Micheal Deane: Chef + Restaurateur of Deanes Belfast (Full Video Podcast Interview)
Michael Deane is the godfather of fine dining in Northern Ireland and the chef/restaurateur behind the 'Deanes Belfast Empire.'
With 7 establishments in the city and a Michelin star, Michael Deane's career as a chef is unarguably a huge success.
But we caught up Michael to hear about some of the challenges he faced along the way in this incredible journey, how he's seen the city change during his career and where he likes to eat in Belfast for under fiver.
Check it out.
Well Michael Deane, thanks so much for coming on the show... If you had one lift ride with Liam Neeson, how would you introduce yourself?
Well I'd probably ask him how he enjoyed himself the last time he was in having a few jars!
No I'm a big supporter of Liam, my wife Kate Smith would knows him much better than I do as she used to work for UTV and would have interviewed him plenty of times for the Oscars and so on.
Liam would usually come in to one of the restaurants when he's in Belfast with Jimmy Nesbitt and a few other nameless characters.
But I would introduce myself as Michael Deane, the chef behind the Deanes Belfast Mothership here in Belfast.
Do you consider yourself more of a chef or a business man at this point in your career?
It's hard to make the transition between a chef and a business man... in some ways they are similar roles, in others they are worlds apart.
As a business owner you are ultimately responsible for all the tax, salaries, pensions and so on, as well as just making sure that the financial targets are being hit month on month.
As a chef I was never taught any of those things.
A lot of people don't realise that most chefs don't know how to make money... of course because they're focused on making food.
But, the restaurant failure rate in the UK is 13/15 which is very high and shows how difficult it is for chefs to balance the business and cuisine challenges.
Most chefs run out of steam at around 50 years of age and the public doesn't really see what happens to them after that which I think is quite sad.
I try to have good social time alongside my wife and our 18 year old son... we are fortunate to enjoy some time away from work though usually that requires leaving the country.
There's no doubt about it, hospitality is a hard, full-time graft and I'm just grateful there isn't an apartment upstairs because then we really probably would live in Deanes!
What came first, the passion for food, or the passion for business?
Oh absolutely the food.
I wasn't one of those chefs who was taught to cook by their Mum... chefs across Europe often say they were brought up on their mothers apron strings, but that wasn't my experience.
I started off working in a hotel kitchen in Donaghadee, serving up packaged black forest gateaux's and frying up wee frozen fish fillets in orange breadcrumbs...
I absolutely loved it and at that time I thought that was real cooking and you know being a young lad I was proud of myself, proud to be working, proud to be making some money and chuffed to be out of school.
Around that time I started picking up some food-related magazines and got my hands on some cookbooks, it was then I realised that there was so much more to food then what I was doing.
That led me to getting on a plane at around 18 and heading off to London.
Tell us about your time overseas
They were hard old days... long black hair and a Northern Irish accent at the height of The Troubles while trying to find your way as a chef in London presented its own challenges.
I was determined to do things my way on my own wage and I'm actually really glad I did cause it was a real eye opener to that community...
A lot of great people sleep on the streets both in London and here in Belfast and are there because of a whole range of situations often outside of their own control.
But I stuck my head down and really focused on developping my craft. I never set out to be the best chef in the world or anything, but I really worked hard to be the best I could be.
I always wanted to come to Belfast but knew I had to spend my younger year learning as much as I could from a wide range of backgrounds.
During my time away from Northern Ireland I travelled/worked in Germany, France and parts of Asia for a spell... just learning and developing as a chef.
All in all I spent 10 years away.
How many Deanes restaurants are there?
At the moment there's 7 restaurants connected to Deanes.
We started off with Deanes in the Square in a converted railway station in Helen's Bay.
From there we took over a restaurant here on Howard street called Panama Jacks and converted it into two restaurants, Deanes Brassiere and Restaurant Michael Deane upstairs.
We then opened a Thai restaurant on Bedford street which didn't work at all.
How come it didn't work out?
I think Belfast just wasn't ready for that type of food which is so popular now... we got into a bit of trouble with it and the bank basically said 'right you need to stop spending our money on this.'
