Nice to Meat...Chris Finnigan (Head Chef, Lane7)
By Sam Wass, Medium Well
Lane7 is an unconventional bowling and experiential venue in Newcastle upon Tyne. Chris has brought his own unique skill and flair to Lane7’s American fayre and BBQ food. Using fine-dining knowledge gained during an apprenticeship at Le Manoir under Raymond Blanc and honed to perfection at a host of other Michelin-starred kitchens.
At just 30, Chris is one of the country's most exciting young chefs, and we're delighted he took time out of his schedule to speak to us.
How did you get started?
I've been cooking as long as I can remember, but my big break so to speak came while I was a student at Newcastle Catering College. I was fortunate enough to meet Raymond Blanc at an event in Newcastle which led to an apprenticeship under him at Le Manoir.
Where do you get your inspiration and ideas from?
I apply the skills and techniques I learnt in fine-dining to the kitchen here at Lane7. At face value our menu might seem pretty conventional, (with burgers, hotdogs and pulled pork all featuring) but every component of every dish has been deconstructed and re-built it our own way. For example, our chilli-dog (The famous Lane7 “Pimp-Dog”) is nothing like the plastic hotdog in a plain white bun you'd be served at nine places out of ten. Our ethos is to make it the best chilli-dog you've ever tasted, and although it's not cheap (at £11), I don't want the customer to even think of the price, I just want them to think “wow, that was an amazing chilli-dog”. To achieve that impact takes hours and hours of experimentation and refining. We didn’t want to use cheese, but we needed something to balance the heat, so we use crème fraiche instead. The pork in the sausage didn’t really go well with the beef in the chilli, so I got rid of it and basically we turned it into a beef hot dog. It needed some sweetness to finish off the flavour, and although a brioche bun was okay, we developed a custard bun, which works perfectly.
What is the best advice you could give to home cooks?
Every Michelin starred kitchen has one thing in common – they seek out and use the best ingredients they can get hold of. If that is local and supports the local economy, then that's even better. If that's not possible, you go wherever you need to go to get the best. We get our crème fraiche imported from France because, quite simply, I've yet to find anything better in the UK. The same ethos can be applied in your home kitchen, and although it's a cliché good food really does start with good ingredients.
What is your signature dish?
I don't really have one. I put my heart and soul into everything I cook. At Lane7, there are things that will never come off our menu because they’re so popular. Our Pulled Pork Sandwich is amazing…I don’t think it can be bettered, and it's the same with the Pimp Dog. There is genuine innovation, expertise and creativity in our menu – try it, you’ll quickly get it.
Is it right that you trained as a butcher?
Yes and no. Training at Le Manoir was all about understanding food, what it can do and where it comes from. Raymond Blanc believes that when you understand food, you can start to create great food, so you learn all about meat and how to butcher, you learn about fish and how to fillet, you learn about seasonal vegetables and what climate works best. It is a complete food education, and I feel blessed to have been schooled there. It is no coincidence that so many Michelin starred chefs trained there, because the foundation it provides for your food appreciation creativity and attention to detail can't be understated.
Finally, what do you see in the future for food and menu development?
People are becoming much more health conscious when they're dining out. Sugar in particular will (and is) become food enemy number one. Fortunately, we've been banging that drum for quite some time, and where sweetness in a dish is required I tend to use honey as a natural sugar replacement and we make our own syrups…we anticipate food trends and tastes and react to it quickly. We are always looking to get better.