Our second Top Chefs Interviews - Dan Courtney. Dan is Executive Chef in Stix and Stones Belfast. Stix and Stones was created by brothers Dan and Martin Courtney. With a combined experience of nearly two decades the brothers decided to open what has become one of Belfast's favourite premium steak and seafood restaurants in 2014. The restaurant is located on Belfast's Upper Queen Street. They take great pride in choosing only premium steak and seafood for their diners. Offering diners the unique option to cook their steaks on hot stones. So if you fancy this idea ensure to experience Stix and Stones 'Steak on a Stone' dining experience.
Specialising in seafood and steak, the ethos of our restaurant works on the philosophy of 'fresh quality food sourced locally'. We source ingredients for all our dishes from local suppliers where possible. Organic, free range and artisan producers are reviewed on a regular basis, with our own chefs inspecting off-site premises to find the very best ingredients. Executive Chef Dan Courtney with Head Chef (and brother) Marty focus on local and seasonal produce to create each signature dish. Cooking on the stone adds a fun sharing element to your dining experience. We use a special cooking technique before serving our meat which helps keep every mouthful tender and succulent. Whether you are dining with friends, family or colleagues, Stix and Stones is the perfect choice for quality food in a great atmosphere.
When and from whom did you learn about cooking? Do you have any early memories of something you enjoyed cooking?
I was never really interested in cooking when I was young except at Easter we would melt down all our eggs to make rice crispie cakes that was as much cooking as I did, although I always loved tasting new food…
Where did it all begin? What was your first job in a professional kitchen and how do you think this helped get you where you are today?
I had a job as a kitchen porter in Dukes Hotel when I was 15, I used to watch everything the chefs were doing. When no one was in the kitchen I would attempt to turn potatoes or time myself how fast I could slice a mushroom. Eventually I was offered a breakfast chef position and the rest is history….
What is one of your favourite ingredients to use in your dishes and why?
I love using soft herbs, chervil, tarragon, coriander, mint, basil etc… I think they bring so much flavour & freshness to a dish. Add them to soups, sauces, salads, desserts and it will just lift the dish to another level.
What is your favourite dish to cook? Do you have a favourite that you like to eat yourself?
I love cooking fish, I get great satisfaction in that moment when you turn your fish in the pan and the skin is crisp and golden and the flesh is “just” cooked… its one of my favourite things to eat!!
What regional dish stands out to you and should represent your region of the UK? What do you think makes dishes in your region unique from others?
I have recently started using less expensive cuts of meat for our Sunday roasts at the restaurant such as ox cheek, lamb neck etc cooked on a low heat for hours. I think cuts like this should represent our region I think we are best at slow cooked dishes stews, casserole’s, bacon ribs are some favourites …. served with the old boxty potato you cant go wrong. I like to take old recipes from stews and break them down or “deconstruct” to create different styles, textures and flavours of the same ingredients.
Have you ever cooked for any celebrities or famous faces?
Yes I have cooked for many famous faces… Bill Clinton, Michael Fassbender, Carl Frampton, The Script & Ocean Colour Scene to name a few.
Do you have any funny or embarrassing kitchen stories to tell?
Again I have many stories some I couldn’t print. Some of the more light hearted ones are the usual commis chef wind ups like. Being sent to the shop for a leg of salmon, or being told to chop flour. The one that got me was my 1st time cooking lobsters and the chef told me to not let them turn orange of course as soon as lobsters hit boiling water they turn orange… I thought I had cost the hotel a small fortune…. I still play the same prank on commis chefs today.
Is there a celebrity chef who inspires you or has inspired you from the beginning of your career? Why does this person inspire you so much?
Not really from the beginning of my career, I go through phases with chefs. There are so many different styles of cooking and chefs to look up to. I recently went to work with Aiden Byrne for a few days at Manchester House he inspired me a lot. I was also the head chef for Dylan Mc Grath in Dublin for a period, he taught me great discipline and I have great respect for what he has achieved in his career.
Do you have any final advice for someone just starting to cook?
You will only get out of cooking what you put in, keep pushing yourself and good things will come. Learn from everyone around you. Be very disciplined. Keep a recipe book with you at all times and experiment.
Be prepared to make sacrifices for a labour of love.