Behind the Scenes with our Head Chef

Malachi, or Mac as he’s affectionately known by most, joined Corbin & King in late 2011 as Executive Sous Chef for the opening of The Delaunay. He became Head Chef in April 2014 and four years later, was promoted to the role of Group Executive Chef for The Delaunay, Colbert, Fischer’s, Brasserie Zédel and Bellanger – whilst remaining at the helm of The Delaunay kitchen. Originally from Melbourne and having worked around the world in many different establishments before joining C&K, Mac is known for his boundless energy, leadership skills and passion for change. Here, we’ve gone ‘Behind the Scenes’ to uncover a little more about the man himself.

Tell us a little about your background?

I grew up in Melbourne, Australia with no idea at all that I wanted to become a chef – I was useless; I couldn’t even burn toast. After I left school, I took a year out before university and during that time I visited a friend of mine in a restaurant where it transpired the kitchen porter had cut his hand and gone to hospital, so I said I’d help out. The Head Chef at the time (Andrew McConnell; one of the top restaurateurs in Melbourne) offered me a job and that was the start.

And how did you come to be at The Delaunay?

I then went off to University to study Science but couldn’t stand it, so returned to cooking after that. After spending time in many different restaurants, I was having a BBQ in London with Kevin Gratton (Kevin was Head Chef at Le Caprice for Chris & Jeremy and Executive Chef for HIX restaurants) and he asked if I wanted to work for him as a Grill Chef at HIX, which I did and absolutely loved. I was then asked about the opening of The Delaunay and I spoke to Kevin who said, “You’ll never regret it. Chris & Jeremy are the two restaurateurs that every other restaurateur wishes they were.” And that was that!

What sort of a mentor are you to your team?

I always remember attending one of the C&K staff parties when Andy Parkinson, who was Head Chef at Zédel at the time, walked in and when he did his chefs proceeded to jump on him. I remember thinking that was the sign of a really good boss and that’s what I wanted to create at The Delaunay – that atmosphere. The Delaunay kitchen is very tight, everyone hangs out with each other and we relax with each other after work. That’s what I need from my chefs because then they all have each other’s back. It’s all part of being a team and I think that’s been a major factor of the restaurant’s success.

What makes The Delaunay so special in your opinion?

It’s the camaraderie. I encourage people to have a laugh outside of service and as long as they can do that and work hard, then I encourage it. I drill into everyone that no one is more important than the team. It’s about the people and the atmosphere.

It’s also special because of the creative opportunities – I love getting everyone to make their own dishes and develop them. Take the menu changes – when you see the pride on someone’s face the first time they get a dish on the menu, when you see their family come in and hear them say “You must try this dish – it’s mine” – it’s just fantastic. I feel a real sense of pride. Whether someone in the kitchen is 17 or 70, they’re all my kids – that’s the sort of family I’ve tried to create here. I find being a chef very sociable and that’s what I love – a good atmosphere is what I’ve really tried to foster at The Delaunay more than anything else.

How do you devise a successful menu?

A menu has to be geographical, seasonal and price point aware – those are the three things you need to nail.

When I came to The Delaunay I knew nothing about Austro-Hungarian cuisine, so I had to go and learn. We bought lots of books, we experimented, went to different restaurants and spent time in Vienna, Budapest and so on. And yet, as we built our customer base, we began to earn their trust. At the start, we followed rigorously strict rules of only producing dishes you’d find in Vienna. Now, we have a little more freedom with the menu – there’s a bit of German in there, very little French – and more Eastern European. It’s quite Mediterranean in the summer and it goes into Far-Eastern Europe in the winter.

So the food we serve today is not necessarily traditional Austro-Hungarian, but it is the DNA – a nod to our heritage. Everything on the menu can be justified but we do make it more British; more suitable to the customers coming in.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I love going to markets. I get more inspiration and ideas from walking through a market, or indeed a supermarket, than I do from opening a book. I can’t eat pages – I’m very physical and 3D when it comes to food. I really do go and try anything.

I was on holiday in Ibiza one time and had an octopus, potato and chorizo dish that I thought could translate to The Delaunay. So, I came back and made an octopus salami with a smoked paprika-flavoured oil and gave it a Hungarian twist to make it suitable for the restaurant and it’s been one of our most popular dishes ever since.

I hear you have a particularly great kitchen to work in?

The kitchen at The Delaunay is so well built that it’s fantastic to work in. It’s light without being stark and it’s cool. The amount of people designing kitchens who ask to come and see it is amazing – every one of them says what kitchen envy they have!

Is the atmosphere of a restaurant just as important as the food?

Absolutely. I’ve learnt more about the overall customer experience in the last 6 ½ years working for C&K than I have in the previous 10. It’s the whole package that is so important – from when a customer calls the reservations team, to when the doorman greets them, to when they leave. The food is a major part of it but when someone walks into The Delaunay, they feel special. If it’s someones second or third visit they’ll often welcome them by name. While the food is hugely important of course, it really is the entire experience.

What’s the biggest challenge you face?

Creating the next generation of chefs. When I first started, I learnt butchery, fish mongering and so on – sadly, that’s not necessarily the case these days. I’m a self-trained chef and yet in today’s world, without qualifications in catering college it’s hard to get a look in. Having said that however, half my team don’t have qualifications so it’s about having a good attitude and the desire to learn more than anything else.

Another of our biggest challenges is keeping people interested and motivated; getting up in the morning wanting to come to work. If you don’t love your job, you really don’t want to be a chef!

What is the best culinary city in the world? Is London up there with the best?

I’m biased, but to me it’s Melbourne. Melbourne is very multicultural – there is a strong Asian influence but there are also some stupendous chefs. It has an amazing food culture and I love going back at least once a year.

London is also up there, yes, because it’s embraced the world and the availability of everything is here. I came over in 1991 and couldn’t get Asian ingredients for love nor money… but now, London definitely has that. I love that fact that on my doorstep in central London, I can eat from 50 different cultures within a 10-minute walk – that’s incredible. So in that sense, London is definitely world class – it’s up there in the top five… but I’d still say Melbourne is my No 1.