There has been a lot of exciting changes here at Muse over the past few weeks, and although it has been sad to say goodbye to some familiar faces, we are over the moon to welcome to the team some fantastic new employees. One of these newbies will be cooking up a storm for you guys, bringing in lots of new flavours and ideas, in order to keep Muse fresh and current! We are proud to introduce you to John Ward, our new head chef! We decided to sit down with him and find out what makes him tick…
Hi John! We are so excited to welcome you to the Muse family! Tell us a little bit about yourself – how did you start out in the industry?
I started very young. I started an apprenticeship when I was 14 in Scotland, and served four years of that. I then basically left Scotland for a two-week holiday which lasted about 15 years. I took in most of Europe, which cultivated in me going to Spain for two days and staying for seven years. I was in the party capital of Spain, Benidorm, for most of it, and it was great, I loved it, and I met my wife over there. It started off as a two-week holiday romance and we’ve just celebrated seventeen years married. It was really good fun!
Did anyone inspire you to start cooking, and which chef do you most admire?
The main reason for starting cooking would be self-preservation, my mother was awful, she cannot cook at all, so I started cooking at a very early age because I had to. But I’ve always wanted it, it’s always what I wanted to do. I was always lead into catering and no one else in my family has done it, I’m the first, and it’s just something that came easy to me. It’s something that I naturally fell into and actually, I think I’m quite good at it! But I’m a big fan of Nick Nairn, he’s a Scottish chef, because he’s self-taught and he runs his own cookery school now. He’s a right good lad, and does a lot with local Scottish produce. I also like Rick Stein, because I’m a big fish fiend. I like my fish and Rick Stein is really good, but generally, the cooking which I do, I try to do locally, so anywhere I’ve been, anywhere in the world, I try to do it locally. I did a crocodile and kangaroo combo over in Australia, which I don’t think would go down well in Uppermill, but you never know!
How would you describe your style of cooking?
One word: local. I try and adapt it for wherever I am. I did a lot of the Mediterranean stuff when I lived over there, I’ve done a lot of Italian stuff, a lot of Scottish stuff when I lived there, where I’m from in Dreghorn, Ayrshire (which is actually one of the oldest populated town in Europe – over 5000 years old!) they have some of the best produce in the world, and some of the best seafood, so I used a lot of that when I was up there. Now I’m in Uppermill I’ll be using a load of local produce from here.
What is your favourite dish or signature dish to make?
I’ve been asked this so many times! I don’t have a signature dish because I change my menu according to where I am, but I’ll pride myself in the fact that I can put something decent and tasty on your plate by opening a cupboard.
What provides you with inspiration for a new menu or dish?
Just whatever is available to me locally, but also when you’re developing a new menu locally you’ve got to look at the clientele, and what we’re going to try to do at Muse is something a little bit different!
What are you excited to bring to Muse and what will be your favourite dish on the menu?
The favourite dish… I’m not sure because I haven’t finished the menu yet! What we are trying to bring is a little bit of fusion of the American/Pan Asian experience, which is very, very on trend at the minute. So it’s small plates and bits of tapas, little bits of sushi, some sashimi and nigiri, so we’re looking at bringing in a different eating style to Uppermill.
Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?
Yeah. Management. It has to be managed properly. To be successful, the food has to be good, the service on point, but you have to be customer driven. If you’re not customer driven then there’s no point in opening the door. I would love to say it stems all from the food, but it doesn’t. That’s only half of it. I once described being a chef as having to cook like your gran, be organised like your mum and to count like an accountant. That’s only one side of the business. So to make a successful restaurant takes drive, hard work, organisation and a hefty slice of luck.
What has been your career journey so far? How did you end up at Muse?
I started on the west coast of Scotland and then moved over to Amsterdam straight after that. I then travelled around central Europe and ended up in Spain. I came back to Manchester after I married my wife, and I spent four years running an Italian restaurant in Bury. Then from there I took a year out and was a driving instructor! Which was very, very different. I then moved on to Perth, in western Australia, but things didn’t pan out – I loved it but my wife hated it. So then we came back to Scotland, spent eighteen months running a four star hotel, and then my wife got homesick again and so we came back to Manchester! So yeah, in Manchester I was running a restaurant in Bury for four years, then Victors, down in Cheshire, pretending I was posh, and then Muse came calling! So I decided to come up, it’s a very exciting time for the business, looking to drive it forward with the other two businesses as well. So, yeah, I’m really looking forward to the challenge Muse is going to be.
It’s amazing how much you’ve travelled around! Was that a personal choice or did the right job come up?
It was a personal choice, I was working two jobs when I was eighteen, I bought my house and had a sports car when I was eighteen but I was very young, and I thought that was what I wanted but it wasn’t. So, I sold everything and left! I went from place to place to place, being able to cook has opened up so many doors, I don’t think there’s another industry in world where you can travel so easily. What I used to do is when I landed in a new place I would go into the local pub and speak to the barmen, and say where do you eat and drink? And then I would go there, get to know the workers and get a job. I’ve only ever been out of work once in my life, and that was for three weeks when I was waiting for a new job to open. I’ve never been out of work, and that’s something I try to install in not only my chefs but my two kids as well. What you get, you work for. No one gives you it. But it’s been fun, really good fun.
How do you like to spend your days off?
Play golf. That’s the first thing – the wife will kill me hearing that! Of course, spending time with the family (that’s what I’m supposed to say!) No, I’ve got the most fantastic wife in the world, I’ve got two lovely kids who I adore. My wife always says the successful marriage which we have is down to me working 70 hours a week! But obviously I have to put time aside for them, I’ve just got my son a golf membership at the same club as me, so he comes with me now. He’s 7 and I have a 12 year old daughter as well. We’ve got a couple of holidays booked and spending time at home as well.
If you weren’t a chef, what would be your dream career?
I’ve always fancied getting into property development, it’s something I’ve always fancied! That’s always been my guilty pleasure, I’ve always enjoyed properties, and buildings and cities. If I could then I would get into something like that.
What’s the best dish you’ve ever eaten?
I’ve been to some phenomenally good restaurants, and I mean top end restaurants all over the world, five-star restaurants all over the world, and the best meal you could ever cook for me is mince and potatoes. Honestly any day of the week I could get up in the morning and have a square sausage on a muffin, and mince and potatoes at night. That would be me happy as Larry!
If you were on death row – what would your last meal be?
*laughs* Mince and tatas! Mince and tatas, definitely!
Tea or coffee?
I’m on coffee at the minute!
Shawshank redemption! No wait – McVicar! It’s phenomenal. It’s retro, and a true story about John McVicar, a bank robber from London. It’s bob on.
Breakfast or dinner?
Beer or wine?
City or countryside?
I grew up in the countryside so I’m going to say city.
Favourite midnight snack?
Ooooh… at the moment it’s a twirl!
Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a twirl? Well, it was amazing to sit down with John and find out he has travelled so much but somehow found his way to Muse! Funny old world isn’t it! We can’t wait to see what he brings to Muse Bar Group and to hear your feedback on everything, so make sure you pop down and see us to try it out! Stay tuned for the updated menu to launch (you NEED to try his sushi, it is incredible). Until then, make sure you tag us in all your pictures and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with everything Muse!