Meet the Chef - David Gale, Manchester Hilton Hotel
PUBLISHED: 00:44 30 April 2013
David Gale is head chef at Manchester's Hilton Hotel, the setting for this year's Cheshire Life and Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards. David reflects on his rise from his early days in Wilmslow to his prestigious role at the region's tallest tower.
WORDS BY RAY KING
You could say that life’s journey has come around full circle for David Gale...but that would be stretching it. These days he often looks down over the centre of his beloved Manchester and beyond from Cloud 23, the cocktail bar halfway up the city’s tallest building, and reflects on where it all started.
That culinary merry-go-round has taken him to London, San Francisco, New York and back again.
As it happens, it all began for the Hilton Hotel’s 39-year-old head chef in Wilmslow. His parents had recently moved from Wythenshawe to the council estate at Lacey Green and as – by his own admission – something of a scally 13-year-old who ‘wasn’t the best scholar’, he had a paper round. By one of those quirks of fate, among his daily tasks was delivering newspapers to Stanneylands Hotel.
The head chef at the time was Iain Donald who went on to become a vital player in the establishment of major ventures like Est Est Est, Piccolino and Restaurant Bar & Grill.
‘He was a fantastic guy,’ said David, ‘and he’s the only person in the world I still call “chef” when I see him walking down the street. He invited me in and straight away I found a life in the kitchen. I fell in love with the vibrancy, the electricity and, yes, the aggression. It was everything I wanted to do; it wasn’t the money, which wasn’t very much for the long hours that the stars at the top of the profession put in, it was a calling.’
At 16, David headed for London, landing in the kitchen of the legendary Nico Ladenis. ‘I soon found out that he demanded the most exacting standards. I still make my stocks the way he set out; in fact my approach to cooking really hasn’t changed since then and I think attention to detail is vital.’
The three and a half years he spent at Chez Nico and Nico Central were the start of David’s association with some of the biggest stars in the hospitality industry. He was a member of the team what launched the Fifth Floor Restaurant at London’s Harvey Nichols, arguably David says, the best restaurant in London during the ‘Ab-Fab’ and Princess Diana years of the 1980s.
As part of the opening team of the first boutique hotel in the country, St Martin’s Lane, and then the Sanderson, David encountered Ian Schrager, creator of Studio 54 in New York, and his career took on an international dimension. Soon after a less-than-happy stint at James Bond actor Roger Moore’s Hush restaurant in Mayfair, David was off to Schrager’s Clift Hotel in San Francisco, the hedonistic Hudson Hotel in New York and the brash Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, whose Rum Jungle laid claim to being the biggest restaurant in the world.
‘The highlight of it all was my couple of years at Soho House in New York. It was a very special place that revolutionised the old meat packing district of the city that led the way for the fashion houses and the media stars.’
He added: ‘I was living a life totally less ordinary; a fantasy life and I loved it. Then suddenly I got a strong feeling I wanted to come home and, when my visa ran out eight years ago, I did. To be honest I found Manchester a very strange place. I still had a good reputation from my days in London with stars and accolades – but I found myself a total stranger in my own city. Nobody knew who I was. It was really quite a bump.’
David returned to his trade at the former Rossetti Hotel (now Abode) in Piccadilly, Manchester, and then forged a local reputation at the City Cafe before being head-hunted by the Hilton five years ago. Heading up a team of 24 chefs, overseeing the hotel’s flagship Podium Restaurant and turning over £4m a year on its food operation, David says: ‘For me it’s the biggest job in the city in this iconic building.’
He was named Chef of the Year in 2010 in the Manchester Food & Drink Awards minutes after he finished serving the gala dinner for the 300 guests at the awards ceremony, staged at the Hilton. Just one of many accolades he’s picked up.
But David is also proud of being recently named an ambassador for the Wythenshawe Real Lives Campaign, set up in 2008 to challenge negative perceptions of the area. He certainly has a different tale to tell.
The Cheshire Life and Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards will be held at the Hilton Hotel on Monday October 28th.
To buy tickets to join this glamorous black tie event, please contact Cheshire Life’s Events and Promotions Manager, Sylvie Ball, at email@example.com