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Marcus McGuinness, Hibiscus, London

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Marcus McGuinness is head chef of Hibiscus, the two Michelin Star rated restaurant in London. Marcus has worked as a sous chef at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham and is in his fifth year of working with Claude Bosi at Hibiscus.

Marcus has a distinctively British cooking style, using seasonal produce and local ingredients wherever possible. He has spent his career working in Michelin rated restaurants and has extensive experience creating unique and sophisticated dishes. Today, The Staff Canteen talks to Marcus McGuinness as this month’s hero of the hotplate. 

Images with kind permission of Rob Whitrow

Marcus McGuiness thanks for inviting me in today at Hibiscus.

Pleasure.

Talk us through your day to day role here at Hibiscus restaurant.

My day to day role I guess is just being Claude’s (Bosi) right hand man, making sure the deliveries are fine everything has arrived on time and that they are standard that we expect here at the restaurant. I make sure the mise en place for the guys is fine and we have enough of everything for each service, and that we try to get the level of consistency that's required from Claude every day.

Marcus how long have you worked with Claude now?

It will be five and a half years now.

So you were with Claude at Hibiscus in Ludlow?

Yeah I did a year in Ludlow at the “old” Hibiscus, and then it’s just over four years in London here in Maddox Street.

Was it a big decision to come to London and make the move South?

Not really Claude’s one of the best chefs I've ever worked with in my career and I felt that I still had so much to learn from him so it was an easy choice to make really.

So in that five years Marcus, then how have you developed and improved as both a person and as a chef?

Claude has definitely helped with my food style, offering loads of ideas plus with my ideas we work together on dishes, and that there's a lot of refinement in the food that we are doing here and I really enjoy that. People management as well, I hope has improved, obviously because it’s part of my job having to manage people, we have a larger team now, do more covers so hopefully I have adapted, but you can always learn of course.

How many boys in the team here at Hibiscus?

12 or 13 including me.

So how have you improved your management style then Marcus?

Well I never had one to begin with so it was just getting one really, as I mentioned we have a much larger team in Ludlow we only had 3-4 in the kitchen, now we have three times that, so I have had to learn to deal and cope with that.

Are you a hands on chef Marcus?

Very much so. For me there's no other way to work, you know, I try and keep as much involved in the food as possible I really enjoying being hands on and working with the guys, that’s for me what being a chef is about..

And in terms of the menus how do they work? Is it a combination of you and Claude working together on them? Is it Claude does his thing, you do your thing, you work together on dishes?

Generally Claude gives me what he wants for a dish, perhaps this has come from an idea that he has had, and then me and the guys in the kitchen starting working from that idea, sourcing the products we’ll play with it, tweak it, work with the ingredients, to a point where it’s comfortable for us all, and if anyone in the team has got their own input, either me or one of the other guys then we’ll try that idea on the dish to see if it works, or adds anything to what we have, and then at that point we get our finished dish once we are all happy and we have agreed it, it can go on the menu.

What’s been your single biggest professional challenge while you've been at Hibiscus? I mean it’s a big responsibility isn’t it head chef, two Michelin star restaurant?

Of course it is, but I generally don’t try to think of it like that I just look at it as simply coming to work it’s my job…

It’s a job yeah?

Exactly, you know, the standings of the restaurant the guides and critics and all that stuff I don’t really concentrate on it, it doesn’t make a lot of bearing on what I do my role’s the same regardless of all that stuff, so I focus on that rather than worrying about other stuff I can’t control.

But does it add pressure to you then?

Not really the pressure just comes from me I guess, from just trying to do my job as best as I can, day in day out and trying to be better each time and keep moving forward, I think that is where the pressure is.

Okay. 12 people in the team you have to maintain a standard every day, you’re about exceeding customer expectations, how much importance do you guys place on training of yourself and your team?

Very important, yes very important because if the guys can't do their job properly then the food’s not going to be up to standard that we require here at Hibiscus, so we put a lot of emphasis on training we see it as a very important part of what we do here.

So what do you do to train? Is it on job training or do you have training modules…

Not really just mostly on the job training as we change things as new things come into season, just making sure that the guys know how to handle things.

So as and when required then?

Exactly.

Okay. And in terms of what would you say is the biggest advantage for working with Claude?

I get to cook some really, really good food, I mean that's what I got into cheffing for, was to cook really good food, use great produce and I'm able to do that here, so I guess that's the highlight really of working for Claude.

And before you were with Claude talk to us a little bit about your background.

Before Claude and Hibiscus I was spent two and a half years with David Everett Matthias at Le Champignon Sauvage and then before that I spent the best part of three years with Marcus Ashenford, Gus Ashenford, who’s at 5 North Street in Winchcombe. He's got a one star there.

So where are you from originally then Marcus?

Oxford. I’m an Oxford lad

What’s the difference in styles between someone like the David at Le Champignon and here at Hibiscus with Claude?

David’s a very gutsy cook, very big, strong flavours where Claude’s a little bit more about balance, everything, you know, you have to have a balance of flavour. It’s not quite as robust as David, still big flavours but it’s got more lightness to it, more freshness.

And what about your own food style Marcus are you starting to develop your own food style or do you have to follow Claude’s food style?

No I'd say I'm starting to develop my own definitely.

And if you had to pigeonhole it where would you put your food style?

Somewhere in between David’s and Claude’s really, quite gutsy but still with, hopefully, a lot of balance, a lot of freshness, but something quite robust the best of both worlds I guess.

Okay and great career, David, Claude, five years here or five years with Hibiscus where is this career journey taking you? Where is this going to take you in five years time? What’s that five year goal for you or ten year goal?

Hopefully within the next five years I'll have my own place.

And that's under your own name?

Hopefully, yeah hopefully we’ll be doing well, we’ll be doing good business and that's it really, that’s what I hope to achieve going forward .

So the goal is to have your own restaurant?

Absolutely.

Michelin starred?

((sighs))

Or making money?

Definitely making money if people want to give me accolades they’ll give me accolades and if they don’t they don’t because at the end of the day as long as I'm happy with the food, the customers are happy, we're busy, because there's no point in having a quiet restaurant I've worked in too many that have folded. It’s not worth it. Yeah that's the most important thing for me is the business not the accolades.

And in terms of who inspires you as a chef outside of the people you've worked for, who inspires you as a chef?

Who inspires me? I don’t really think anybody does. I've a lot of respect for people but in terms of inspiration I wouldn’t say that anyone one person specifically inspires me. I take much more inspiration from the produce or even going out walking, finding new ingredients or new suppliers, that's where the inspiration comes from not necessarily other people because I don’t want to look at other people and copy what they’re doing.

So you’d rather be original?

Yeah definitely I mean nothing’s ever truly original though is it but I don’t want to just copy…

Generally most things have been done before…

Exactly.

…it’s just got a different garnish on it.

Exactly, exactly but yeah I don’t want to get that label of looking at other people’s food and thinking, ‘Yeah that's a really good dish why don’t I do it?’ That's his dish not mine, I'll do my own thing thank you very much and been known for being orginal.

Marcus  if you could dine at any place in the world, money’s no object, travel’s no object where would it be?

I’ve absolutely no idea at the moment. Honestly I couldn’t say. I really couldn’t say.

Would it be in London? Noma? Tokyo?

Yeah Tokyo would be good.

32 three stars apparently isn’t there at the moment in Tokyo?

Something like that it’s a crazy amount I think it has more than any other country, so I guess Tokyo, would be a great place to go and experience.

Well look Marcus thank you for your time.

Pleasure.