After studying for a law degree in 2011, Dan McGeorge decided it was time for a completely new career path, so he headed to Liverpool Community College to develop his passion for cooking. Dan has worked in several high-profile kitchens including The Bath Priory under executive chef Sam Moody and under Ben Mounsey at modern European restaurant The Lawns at Thornton Hall Hotel and Spa.
For over three years, Dan has been head chef at Rothay Manor in Ambleside, a boutique hotel and restaurant in the heart of the Lake District, where he has been awarded 3 AA red rosettes, a Michelin Plate and the Acorn Award, in 2020, which recognises the brightest stars in UK hospitality under the age of thirty.
Previously a semi-finalist twice in National Chef of the Year, the now 30-year-old Liverpudlian, recently joined fellow chefs to battle it out on BBC’s Great British Menu representing the north west of England. We caught up with Dan to find out what made him change career paths, why constant improvement is key, and why mushrooms are his top ingredient.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
I always had an interest in cooking but never really thought of it as a career. But that changed after starting a law degree. I was sat in exams and just had this epiphany that maybe I should do something I like, rather than just chasing stereotypical success that gets instilled in us all from a young age. After all, success doesn’t just mean earning a big salary, it’s also about being happy in what you do.
What’s your signature dish?
I wouldn’t say I have one, for me a signature dish has to be perfect, and perfection is an impossibility. We can chase it and get pretty close but the day I think I’ve reached it should be the last day I cook because I always want to improve on what I create.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
Balance within the menu is key, especially as we don’t have a set tasting menu, which makes this pretty tough, but I endeavour to deliver a mix of light and hearty dishes across both savoury and sweet. This enables dish choices to complement each other, rather than fighting with each other.
Do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?
You have to like what your cooking, so in some way yes, there’s no point in developing a dish which you don’t like, because food is essentially from the heart as much as the head, and all my dishes are based on flavour first, and presentation second.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
I particularly like autumn, we have amazing root vegetables and game in this country, and it demands more thought and ingenuity to develop tasty new dishes at this time of the year rather than in the summer, when there’s a glut of ingredients to choose from.
For me, it’s a time when we can use some of our preserved fruits and vegetables to get different flavours onto the plate and add something unique to a dish.
What is your favourite ingredient?
My favourite ingredient would probably have to be mushrooms, there are so many varieties that all taste a little different and if you know what you’re looking for they can also be free of charge. Whether it be cep, girolle or chanterelle, they’re all amazing.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
I would probably be a solicitor, or something related to law, however, I don’t regret my spur of the moment decision to become a chef and I wouldn’t change it for the world as it’s defined everything in my life to this day. Whether that be my partner, my little girl or the friends I’ve made, it’s all down to being a chef.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
My favourite dish would probably be a simple prawn linguini, nothing fancy, but it has real meaning for my partner as it’s the first meal I ever cooked for her and seeing her happy makes me happy.
When are you happiest?
I love cooking at work but spending the precious time I have with my family always comes out top.
When you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?
At the moment, in our new family home covered in paint, fixing pipes or moving furniture about the place (I seem to move things a lot, it’s a little bit like musical chairs but I’m moving sofas backwards forwards to different rooms, not dining chairs!)
What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?
I really like a fresh baked sourdough pizza at the moment.
Where is your favourite place to dine?
It has to be Mauro Colagreco’s Mirazur, in Menton, France. I’ve only been once but it’s definitely on my list to go again.