In the Kitchen With: Neil McCue of Whitehall

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Neil McCue laid the groundwork for his culinary career while cooking alongside his grandmother in his hometown of Barnsley, England. To this day, the chef is inspired by her simple, ingredient-driven approach to food. However, it was when McCue began his culinary education at Barnsley Technical College in South Yorkshire that he truly fell in love with the kitchen. “The first day I went to college, I got my hands on a whole chicken and we had to [break it down],” he recounts. “As soon as I got my hands on that bird, it was one of those love affair moments.”

After finishing school, McCue worked at restaurants in England such as Chewton Glen in Hampshire and Auberge Du Lac in Hertfordshire, before coming to Canada at the age of 27 to become the sous chef at Cambridge, Ont.’s Langdon Hall. He spent six years in Canada, where he helped open Catch in Calgary and Square in Toronto.

Ultimately, a desire to attain Michelin star-ranking led the chef back home to England. It was while working at Curlew Restaurant in East Sussex that McCue achieved his goal, retaining a Michelin star for three years. His next goal was to open his own restaurant, so after talking to former colleagues from Calgary, McCue returned to Canada where he opened Whitehall in the Bridgeland neighbourhood of Calgary in late 2015. Named in part for the Palace of Whitehall in London, England, the restaurant features white tin ceilings and a pipework bar designed by McCue to reflect the style of an “old-school British bar” with a modern twist. The 82-seat restaurant is comprised of two distinct spaces, the lower dining room and bar — which offers both lunch and dinner — and the private dining room, dubbed “The Other Room.”

McCue says his pursuit of a Michelin star has shaped his culinary style. “If you put three perfect things on a plate, they can only judge you on those three perfect things,” he explains. “It really teaches you to strip back.” His style is reflected in Whitehall’s simple, British-inspired fare. “It’s about the flavour and the technique,” he says. “It’s recognizable food and it’s always approachable.”

The menu includes double-baked cheese soufflé ($16); bison rib tartar with charcoal, kohlrabi, truffle and rye bread ($21); Berkshire pork belly served with turnips, smoked apple, goat’s cheese and black pudding ($28); chestnut honey-glazed duck breast with endive, orange, marmalade and potatoes ($30); and rice pudding with cinnamon milk mousse, crunchy flakes of dehydrated fried rice and vanilla ice cream
for dessert ($12).

As the chef works to establish Whitehall as a leading restaurant on the Canadian dining scene, he is already planning future concepts. “I’d like to do a proper pub — English done really well,” says McCue, adding that after opening in Calgary he plans to take this concept to other Canadian cities including Vancouver and Toronto.

Volume 48, Number 2

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