Donal Hughes, Lead Chef at Cin Cin, On The Secrets Of A Perfect Dinner Party

Donal Hughes is one of Brighton’s leading chefs, having worked at the likes of local faves Pike & Pine, 64 Degrees and Cin Cin. He was made Lead Chef of the latter’s Vine Street branch in March and has been maintaining its position as, arguably, the best place in town for unfussy Italian food delivered with the panache of a native.

We caught up with Donal to discuss his history with food, and how to keep a group of strangers fed and happy at a dinner party.

 

What first inspired you to cook?

Growing up I was a very picky eater yet loved watching cooking shows on TV. Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein and Gary Rhodes permanently featured in the living room after the evening news. I didn't come from a family where the ritual of gathering round the table was a regular occurrence, so it was probably the later discovery of these joys that drew me to cook professionally for others. I also want to start a new legacy in our family as there has never been a professional cook in our history.

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What would be your death row meal?

Honestly, it would probably be something really humble and comforting. A really good bacon sandwich. Thick cut, smoked back bacon. Grilled on one side only so the fat goes crispy and it gathers that little pool of salty brine in the cavity created from the bacon curling under the heat. Cheap white bread, lots of Dijon mustard, a leaf or two of iceberg lettuce and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Good way to go.


What would you say is your style of cooking?

I think I'm still a long way from describing my style of cooking. It's a transient thing which grows and changes as I do. I love vegetables; they are far more exciting that meat. Dad has always been a keen gardener so I know the difference eating organic veg straight out of the ground makes to its flavour. It's incomparable to what you get in even high end shops and greengrocers. I would say 80% of my diet is plant-based. Fish to me is the biggest luxury in the planet, and not just the turbot or the scallops. Mackerel eaten on the day of its capture is the most delicious thing to me, and plaice that's eaten a day after its landing can rival any of its far more pricey flat fish relatives.


What’s your worst cheffing memory, where it’s all gone wrong?

There was one time I gave a sauce containing nuts to someone with a nut allergy. Thankfully the person did not have a severe allergy but I still cried in disappointment with myself. I hate making mistakes but in the end it was nobody’s mistake really. It was all due to a miscommunication between me and the person whose section I was taking over.

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Do you have any stand-out memories in the kitchen?

There's a couple. Most recently, a Michelin inspector came into CIN CIN in my second month there. It was my second menu that I had put on. There were some dishes that were really personal to me and completely my own recipes. He had three of those exact dishes, and at the end of the meal he pulled me aside and made me aware of his presence. He was incredibly happy and loved his meal. To know that that was my food, cooked with my hands was so humbling and encouraging. You need those little boosts in this industry.

Also my first pop-up in Polygon over a year ago. The support and help I got from so many industry leaders in Brighton was amazing. The proudest moment was when I was walking past the venue two weeks before the event and saw the running order of events for the summer. There was my little name scratched up beside some of my Brighton chef heroes like Michael Bremner and Duncan Ray. That was cool.


If you were to host a dinner party, what would be on the menu?

Dinner parties are all about fun and making sure you have enough time to enjoy your friends company. Firstly: have lots of salty snacks out to get people drinking. Very important.

To start I would do something big flavoured and a little bit challenging. Something slightly messy you need to eat with your hands, or something raw and spicy. This breaks down barriers straight off the bat and wakes people up, while also engaging the pallet. What better way to break the ice than with burning lips and sauce to be licked off your fingers.

Main course has to have a bit more spectacle and be a sharing dish, while also requiring little to no attention. Think a braise with a couple sides, or a whole roasted fish or a curry. Something that makes you say “wow” when it goes down on the table but also requires your guests to serve each other. Dessert has to be light: something lemony or boozy, and pre-made.

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Where are your top spots to eat and drink out in Brighton?

Special occasion: 64° and The Little Fish Market

Lazy Sunday: The Urchin or The Connaught pubs

Midweek: Chilli Pickle,Bincho Yakitori, iThai, the new Bison bar.


You’ve been based at 64 Degrees, Pike & Pine and Cin Cin since you’ve been in Brighton, what would you say you learnt from your time there?

I think the most valuable lessons I've learned from others are the "mistakes" which I will get to avoid and the things I DON'T want to do. Nobody is going to remember my food or my restaurants after I'm gone. They will only remember me as a person, so my sole aim is to bring joy to the lives of others in whatever way I can and leave the best legacy I can for my kids. Everything after that is superfluous.

INF9RMER #7

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The INF9RMER Newsletter is matt-iculously crafted, lovingly nurtured, marinated in enthusiasm and cooked at 200℃ for 15 minutes, by PLATF9RM's Membership Assistant Matt. If you have any exciting upcoming projects within your company, would like to let everyone know how your business is progressing in some way, or have a future event coming up - then feel free to email Matt, drop him a message on Slack or come find him in person for a quick chat.


Cocoa Loco, The Silent Disco and a Brighton PR Pro


With Halloween around the corner, we this month welcome Amy Gibson to the INF9RMER as she promotes Pier 2 Pier's Beach Hallow-clean. With chocolate surprises and PR wins, PLATF9RM are once again showing their strengths.


Brighton's been finding it's feet as local designers prepare to take to the street as part of Design Brighton's 2019 October festival, brought to us by Frazer Stokes. Sophie Wilson of Tuesday Media shouted from the rooftops about their phenomenal achievement, a great win for a startup PR agency only 9 months old.