From there I was asked to take a look at the old Common Rooms building in the Queens Quarter.
I told them I wanted to rip the front of it out or else I didn't want it and thankfully they said yes and now it's the beautiful home to Deanes At Queens.
When we opened Deanes & Decano on the Lisburn Road, my wife absolutely hated the name.
She's really great at branding and was always keeping me right, but thankfully Decano has stuck.
We actually have a wee cartoon Decano man drawn by Brian John Spencer now who is used all over the place, on our wine bottles, artwork in the restaurants and on our marketing material.
Overall there are 7 eateries in 4 locations throughout the city, with Love Fish, Eipic and Meatlocker also here at the 'Deanes Belfast Mothership' here on Howard Street.
But in all honesty, not every day has been easy, but not every day has been hard either, we've had a great time and are really excited to see what's next.
How often do you eat in your own restaurants?
I eat in the restaurants every single day and actually dine most Sundays over in Deanes At Queens but I do enjoy cooking at home.
Who does the cooking at home?
Kate doesn't really like cooking so it is me who does it... I suppose she married the right person for that!
Every day I'll cook something and leave it for my son, who frankly doesn't care much for cooking.
He's a massive fan of Eddie Rockets and Pizza Express... but who knows, maybe that will change - but I doubt he would ever be interested in becoming a gourmet chef.
On that note... if you rocked up to Belfast and were absolutely starving but only had a fiver, where would you go to eat?
I'd probably go to Sphinx!
Kebab and garlic sauce, awh, very very tasty and I know the guy Jenkins who owns it – he used to be a butcher so he really knows his craft.
I love the sandwiches in Deanes Deli... but I think they may be a bit more than a fiver!
What advice would you give to a young chef starting out?
To be honest when your young I think it's really important to work to learn and work in good quality places where the chef is recognised or the restaurant has a fantastic reputation.
The high end stuff isn't for everyone, some folk love cooking the food pubs, hospitals and schools – and we absolutely need people to do that – but if you really want to go for the high-end side of cooking you've got to align yourself to the right people and places.
You can always come out of that world if it's too much for you, or not your cup of tea, but it's hard to get into it.
In your opinion what's been your greatest success?
The Michelin star has been a really significant thing for Deanes and we've spent 14 years defending it... but at the same time it's not about getting a Michelin star but more so what you do with it.
So in my eyes it was about how we can use that international currency to help grow and develop the Deanes brand.
"For me the biggest success is that when people talk about food in Belfast no matter where you go, Deanes usually comes up in the conversation, and that's something I'm really proud of."
I'm proud of everyone who works in Deanes and what that stands for.
I wasn't brought up with a silver spoon in my mouth, I don't have much education, no A-levels, no uni, I just worked my guts out and its worked so far.
How have you seen Belfast change over your career?
Belfast has changed massively since we opened our first restaurant.
The amount of progress that we have made a community, culture and a city is just incredible.
All the new hotels going up in the heart of the city centre is so exciting and a real testimony of how far we've come.
We still have a wee bit to go to become the cosmopolitan vibrant city I know we can be and I'm so excited to hopefully be a part of that and see it happen!
If you could go back in time what advice would you give yourself in 1989 before this whole Deanes adventure started?
I'd probably tell him to go get a bit more education but honestly I don't think he would listen, he was too busy making food.
I think education is so so important and makes a great foundation to build any career or business on.
You know yourself, you can't build a house on sand - which is what it felt like I was doing at the best of times - but thankfully we've got it sorted out now and developed a brand and a team that's more like concrete.
How to connect with Michael Deane
I'm sure he'd love for you to check out any of his many restaurants around Belfast if you haven't already, the best place to do that would be via their website.
The Best Of Belfast Podcast.
Just want to give another big thanks to Michael Deane for taking the time to share Deanes Belfast adventure with us.
We are always really excited to sit down with local legends who love Belfast as much as we do and love sharing those stories with you.
Other than that, I hope you enjoyed hearing Michael Deane's story and can't wait to share next month's episode with you.
Until next time,
All the best.
- Matthew Thompson