'We have a great team mentality. We work together, but it's more than that: we see everything together'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

It takes some people years to find their calling. But 23 year-old head chef of Mana Connor Slater, by the time he had started food tech at school, he was dead set on his career of choice.

Quick-fire Q&A

Which would you choose between 1) feeling no pain, but having haemophilia or 2) being able to read minds but not being allowed to tell anyone?

Read minds. I'd rather not run the risk. If you have a little cut then you just bleed out.

If you had to get a full body tattoo, what would you get?

The whole traditional Japanese style is always in fashion as such. 

Who was your favourite teacher at school and why? 

My biology teacher, he made everything fun. As a subject, some people love it and others don't necessarily like it but he made everything fun, you'd always want to go to his lessons. He used to play instruments in class and stuff. 

People learn in different ways, I always feel like you should have fun at the same time, if you enjoy it you're going to want to do it

If you could be a professional athlete, what sport would you do? 

Golf. Some people don't class it as a sport. When I tell people I play golf, they say, 'oh, it's like walking around a field isn't it' - you're walking a good 3-4 miles!

If your loved ones got a call saying you'd been arrested, what would they assume it was for? 

Maybe speeding. Or maybe something petty like arguing about a parking ticket. 

Namea book / film / documentary /  podcast that had a big impact on you

There's a film called Southpaw about boxing - it shows you that you've got it a lot better than some people. 

If you were a chocolate bar, what would you be? 

Maybe a Galaxy. It is what it is. No frills. 

Croissant or pain au chocolat?

Both, maybe a croissant, freshly baked. 

I go to France  every year and the pastries - some people might think it doesn't make a difference but their croissants are just next level from anything you would buy from any bakery here. I don't know what it is. 

Marmite - are you a lover or a hater? 

A hater. 

Coffee, tea or water? 


The Warrington-born chef grew up in Runcorn, and was interested in food from a young age - if not as a potential career, but eating has always been high up on his priority list. Some of his earliest membories involve baking rice crispy cakes with his nan and cooking with his auntie. 

In school, his food technology class captured his attention, "and it just grew from there," he said. 

"I set my sights quite high at the beginning, I was lucky enough to work in a really good restaurant in Warrington" -  Spirit Restaurant, overseen by chef Richard Barlow -  "where I got all of my foundations from." 

"They taught me a lot," he said, feeling lucky to have landed a first job in such a high-level kitchen, where everything was cooked fresh and the ethos was to always strive to be better.

Connor left Spirit to go and work at at Simon Rogan's Rogan and Co in Cartmel as the group's farm was still in its inception, further strengthening his understanding of how important the quality and freshness of produce is to create great food.

He then moved to Manchester House with chef Aiden Byrne, before joining the founding team at Mana in 2018. 

Starting as a commis chef and promoted to a chef de partie role within months, then, he stepped up as sous-chef and finally took on the role of head chef earlier this year. 

Not one to vocalise his aspirations, the young chef just got on with work, kept himself to himself and let chef owner Simon Martin be the judge. 

"It's always my ambition to keep pushing every day, to progress and get better everyday. That's the whole thing that we're about here  - everyday just be better than the previous day," he said. 

The transition meant that he not only needed to continue sharpening his cooking skills, but that he would have to grasp the ins and outs of running the business and managing the team. 

"It's quite a step - I was already running sections and doing orders, but from doing that I had to learn how to run a full restaurant, everything that's behind the scenes that no-one else sees," he said. 

"I've really enjoyed it."

Connor knows that had he worked in a more traditionally hierarchical kitchen, he may not be where he is today - and thus is grateful that Simon is willing to break the mould.

He explained: "The way that we work and what we do here is different - we all come in at the same time, we all go home at the same time, we all work to schedules, everyone cleans the kitchen together, everyone sets up for service together.

"We have a great team mentality, we obviously work together but it's more than that. We see everything together." 

"All the chefs serve and explain all the dishes alongside the front of house, we all clear dishes from tables and put cutlery down for the next course, we help them if they need it and vice versa - everyone needs to know everything.

"We'll go to a table and guests will ask us about the wine, or they might ask the front of house about the kitchen, so we just have to intertwine."

The rise of the North

Connor is a rising star in a city of which the same could be said - with an increasingly rich food scene and more ambitious restaurant projects than ever.

"I've lived here for four years," he explained, and even in that time, he has witnessed as the city's culinary scene has gone from strength to strength.

"The restaurants are getting better and better, more restaurants are opening, more people are wanting to come to Manchester, which is great,"  an indication of the transformation of the whole region's culinary landscape. 

"A lot more people are opening in the North."  

Connor's food and influences

The advantage of having started cooking so young is that Connor has not only had time to build experience, but to develop his own creative flair too. 

"I like things that are simple but packed full of flavour," he said. "Not a load of things on a plate, four or five things and the best that it can be, making sure it's seasoned well, the best produce, the best looking it can be." 

The food at Mana is inspired by many cultures and nationalities, namely Japanese and Nordic flavours and techniques, which Connor is glad to have learned as it has broadened his repertoire and allowed him to explore them with British ingredients. 

At Mana, the menu is currently 13-courses, but spans anywhere from that to 17 depending on the season and available produce.

"We work with the seasons, with what we can and can't get, we'll only ever work with something in prime season," though ferments and preserves feature heavily on the menu as well. 

"I love making misos, fermentations, a multitude of things from different cultures and countries at the same time." 

"It's a great thing to be able to take from other cuisines and bring it to the UK." 

And he's learning more every day: if not at work then pouring himself over cookbooks, YouTube videos, Instagram and Twitter, or from the talented team at Mana, "anywhere that has the source."

Drawing as much inspiration and knowledge from his team as well, he said, "these guys have worked in other very good places, so there's things that they've done in the past that we can all learn from." 

Four day weeks

When he's not playing golf, Connor likes spending time with his family and the other members of the team. 

"Even though we're here four days a week, we always hang out together - some people have moved from other places to be here, so we always make sure everyone's together." 

When he eats out to eat in Manchester, Connor goes to Hawksmoor, because "you know what you're going to get - I've never been disappointed," he said, or Nando's - "it's dead easy, if you're in one of those moods where you don't know where to eat," but he recommends that visitors try out local wine bar, ranked 47th on this year's National Restaurant Awards list, Erst, or Paco Perez' award-winning Catalan restaurant, Tast, where head chef Julià Castello runs the show.

His wishlist of places to visit is long, though he has had the chance to go to Mark Birchall at Moor Hall, and he's looking forward to going down to London to go to Da Terra and Mãos, to name a few.  

Plans for the future

Professionally, Connor is eager to keep progressing and learning as much as he can - and doubtless he will.

"I feel very privileged to be in the position I am at such a young age, there's so much out there to learn," he said. 

"Even after 15-20 years in the industry, there's always so much that you can learn, just to keep progressing and learning." 

One day in the future he'd like to have his own place - though, he hastened to add, "no time soon."

"There's still so much that I can learn and I love that fact, every day is a new day." 

Whether at work or in his personal life, the most important thing for him, now and in the future, he said,  "is to be happy and to be able to get the best out of everything." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 14th October 2021

'We have a great team mentality. We work together, but it's more than that: we see everything together'