Brad McDonald

19 March 2014 by
Brad McDonald

Brad McDonald, self-taught head chef of the Lockhart in London's Marylebone, credits his love of French cuisine for inspiring his career

How did you find your way into the hospitality industry?

Did anyone try to put you off?

My mother was gung-ho for it, but my dad told me it was his responsibility to get me to get a degree from university, which ended up being in English literature. He said that afterwards I could 'dig ditches' if I wanted to - I assume he was making a correlation with cooking there!

What are you doing now and how did you get there?

I am head chef at the Lockhart. Before this, I had been doing some consultancy for Ricker Restaurants after moving across from Brooklyn. I knew right away that the industry was for me. I like working with my hands and seeing the efforts of my work quantified at the end of the day.

What training opportunities have you been given?

No classic training - more working under chefs in an apprenticeship sort of way. I was obsessed with Alain Ducasse from the beginning - absolutely obsessed with French cooking. I would cook all his recipes at home in my spare time. I bought all the books in French, stupidly, but it helped me to learn the language, which was a bonus.

Have you had a mentor along the way?

I've had a few mentors, but I'd like to mention Johnathan Benno. He's sort of one of the unsung heroes of our world. I worked with him when he was chef de cuisine at Per Se. He's one of those really great chefs who doesn't do too much media - he just works quietly behind a stove. His stamina and integrity is top notch. Other than recommending me for jobs, I guess he set an internal standard for a sense of ownership. He also helped me to understand how the business side of a restaurant runs.

What's the most rewarding day you've had in your career?

Receiving a two-star review for the Governor restaurant in Brooklyn in The New York Times from Pete Wells last year was a pretty special day. It's nice when a critic understands what you're trying to do - when they get the storyline you're trying to tell. I feel like Pete got it.

What do you love most about your job?

The large pay cheques, the short hours, vacations whenever I like… no, I like working closely with the team - collaboration. Accomplishing something as a group that none of us could accomplish on our own.

Who do you think is the best ambassador for the hospitality industry and why?

Even though he's an American restaurateur, I would say Danny Meyer. He's a great ambassador for this industry and the particular reason is that on his list of priorities for running his business, his employees are first. I think that sets a good example for the rest of our industry. Put your team ahead of your profits and naturally your profits will come.

Would you recommend the industry to others?

Absolutely! There's a lot that this industry requires - and it's not always what you think it will be. A lot of people will read Anthony Bourdain, who is a great entertainer, and think that's what this industry is about. It's not. I'm married, I have two kids and I spend my days off doing 'parental things'. It's not all sex, drugs and rock and roll. It can be if you want it to, but quite honestly, those guys burn out and they don't last. Of the successful chefs I know, they all party well, but they don't party hard.

CV Highlights

2011-2013 head chef, Colonie, Gran Electrica and Governor, Brooklyn, USA

2009 Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark

2006-2007 Per Se, New York, USA

2005-2006 Ducasse, New York, USA

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