You’d expect one of the first things to strike you about a Liverpudlian is their accent but that’s not the case with Queen’s Quay Social Executive Chef, Darren Iddon.
Darren’s scouse accent is certainly present and correct but it’s his passion for amazing service and superior tasting food that shines through.
Darren was born in 1976 and reared in Liverpool and when he was a youngster his parents Jez and Christine and younger brother moved to New Brighton.
“I grew up in the Wirral area of Liverpool and one of my fondest childhood memories is of all my mates always wanting to come to our house for dinner.
“My mum came from a family of cooks and I remember Saturday nights when I was a young boy, she spend the day making homemade tandoori chicken and homemade samosas - they were great days.”
Darren was extremely academic at school and was also an accomplished rugby player but it was because of his upbringing and his love of food that he wanted nothing more from life than to become a professional chef.
“My dad is a lawyer and he is also the only one in the family who isn’t a cook - my brother is a chef too.”
After leaving school at the age of 16, Darren moved to Woolacombe Bay in North Devon where he went to work as an apprentice in The Ship Aground restaurant.
“I worked in The Ship Aground for three years and they were three of the best years of my life. It was a fantastic place to learn the basics of cooking and the chef I worked under was top class.”
On leaving The Ship Aground, Darren decided to travel around Europe and to this day he still finds inspiration from some of the culinary wonders he experienced in places like Italy and France.
“Travelling was perhaps one of the best things I could have done because it really opened my eyes to so many other things and techniques I didn’t know about cooking.
“I worked in a few restaurants in France and some of them would have had one or two Michelin stars. These restaurants were top class places to work and I enjoyed every minute of my time working there.”
After a few years on the road, Darren returned to England where he went to work for ‘The French Restaurant’ in the Midland Hotel in Manchester.
“My dad’s law practice was in Manchester so I got a job working at The French Restaurant in the Midland Hotel.
“I learned so much from my time at The French Restaurant. It was a really vibrant place to work.”
The next thing to happen Darren saw his career go transatlantic when he was offered the chance to go and work for renowned chef and restaurateur, Peter X. Kelly in New York.
“I started out working in Peter’s restaurant in Piermont in New York. The restaurant overlooked the Hudson River and the quality of food there was out of this world.
“Peter had a real fascination with South American cuisine. There was a real intelligence to the way he went about creating his menus and it’s something that I try to do now.”
Darren soon began to progress up the ranks. After working in Peter X. Kelly’s restaurant he went to work in his brasserie.
“Working in the brasserie was a different experience entirely because in the restaurant in Piermont we would have done about 34 covers but in the brasserie we could have been doing anything between 140 and 240 covers every single day.
“Every cover was a la carte which meant it was seriously busy and that’s the way it was for six days a week for a few years.
“I loved every minute of it and soon after working in the brasserie I started working in Peter’s flagship restaurant, Restaurant X in Congers.
“Restaurant X was a top class place to work because the food worked on and created was amazing.”
In 2002 Darren left New York and moved to Derry where he secured a lucrative Junior Sous Chef position in Michael Deane’s one star Michelin restaurant, Deane’s, in Belfast.
“I travelled to Belfast everyday whilst living in Derry. It was a long slog but the experience of working in yet another Michelin star restaurant was tremendous.
“After about a year at Deane’s, my career took an unexpected turn when the opportunity arose to go and work for a restaurant management organisation called Capella Hotel Group.
“I was offered the position of Executive Sous Chef at the Solis Lough Eske Castle Hotel in Donegal.
“Working for the Capella Hotel Group was perhaps one of the most fascinating and amazing things to happen in my career.
“Along with an amazing team, the Solis Lough Eske Castle Hotel was a huge success but after two and a half years the Capella group offered me the chance to go and work in their Capella Singapore Hotel and Resort - it was Capella’s flagship property in Asia and is located on Sentosa Island, Singapore.
“Working in Singapore not only opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of cooking but it also taught me how to manage a team of people. I would have had 90 cooks working under me.
“In any one day we could have four or five banquets on and due to the fact it was a six star resort, the food had to be flawless.
“It was during my time with Capella I met Swedish chef, Jakob Esko. I’d worked with Jakob at the Lough Eske and when he left for Singapore, he requested I come with him.
“Jakob is my best friend and he is like a brother to me and we still stay in regular contact.”
Darren was the only English born chef working with Capella so in 2011 he was asked by the company to head up the opening of the Raithwaite Hall Country Retreat in North Yorkshire.
“That really took it out of me because I was in charge of developing everything from scratch.
“From the design of the kitchens, the uniforms to employing the staff. It was a very emotional time when the restaurant opened.”
The owners of the hotel decided that they wanted to go with another management company so Darren made contact with a few people from his time working in Donegal and soon after he opened his own restaurant, Queen’s Quay Social, in Derry.
“I’d honestly no intention of ever opening my own restaurant. It just sort of happened.
“I’m delighted with the way it has gone so far. We are so passionate about amazing and interesting food and top class service here.
“When I decided to open the restaurant here in Derry I spoke to a few of the people I worked with during my time at Capella.
“I brought head chef, Zsolt Dikter, bar manager Alan Hunter and restaurant manager Ieva Lauva with me. Together, we form the Executive Team at Queen’s Quay Social.
“I meet with Zsolt every morning to discuss the day ahead, I then meet with Alan to discuss any new drinks he’s thinking about or to ask him if there are any events he wants to attend.
“I also meet with Lauva to discuss everything about the restaurant. It’s a tight ship, we run it well and it works.”
Every Queen’s Quay Social employee is provided with a small laminated Queen’s Quay Social Standard guidebook. The booklet sets out why the restaurant is in business and gives a description of the kind of person they want to employ. It also details how guests should be served and how staff should present themselves at work.
“Some people only last a day with us but this is what we are about.
“We want to create an environment where people can come day or night and experience something entirely different each time.
“We want to give people the chance to come to a restaurant that feels social and relaxed but at the same time they are able to eat amazing food and drink great tasting wine and cocktails.
“It’s not an exclusive restaurant and whilst I have plans to make us the number one restaurant in Northern Ireland over the next three or four years I do not want a Michelin star.
“I want to stay focused on what we are doing at Queen’s Quay. I want every customer who comes here to enjoy their experience and then tell their friends and families about it.”
Darren also has plans to open a Queen’s Quay Social brasserie in Derry in the future and when he’s not slaving over a hot stove he likes nothing more than to cheer on his beloved Liverpool and go fly fishing and shooting.
“I am ‘Kopite’ and a slave to the stove - that’s what I tell everyone I meet. I also shoot a lot of game and I love fly fishing.
“I am not one of these people who throws away what they kill - I use everything I catch and shoot.
“I’ve really high hopes for this restaurant and I honestly believe it will be successful in Derry.
“We are going our own way and hopefully people will continue to want to come with us.”
For more information on Queen’s Quay Social visit their website: www.queensquaysocial.com or to keep up to date with Darren, follow him on Twitter: @Darren_Iddon