Chef Jonny creates a totally different cafe

Jonny Stevenson, a runner-up in the final of BBC’s MasterChef show in 2008, has realised a dream of running his own eatery in Belfast.

Saturday, 3rd October 2020, 6:00 am
Urban Scullery cafe in east Belfast - a dream come true for chef Jonny Stevenson

Jonny (44) recently opened the quirky Urban Scullery cafe in east Belfast on the back of experience gained in kitchens here and in France.

“Owning my own café has been at the back of my mind since I began cooking as a hobby while working in financial management here,” Jonny says.

He set up Urban Scullery in August determined to offer tasty menu options different from those currently available elsewhere in the city.

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Jonny Stevenson’s burger in a brioche donut

“Don’t expect to find a traditional Ulster Fry or chips on my menus,” he continues. “While I enjoy a good fry, there are many other cafes in the city offering it for breakfast. We’ve set out to provide very different and tastier breakfast and lunch options.

“Anyone asking for a fry is offered an alternative to experience. And if a customer doesn’t enjoy our recommendation we’ll not charge them. Our Load of Waffle, for instance, which is popular at breakfast, features sourdough waffles with bacon jam, caramelised bananas, sweetened yoghurt, walnuts and maple syrup.”

The eclectic menu includes Mexican and Asian options. There’s also a beefy burger in a brioche donut. Conventional scones are also plentiful and delicious for morning or afternoon coffee.

As well as the café, which is located at the City East building, part of East Belfast Enterprise, on the Newtownards Road, Jonny has launched a gourmet supper club on the premises. The fact that the first two clubs were quickly sold out is an indication of the Urban Scullery’s growing reputation for creative and delicious dishes. The club, furthermore, enables Jonny to showcase his passion for French cuisine.

What really stimulated Jonny’s interest in becoming a chef was “a stunning meal at the famed L’Escargot French restaurant in London’s Soho during a business trip in 2006”. “This memorable experience nurtured my interest in cooking especially classic French dishes,” he adds.

This fascination led amateur cook Jonny, from Lisburn, to put his name into the hat for BBC’s popular MasterChef show. “I had been watching it for a while and decided to enter. However, I didn’t seriously expect to reach the final stages,” he continues. “I entered to test my culinary skills and to gain experience and feedback from presenters Gregg Wallace and John Torode. I was keen to know if I could cut it as a chef.”

The competition meant he had to fly 12,000 miles to Belize in Central America, to conjure up delicious meals for the soldiers in the oppressive heat and humidity of the dense jungle. The final, which attracted more than eight million viewers, required the finalists to cater for a spectacular wedding at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Jonny also had to prove his culinary skills by cooking for an exacting panel of seven Michelin chefs.

While he loved MasterChef and learned “a huge amount from taking part”, Jonny had then to find a job to feed his growing family. Today, Jonny and wife Joanne have five children.

Jonny explains: “MasterChef was absolutely brilliant and it totally reinforced my dream of my own eatery. But I quickly realised that I had a lot to do to ensure success. I appreciated running a restaurant wouldn’t be a walk in the park just because I had done well on MasterChef,” he says.

He needed greater experience of running a kitchen, in menu creation and the provision of a wide range of meals that diners enjoyed.

“The first step was to gain hands-on experience working in a busy kitchen. He enhanced his knowledge of French cuisine at the Michelin star Troisgros in Roanne, near Lyon. He subsequently cooked in cafes in Newtownards before joining Stephen Jeffers at his restaurant in Bangor before venturing out on his own to cater at Scrabo Golf Club and then the prestigious Royal Belfast, near Holywood.

“While I learned a huge amount from my time with Stephen and then at the golf clubs I realised that I needed to take control of my destiny by going it alone,” he continues.

His search for premises in Belfast led to an invitation from City East Enterprise to take over the café in the City East office block. He runs the kitchen himself and has two staff waiting tables. “We are now up and running and doing really well,” he adds.

“East Belfast Enterprise is hugely supportive. We are now looking at expanding the café and offering other services for customers.”

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