My first job was working in the kitchen of MacDuff’s restaurant in Aghadowey in the 1980s.
I was fourteen and still remember arriving for my first shift to be greeted by the biggest mountain of dishes I’d ever seen.
That evening I washed the aforementioned dishes, helped to put out starters and desserts and washed more pots in between.
At the end I was given a brown envelope with £4 in it for a four hour shift. Already I was hooked on the restaurant industry.
MacDuff’s was owned and run by friends of my parents, Joey and Margaret Erwin. They had moved into Margaret’s family home, Blackheath House after the death of her parents. They were both teachers but decided to open a restaurant in the cellar of the house in the evenings. Joey was the host and Margaret did the cooking. They’d travelled a lot so the menu was inspired by their trips. Tabouleh salad was a staple on the menu – cracked wheat mixed with herbs, lemon juice and chopped tomatoes and cucumbers were served in wooden bowls. Margaret made chicken liver pate that had guests begging for the recipe. They served snails in garlic butter, roast game, sirloin with Bordelaise sauce, poached wild salmon, sole Veronique, rack of lamb with redcurrants and a myriad of other classics. They were also famous for their curry. This was back at a time when curry usually meant the dehydrated Vesta brand that came in a packet. Joey imported spices and ground them to a secret recipe. The first time I tasted it I thought my mouth was going to explode. One of my jobs was to fill the sambal tray that accompanied this speciality. Banana slices, tossed in coconut, a foul smelling Bombay duck (actually a fermented fish) chopped tomato and onion and yoghurt with mint. It was the height of sophistication. Margaret was one of the first to make Bailey’s Irish cream cheesecake and her rich chocolate roulade was sensational. They were doing things at that stage that no one else had thought of. The restaurant quickly took off as thee place to go in Northern Ireland and had visitors from all corners of the province.
The restaurant was always busy and I loved the buzz of the kitchen. Joey and Margaret sold the business in the early nineties to take life a bit easier. Even now people say to me how much they miss Macduff’s – it was a one off, unique place.
Sadly Joey passed away last week and it made me reminisce about my time working for him. He had a trademark bushy red beard and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He treated everyone exactly the same – whether it was a millionaire businessman or a young couple who’d saved for weeks to come and experience MacDuffs. Everyone was a VIP – a lesson many restaurants today could learn from.
My two recipes this week are for my version of Macduff’s classics – a chicken liver pate and a chocolate roulade. The pate was always served with a fanned gherkin. Baby cucumbers are in season now and are ideal for pickling with dill. Serve some slices with the pate. If you want to do the whole retro vibe, make some melba toast to spread the pate on. Local raspberries are in full swing now and perfect folded into a chocolate cream and made into a chocolate roulade in my other recipe.
Joey always used to whistle or sing “ You are my sunshine” when we were working – psychology to get us to work harder perhaps. They played the song at his funeral – the perfect tune to send off a legend who made life so much better by not taking it too seriously.