kitchen?

The Commis chef. Our kitchens are just loaded with stuff but I’m a big believer in my pans. I suppose it’s the age thing again I guess, just simplifying things down. I mean, water baths and other things, they have their uses but they get overused, people rely on pieces of kit too much. But yeah in terms of usefulness, the Commis chef.

A bloody good ole' panA bloody good ole' pan

Why did you become a chef?

Because I’m always fucking hungry. It just made sense. My mum’s partner at the time had a restaurant, years ago when I was about 12 or 13. Everyday we’d be around the business anyway, so I guess it just seemed natural. I was comfortable in there. But mainly because I’m always hungry.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Seeing the younger chefs develop. The turnover in this industry is ridiculous really, and trying to keep chefs happy is difficult, the hours, the high pressure environment and the kitchen in general can be an aggressive place to work. So it’s creating an atmosphere, which we have done here, where the younger chefs can come to work, learn, develop and feel a part of things. This business is relentless, you can’t stop, you have to keep going and it’s hard for them. Seeing them develop and come through the ranks, running a section and handling it, it’s nice to see. If they get a promotion and move on, even if they go somewhere else, as long as it’s good for them I’m happy with it.

And what do you least enjoy about your job?

All the computer stuff, costings and paperwork and shit. The back of house politics is bollocks as well, the never our fault always someone else’s mentality can wind me up. So yeah that’s probably the least enjoyable part of the job but it’s part of the management and it’s necessary. It’d be nice to get more weekends, but we do have a system here so that when someone does have a weekend off, they know they’re only about four weeks from their next one. It’s worked out pretty well actually.

What has been the craziest moment of your career?

I’ve had a fair few fights in the kitchen before now. The Chester Grosvenor was brilliant, epic actually. They have a very classical French kitchen there, very strictly ran, very busy. So there were around twelve chefs in the brasserie, all similar ages, all about 22, hormones kicking about and testosterone everywhere. We hardly did any prep, everything was cooked to order, really classical cooking but it was very intense, hideous actually. Inevitably somebody would delay the process, fuck up the garnish or something and they’d just start scrapping, tongs flying everywhere. In the meantime everyone’s trying to pull them off each other and send the food out on time. Crazy.

F**k the f**k off you f**king f**kF**k the f**k off you f**king f**k

Do you think that young aspiring chefs look to TV chefs such as Gordon Ramsey, promoting an overly aggressive attitude in the kitchen?

I think it’s always been like that. I’ve always known it to be like that anyway, before anyone like Ramsey was on the telly much. I think it’s the nature of the game; it’s a high pressure environment. The higher the quality of the restaurant the more aggressive it can be.

It’s a bit easier now because it’s so fucking expensive to eat in a 2-star Michelin restaurant, meaning they have loads of chefs everywhere in the kitchen. I’ve got friends who’ve gone down to The Square in London and they’re finding it a piece of piss, they get bored because they’re used to being in Manchester getting rinsed every single day. But when you work in those kitchens that want all the awards and want the accolades, the pressure is on because they're trying to make a name for themselves. So yeah it’s always going to flare up.

And to be honest, a lot of these guys that come through the kitchens aren’t exactly Oxbridge graduates. Some of them are fucking rough-arses. You give some of them half an inch and they’ll take a mile. But it’s a great place for them to come and work because they’ll work hard and they’re grafting in here most of the week. It’s like the army in some respects, we drill them. We just don’t get as much time off.

Ever wanted to pack it all in?

Every morning when I wake up (laughs). Sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with all the trends, I am quite grounded with what I want to do, I have a clear vision of how I want to cook and how I want to plate food. A lot of the time things come in, like a new piece of kit or a new-fangled way of cooking and I’m like what the fuck are we doing now? I like my pans. Water baths are a prime example, they take all the skill and guesswork out of the pan, they’re good to a point but get overused. Sometimes I just feel like I’m getting too old for all this new shit. At the end of the day, it’s always got to come back to the pans.

So what do you do on your days off?

I’m down the gym mostly, I train four or five times a week. I play rugby for Burnage, we’re just getting ready for pre-season. I didn’t play much last year because I broke my shoulder in the second game of the season. I try get to as many games as I can, at the weekend I might do breakfast here, go play and then come back for dinner service. Cooking with a broken shoulder was interesting though.

A broken shoulder: Not conducive to cookingA broken shoulder: Not conducive to cooking

What’s your favourite place to eat outside of your own restaurant?

