Chef Interview: Ben McKellar

Chef Interview: Ben McKellar

 

“Next year we hope to finally open The Ginger Fish as part of the Terraces development by the Pier…serving classic locally sourced fresh fish and chips but done really well.”

 

Ben McKellar is not one for the limelight, you may not even have heard of him but you will almost certainly have heard of his restaurants – The Gingerman Group.

The original Gingerman restaurant opened its doors back in 1998 and is still at the top of its game today. Following the success of the Gingerman, Ben opened the Ginger Pig in Hove representing the epitome of gastropub excellence. Then followed the Ginger Fox in Henfield and most recently the Ginger Dog in Kemptown, which opened in 2010. Ben is a bona fide local success story having been born and bred in Brighton. After college Ben spent time honing his cooking skills in some of the best restaurants in the South of France before returning to the UK. He worked under John Burton Race at the two Michelin L’Ortolan in Berkshire before returning to Brighton and eventually launching what was to become arguably one of the most successful food enterprises in our region.

I can’t deny it, I’m a fan. I have never had a bad meal at any of his establishments. The Ginger Pig is still for me the best Sunday roast in Brighton and the Gingerman the best fine dining restaurant. The Fox is an exercise in country pub elegance. If only my waistline could handle it, I’d be eating at one of the Gingers weekly. I was delighted to be able to get some time with Ben…

What’s important to you?

Running a consistently high quality group of restaurants. This means that I have to ensure very good staff who are motivated and ambitions, and very good ingredients.

 

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With four restaurants, where do you focus?

I am not in the kitchen as much as I used to be. I personally opened all four establishments and cooked in all of them for many years. I found I couldn’t run the business effectively and still be in the kitchen as much as I was. Especially with a young family! Now I am enjoying a new kind of role to that of a chef, focusing more on business strategy and acting as a mentor to my team. I still get involved in menu development and key strategic matters but I let my excellent team express themselves, providing guidance when needed. I like to nurture talent.

Where do you get your inspiration?

From my team mostly. We all keep abreast of the industry and what’s happening locally and further afield. We look at what’s cool, what’s new and we see what, if any elements might work for us. But we make sure we stick to our core philosophy and brand. A good example is the refurbishment of the Gingerman. We could see a trend toward a more informal environment for fine dining and so created a relaxed bistro feel while retaining the key features of our brand.

 

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What do you cook at home?

I mostly cook spicy food at home, curry or other Asian food although my kids love a Sunday roast.

Guilty pleasures?

Chocolate, Whisky and Peanut butter (not all together… although actually).

What do you think of the local food scene?

Sussex and Surrey are both great for food and wine. The Brighton food scene in particular has changed dramatically for the better over the last five years or so. There is now a fantastic diverse range of eating places to suit every budget.

Where do you like to eat out?

In Brighton I like The Chilli Pickle, The Set, 64 Degrees, Meat Liquor, China Garden, and UniThai. In London I love Lyle’s, Pitt Cue and Barrafina.

 

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What’s next for you?

We are about to start developing the upper floors at the Ginger Pig into 11 hotel rooms, which will hopefully open this year. Alongside this we will be expanding the food offering at the Pig to provide breakfasts and brunch and extending the outside space.

Next year we hope to finally open The Ginger Fish as part of the Terraces development by the Pier. This will be an informal all day café style venue, serving classic locally sourced fresh fish and chips but done really well.

 

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