Mike Jennings: Career Profile

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Head chef, Gary rhodes, Chef

Mike Jennings, head chef at Grenache believes that staying true to what you do and not listening to critics will help build a successful career
Mike Jennings, head chef at Grenache believes that staying true to what you do and not listening to critics will help build a successful career
Mike Jennings worked for Shaun Rankin, Nigel Howarth and Gary Rhodes before moving back to Lancashire to take up the role of head chef at Worsley-based restaurant Grenache. The chef works in a 'gadget-free' kitchen, believing a back to basics approach showcasing good quality produce is the secret to a successful restaurant.

How I got to where I am now:

I left school and went to South Trafford College where I did my Professional Chef level one and two before deciding to stay on for another two years and do my level three. While I was at college I did some part-time work at at restaurant called Nico's in Manchester and The Belmore Hotel which gave me a good taste for the industry. 

When I finished college at the age of 20 I decided I wanted to get out of Manchester and see more of the world, so I went to Jersey where I got to meet Shaun Rankin, who was at Sumas Restaurant at the time. He said if I wanted to learn about food I should go and work for him, so I started with him as a demi chef de partie. I was with him at Sumas for 11 months before he went off to open Bohemia. He asked me if I wanted to join him there so I did. I worked there for 18 months before getting promoted to sous chef, a position I stayed in for four and a half years and was part of the team that won Bohemia its Michelin star. 

After seven years in Jersey I decided it was time to come back to the mainland and I headed up to Northcote to work with Nigel Haworth, but after six months I decided it was time to take up the challenge of head chef as I had lots of ideas of my own I wanted to try. An agency I'd approached said Gary Rhodes was looking for a head chef for a new project (Rhodes South at Christchurch Harbour Hotel) and invited me for an interview. 

Working with Gary was a real learning curve. He taught me about the management side of the role and really got me involved in the business. However, the Rhodes franchise came to an end after a year and he left the business. I stayed around for two months before I left to come back to Manchester where I did some temp work before deciding I really wanted to get back into fine-dining. I helped open a brand new restaurant, then did some temp work before Grenache turned up. 

The owners were looking for a head chef who could raise the bar with its food, so I took on the challenge. I took a big step down in salary, but a big step forward with my food. Everything is made on the premises and I work with suppliers to get the best natural ingredients I can. I have a small kitchen with just two gas cookers, a convection oven and two small table top fryers - no water bath or Pacojet - I don't think you need to complicate things when you use good quality ingredients. 

My greatest achievement: 

I actually can think of a few - one is being part of the team at Bohemia when it got its Michelin star and another was being entrusted to run the restaurant in Dorset for Gary Rhodes, but the biggest achievement I think is building the business at Grenache. The 38-cover restaurant is busy every night of the week. Accolades are good, but a busy restaurant is what customers really want to see. 

My biggest challenge:​ 

Taking over at Grenache. I had to change the way I worked. When I was working for Gary Rhodes and Shaun Rankin I had the luxury of working with lots of chefs, but here it is a lot smaller - there are just three chefs including me and and apprentice - so I'm much more hands on with everything. The challenge here is adapting myself back to old school cooking, but that's also what I wanted to do. 

Thoughts on Manchester's dining scene:

Manchester has traditionally been somewhere people perceive to be full of chain restaurants - if people wanted fine-dining they headed for London and then came back here for a good Sunday lunch, but the city is turning a corner. Some of the big boys have tried to crack the city, but they haven't managed it yet. Now Simon Rogan has opened up and Aiden Byrne is set to follow and fine-dining is getting a real focus. It will be interesting to see what happens. 

Tips for success:

I say to any chef, if you cook with the belief that your product is great, you keep it consistent and the quality high, you won't go far wrong. If you cook for critics then you'll never cook the right food. Stay true to what you do and aim for a busy restaurant, that, I think will bring success. 

Related topics: People, Restaurants, Career Profile

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