Chef Dan McGeorge on his Great British Menu appearance and the future of Rothay Manor
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Dan McGeorge, the head chef at Ambleside's Rothay Manor, has been creating impressive food for years, but his appearance on Great British Menu really put him in the spotlight.
Dan McGeorge realised he wanted to be a chef when he was sitting his final exams of a legal degree at Edge Hill University. While all around him were preparing for a life of solicitors' offices, courts and potentially taking the bar, the Liverpool-born chef already knew it wasn’t for him.
It’s all worked out well, though, as while many have had a hellish year with the challenges presented by the pandemic, Dan, head chef at Ambleside’s Rothay Manor, has won a raft of awards, had a baby daughter, Ava, four months ago and, recently, the nation saw him crowned Champion of Champions on the hugely successful BBC programme, Great British Menu.
‘I have had a good year, even with everything going on,’ says Dan. ‘I won an Acorn Award, got a Michelin Plate which is a big deal, bought a house and had a baby. And of course, GBM, too.
‘When we have been open, the hotel has been full. People have wanted to come to see us, there is a lot to be thankful for.’
That’s not to say it has been an easy ride. Dan, like anyone working in the hospitality trade, has experienced hard times because of the pandemic. Dan’s isn’t the traditional ‘been cooking with his granny since he was six’ story, either. For him, becoming a chef has been more of a slow burn.
After finishing his legal training, he decided to do something different; either to join the police or be a chef. As someone who had always loved cooking, the latter, after a stint in the police specials, won and he set his focus on the kitchens.
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The 30-year-old, who studied his craft at Liverpool Community College, has now worked in several high-profile kitchens including The Bath Priory and under Ben Mounsey at modern European restaurant The Lawns at Thornton Hall Hotel and Spa in Wirral. He worked in ski chalets in France as a host and cook for six months, too.
‘I think that was me catching up on lost time of nights out and a bit of a party lifestyle, the time I hadn’t got when all my friends were doing it when I was younger and I was stuck in a kitchen,’ says Dan, who now lives in Kendal with partner Georgia and daughter, Ava. ‘But those experiences were good for me. My time with Ben at The Lawns was a hugely influential one and shaped the kind of chef I am now. When I first arrived, I’d never been in a posh restaurant. It was brilliant.’
For more than three years, Dan has been head chef at Rothay Manor in Ambleside. During his tenure he has earned the restaurant 3 AA Rosettes and most recently that Michelin Plate. Dan also recently achieved a 2020 Acorn Award, which recognises the brightest stars in UK hospitality under the age of 30. The Acorn Award has been won by a raft of chefs who have gone on to do great things, including Lancashire’s Mark Birchall, chef patron at the two Michelin star Moor Hall in Aughton.
Although he is now at the top of his game, his gradual introduction to cookery has meant he is a humble chef, more likely to celebrate the achievements of his peers than himself.
‘I’ve always been a bit underconfident, I suppose,’ he says. ‘My food’s changed a lot over the past few years and I’m finding my way. I’m not the most confident of people, which might seem odd for a chef.’
Millions of viewers saw him find a quiet confidence when he went up against some of our region’s top chefs – including Kirk Haworth, the plant-based chef who runs the hugely successful Plates in London and is the son of Northcote’s Nigel Haworth and Dave Critchley, executive chef from the innovative Lu Ban Restaurant and Bar in Liverpool.
Dan’s pudding, entitled ‘Give A Dog A Bone’ in honour of the Guide Dogs charity, which was founded in his native Liverpool more than 90 years ago, was a bone-shaped milk-chocolate mousse, sweetened by a miso caramel centre, sprayed in more chocolate, and served with a miso caramel sauce, salted caramel ice-cream, a honeycomb miso tuille, and yuzu gel and zest. It impressed the judges and diners at the final banquet so much, he was named Champion of Champions.
‘I still can’t quite believe it,’ he says. ‘At the North West heats you can see the shock on my face because I absolutely thought Kirk had won. And then to go on and get to the banquet, to represent my hometown of Liverpool and my adopted home, the Lake District on a show I’ve followed for years, it’s just something you can’t imagine.
‘It’s been a roller coaster journey, really exciting but also pretty challenging, and it hasn’t sunk in really, but my family, my partner and daughter are over the moon for me and that means everything.’
The bookings have come rolling in at Rothay Manor ever since – there were 120 in one night when he first appeared on the heats. Since the win, he has been serving his Great British Menu dishes and is constantly developing menus with his talented team.
Dan, whose position as head chef was his second return to the Lake District hotel restaurant, now wants to boost Rothay Manor’s profile. It comes at a crucial time for the Lakes venue, which is currently undergoing a large renovation to build eight new luxury suites.
‘Rothay is my first head chef role and I love being here,’ says Dan. ‘Coming back was the right thing for me. Until now, it’s just been known as that hotel on the roundabout when you’re driving through Ambleside, but I want to change that. I want to make us that destination place.
‘I’m proud of what I’ve achieved this year. Would I like a star? Any chef who says they wouldn’t can’t be telling the truth. Of course, I would love one and I think it might be possible but we’ve got to work hard at it and constantly get better.
‘I just want to progress. I wouldn’t say no to a Michelin star, but I’m not chasing it. I’ll just carry on doing what I’m doing, cooking food I think people will love, and we’ll see what comes next.’