Christopher McMenamin, Head Chef at Harvey's Point Hotel
It is not quite a rags to riches story but from washing dishes to becoming head chef in one of the Donegal’s leading hotels is impressive nonetheless.
But that is the road Christopher McMenamin, from Ardevin, Barnesmore outside Donegal town has travelled in the last decade and a half.
Christopher, as he says himself, the boy from across the lake, started out washing dishes in Harvey’s Point Hotel as a young lad of 14.
That was in the summer of 2001 and now over 17 years later he is the head man in the Harvey’s Point kitchen, the executive head chef with a team of 25 chefs under him.
“It varies between 20 off peak and 25 peak season,” said Christopher when he took a break from his busy Friday afternoon shift.
He may be the head honcho in the kitchen but he is very much a hands-on working chef. He is not a suit and tie executive type chef.
“I would have it no other way,” he insists.
“I love cooking too much not to be hands on. Nine to five is not for me. We have an open kitchen here at Harvey’s and I see the kitchen as my stage,”adds Christopher who admits to have got his love of food and cooking from his father Tom, who is not a chef but is an engineer, and his grandmother Bridie Brogan, from Donegal town.
“My father’s Sunday roasts were special and a real treat,” he said.
“I love the kitchen. I love the atmosphere, the buzz and the adrenalin rush you get in a busy kitchen.”
Christopher started working in Harvey’s Point when still at school. Hotel director Deirdre McGlone was first to spot his talent and gave him a job washing dishes and general kitchen porter duties.
Deirdre was not the only member of her family to take a shine to the young and budding chef. Christopher is now married to Deirdre’s niece Sara and they have two girls, Amelia and Ellie.
“I worked in the kitchen every summer, Saturday and Sunday, right through my years at secondary school in Abbey Vocational School.”
After Abbey Vocational School it was two years at the catering college in Killybegs for Christopher before he returned to Harvey’s Point.
This time he was employed as a full time commis chef and except for a couple of years when he was away working in two other local restaurants, all his working life has been spent at Harvey’s Point.
“I had worked at Harvey’s between part-time and full-time from 2001 to 2012 so I felt I needed a break and a new challenge and to step up and experience the outside world.
“I worked for a year as the head chef at the Pearl Restaurant in Donegal town, now Blas and I worked for a year in Killybegs, in the Bayview Hotel.”
But after two years away, Christopher returned in October 2014 to the kitchen he loved at Harvey’s, this time as head chef.
“I missed Harvey’s when I was away. I missed the kitchen and the staff and the whole atmosphere which is very special and it is very much a team here at Harveys.
“We have a team of 25 chefs in a total staff of 150 and I have two deputy chefs Colin McKee, from Donegal town and Delmar Hussain, who is originally from Bangladesh.
“Delmar came here in 2006 on work experience for a week. He was dressed in a suit, hadn’t a word of English and he hadn’t a clue what a sirloin steak was. Twelve years later he is deputy head chef.”
Colin and Delmar are Christopher’s right arms and he shares his duties with the them.
They work closely with purchasing manager Paul Montgomery - a former head chef at the hotel for 26 years- and food and beverage manager, Christopher’s wife Sara.
“We all work closely and very much as a team along with the service staff. We have a great team from directors Deirdre and Marc Gysling and general manager Noel Cunningham down.
“The Gysling family are a great family to work for and Noel Cunningham is a brilliant general manager and a great team leader.
“Our ethos here at Harvey’s is divided 50/50 between the chefs and the service staff waiters and bar staff. This something we have a strong emphasis on as well.
“We feel it is pointless producing top class food in the kitchen and having a poor service and likewise it is pointless in having a brilliant service and poor quality food. You have to get the two spot and we feel we do here at Harvey.”
Chris is also a great believer in a happy kitchen and happy staff and if you treat your staff well and look after then they will look after you two.
“All the staff are treated equally and there are no egos here. I work a five day week and so does everybody else and we also try to insure that all staff get one weekend off every month.”
He has also received rave reviews from his appearance on Neven Maguire’s Irish Seafood trails, TV series back in January.
In the programme Chris gave the renowned chef a lesson in how to make the most flavoursome mussel and leek risotto, using mussels farmed in Donegal Bay.
The dish went down a treat with the famous celebrity chef.
“He is a real nice man and we got on very well together and there are no air and graces about him. He is just an ordinary guy and we hit off real well and it was a real pleasure working with him.
“I enjoyed doing the programme and it didn’t phase me. But a I think that was down to Nevin he is such a nice guy he made me feel very relaxed and it was an enjoyable experience though I’m not sure if TV is for me though the producer of the programme said he would like to work with me again.”
So what does the future hold for Chris McMenamin?
“I love my job. I love Harveys who knows maybe someday in the future I would like to own my own restaurant.
“But for now my main aim and goal is to main the high standard Harvey’s Point is renowned for and improve on where possible so that the Harvey’s Point is the best.”