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Friday people: We catch up with chef Niall McKenna

We ask personalities about the special relationships in their lives

By Kerry McKittrick

The 44-year-old chef runs Hadski’s and the James Street South restaurants in Belfast with his wife Joanne. They have two children, Conrad (7) and Charlotte (4).

My wife, Joanne

Joanne and I met in Lavery’s when we were about 18 and we were just friends for ages. Joanne went to Queen’s University and made plans to go off to London to work.

We started going out three months before she moved and I followed her over there three months after she left.

We were both in London for 12 years and after I came back home, Joanne commuted between here and there for another three years before she started working for the restaurants full-time.

The restaurants are a joint venture.

Joanne isn’t from a restaurant background so she has a different side of looking at things. We’re a good team as we both have different skills.

My children

Best friends

Being a dad is brilliant and life is all about Conrad and Charlotte now. We both try and spend as much time with them as possible, working as a tag team.

Joanne goes in to work early in the mornings so she can be finished by 2pm to pick them up from school and do homeworks. I float in and out whenever I can, it’s all down to my rota.

We always make sure that one of us is on a school trip. Family is the key for us.

Best friends

Stephen McCorry was the best man at my wedding — I’ve known him my entire life as we were childhood friends.

He thinks he looks like Brad Pitt but the problem is he actually does look like Brad Pitt.

He lives in France now so I don’t see him nearly enough, which is a pity.

I’m also great friends with Mark Beirne who owns the Albany in Belfast. We manage to catch up around once a week.

My parents

My mum Margaret and dad Dermot ran their own haulage company for years.

Both my parents and Joanne’s parents have been so supportive over the years. They’ve done everything from picking the kids up from school, to being a sounding board for us with the finished by 2pm to pick them up from school and do homeworks. I float in and out whenever I can, it’s all down to my rota.

We always make sure that one of us is on a school trip. Family is the key for us. business. They’ve had their own business for years and have a different way of looking at things.

I have two sisters, Grainne and Eimear, and I’m in the middle.

Eimear moved to Dubai with her husband and Grainne is still living here. We’re still a close family though.

Person I go to for advice

Joanne is the one I go to for advice and her to me. She’s my sounding board and I can talk to her about anything.

My mentor, Chris

Chris Bogdor was a restaurateur I worked for in London.

He had worked in the city before opening his restaurants.

His ethos was that restaurants should be relaxing and comfortable places where you would do everything you could for the customer. I’ve tried to do that with all of our places.

My celebrity crush

I love anyone with red hair, so I’m going for Julianne Moore.

I also thought Maureen O’Hara was stunning. It helps that my wife used to have red hair when she was younger.

My celebrity dinner party

I love to laugh, so I would ask Billy Connolly and the late Gerry Anderson. I used to listen to Gerry when I lived in London and I absolutely loved the one-liners he would come out with.

I’d also invite Paul Weller. I’ve always loved his music. I’m actually a mod at heart.

And I would have to bring Noel Gallagher, too.

I’d also like Alastair Campbell. I’ve read his book and met him in the restaurant. He’s not afraid to stir things up so he would be great in the mix.

Finally, I’d ask Marco Pierre White because he’s so entertaining. He should have been an actor, not a chef.

James Street South was recently named Restaurant of the Year in the 2015

  • Waitrose Good Food Guide. Their new venture, Cast & Crew, will open in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter later this month

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