I really like the Gusto concept. I used to go to the one in Didsbury all the time, I've never had a bad meal there. It does what it does very well. All the Blackhouse Grills do actually, they’re very much the same but they are very good at what they do. If I’m in London I’ll usually go to Hix or Arbutus in Soho. Arbutus is incredible; it’s probably one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to. It’s a really casual neighbourhood restaurant in the middle of Soho, really busy, really cool. It has a Michelin star but you’re just sat there eating off the bar, it’s all so casual, a great place to eat.

Is it true that chef’s don’t like to cook at home?

Yeah I’d agree with that, I think we chefs are simple folk anyway. We have a creative side that gets used in work, but it’s exhausting. So when I get home I crave the beans on toast or something I can make in 30 seconds. I do go through stages at home, but nine times out of ten I can’t be bothered.

What if you had to eat one thing for the rest of your life?

Can I just say pigs. I couldn’t live without pigs. Sausages, bacon, ham, pork, gammon. If I was on a desert island I’d just want a pig. Two actually, so I could breed more pigs. Just me and loads of pigs.

So i said, do you fancy a porking?So i said, do you fancy a porking?

And one drink?

Whiskey probably, single malt. I do like a beer though. I really like my ales actually. Shit, I like my wine as well. Sorry, can’t pick one.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?

Playing rugby. When I was younger I use to play for North Wales at one point, I trained with Robin McBryde who’s a coach for the Wales' national team now actually. But beer and women came along and I lost interest for a while. Which is a shame, I’d like to have been a rugby star.

What’s the most complex dish you’ve ever made?

That’s difficult, I remember making a game terrine at Harvey Nichols. It was at the same time as Alain Ducasse brought out this massive book called Grand Livre De Cuisine (2004). In there he had this game terrine, so when you sliced in to the terrine it looked like a checkers board, it was just fucking nuts. Everything was square, so you had your venison, rabbit, fois gras, chicken, it was just so hard to make. I remember trying to cut everything in to terrine lengths, then freeze them, then cut them squared and length ways so that it’d all fit. We’d cook each individual piece of meat and then try build up these cubes of game using gelatine, it was like building a tiny wall made of game. It was just a pain in the arse really. The thing is if you mixed it all up it’d taste exactly the same, and that’s what it’s ultimately all about, the taste. Not how much of a pain in the arse it was to make.

Paul Kitching: Call that a knife?Paul Kitching: Call that a knife?

Having said that, Paul Kitching who used to be at Juniper in Altrincham, he’s now at 21212 in Edinburgh, he’s a master of flavour, a fucking genius. He’s probably the most insane flavour-smith I’ve ever met. If you’ve ever looked at his menu, the things he does are crazy. He’s very fun and playful with it though, he did a dish called the Beetroot Powerdrill, it was a beetroot puree and he just drew a picture of a powerdrill on the plate. The point was though that his flavours were so incredible that he could almost do what he wanted. He’s a hero, completely off his tits. His ability to match flavours and that many things in one go, nobody else can do that really. He makes Heston look normal.

Have you cooked for anyone famous?

Loads. Gary Rhodes. The Duke of Westminster. That skinny bald fella from that Ray Winstone film, Sexy Beast (Sir Ben Kingsley), I cooked for him. I’ve cooked for Michel Roux. Loads of footballers as well, especially when I was at Harvey Nics, but that’s no big deal in Manchester. Coronation Street are all over the place as well, you can’t move for someone from Corro sat in a restaurant somewhere in the city.

That skinny bald fellaThat skinny bald fella

What is your proudest achievement to date?

Being where I am now really. I’ve worked bloody hard to get where I am today and to become a Head Chef. A fair few people even say I’m pretty good. It’s nice to have a reputation in such a big city, there’s a lot of competition here, a lot of great chefs. Having said that there’s a lot of shit ones as well, many are overrated (with a hushed nod towards Aiden Byrne, the youngest ever Michelin starred chef and soon to be top boy of Living Ventures’ Manchester House). But to be up there with some of the top ones, like Michael Caines himself or Simon Rogan (The Midland Hotel), it’s an honour definitely.

What are your aspirations for the future?

Every chef ultimately wants to get their own place, but you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow let alone two years down the line. Over the years I’ve worked with a number of tonking great idiots who haven’t had a clue how to run a business, which routes to follow. The industry is very changeable at the minute; it’s quite themey, with all your burger and burrito joints popping up. People are jumping on the bandwagon and taking that concept as far as they can. The problem is they’ll get to a few years down the line and there’ll just be something else comes up. But all these pop-ups, they can pop-up and fuck off.

Finally, Red or Blue?

Blue. My sister’s a Red, my Dad was a Liverpool fan actually, but I’m a Blue. No idea how that happened. We’re all fucking Welsh.

You can follow David Blake on Twitter @David8Blake.

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Maddy PMay 22nd 2013.

This is a hugely entertaining interview

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