Our Social Media prayers were answered with the introduction of ContentCal into this month's edition, with Noel Agyei letting everyone know about their exciting Partnership Program. Ghouls and gals at the ready, Amy Gibson is offering out the Silent Disco headphones once again for October's Halloween Beach Clean!

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With Cocoa tasty enough to send anyone Loco, Nigel Lambe treated us all to the knowledge that not only are his decadent treats available online, but can also be found down at Infinity Foods! The gang over at Escape The City have been reassuring people that it may not ever be the perfect time for a change of career; but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the wrong move - and they are here to help.

Reaching all Nine of your Lives, Cat Duval of Nine Lives Yoga has downward doggy dipped some information about her unique yoga experiences into this month's INF9RMER - so get twisting those hips! PALA Eyewear have released their first recycled acetate frame, and you all know how stunning John Pritchard's glasses can be. Finally we finished off with a new recruit to Hove's office inhabitants, Redtangle - welcome Wesley to the PLATF9RM Community!


Thank you to everyone who put in the time to offer news for this month's INF9RMER, if you have something you would like to include for September then contact Membership Assistant Matt.

Member of the Week - Gemma Beugg

Meet Gemma - Owner of Pavillion Property Searches and new PLATF9RMer.

Hey Gemma, being an independent property search agent you work alongside solicitors and individuals, could you tell us a bit about how this works & your relationship with both?

The role I play is a bit complicated, a lot of my friends don’t really get it. I’m kind of like Chandler, in that way. But, essentially, I work for myself, being Pavilion Property Searches. I primarily carry out local authority searches, which is a general overview of the property that’s being bought or sold.

My client base are predominantly solicitors, they sub out work to me. So, I carry out the searches on behalf the solicitors who are acting on behalf of the purchaser. For every transaction they deal with, they instruct me to carry out searches for that property. I’ve been doing it for 10 years, so I’ve had the same clients for that amount of time, and they use me independently as their search provider.

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Have you always worked on your own?

Yes - my parents do the same thing, so I worked for them initially and learnt the trade. I did that for 6 months, then came back to Brighton to set up on my own. And I’m happy working on my own, so have never chosen to employ anyone.


Has there been a particular property that’s been really striking to you?

I don’t really get to see the properties that much, just read lots about them. And there are so many, so it’s hard to say. I’ve had properties on contaminated land, so they’re pretty shocking, though I’ve not got one particular example.


What was it that drew you to co-working at PLATF9RM ?

Having worked from home for ten years, I needed a change of scenery and to have that feeling of ‘going to work’ - to try and resync the work life balance, to increase productivity and use time more effectively. Plus, to actually have conversations with people during the day, I needed to experience the social side of work.


Have you got a favourite spot at Tower Point?

The main coworking table on Floor 5, it’s the hub. It’s the kitchen of a home, it’s the center, where everyone meets. It’s where I sat when I first came, and, being a creature of habit, this is now my favourite spot.


Are there any PLATF9RM pups that you’ve fallen in love with?

Rosie’s the main one I’ve bonded with really. I brought my dog, Peanut, in the other week, she really likes it here.


What’s been your most memorable trip to date?

Snowy New York, or christmas in Mexico; Santa arrived on the beach, it was spectacular.


If you were an animal, what would it be?

A dog, I’d be truly loving life if I could live a dog's life.


If you could only watch one film for the rest of your life, what film would you pick?

Notting Hill, it’s perfect, I mean, Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant…


Thank you Gemma!

If you want to be a member at our space, get in touch for a tour and trial.

Member of the Week - Natalie Rockall

Introducing Natalie Rockall, freelance email marketing specialist and cinephile, who's longing to travel.


Hi Natalie! Can you tell us a little about yourself and Eleven11 Digital?

I'm a freelance email marketing specialist. I've lived in Hove for 6 years and I've been a member of PLATF9RM Hove since it opened. Oh... and I'm also an email geek!


What does being an email marketing specialist involve?

I help blue chip companies and small independent business owners boost their results from their email marketing. I do a mixture of contract work and project work across the UK and have a couple of clients abroad. I love training people in email marketing and helping them reach their goal quicker, easier, and with less stress.


I'm going to ask a really obvious question... How did GDPR effect you?

There was a massive amount of interest and fear around GDPR. I did a talk at Tower point with some other members to a full room so it was obviously really important for the PLATF9RM community. I spent a couple of months working on a dedicated basis with one client to work through their GDPR preparations. That was a really in-depth project. It was such a busy time that post 25th May I booked in a much needed post GDPR holiday!

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So who are you away from work?

Sadly I do still live and breath emails. I am an email geek. Outside of email, I love the cinema, I have a Cineworld membership so I go all the time. I really enjoy travelling which I want to do more and more of that now that I'm freelance.

When setting up my business I knew I needed freedom, flexibility and variety so I knew the freelance way of working would suit me down to the ground. As long as I have my laptop and wifi I can work anywhere. I did a test run in my friend's Spanish villa in the mountains and it worked a treat!


So what's coming up next for you in the world of email marketing?

I'm delivering some training for Econsultancy, judging at the Dotmailer Dotties Email Marketing Awards in October and I'm working on creating an online course for email marketing so people can take the opportunity to learn the in's and out's of email in their own time. Watch this space! Email is always changing (the technology side particularly) so I'm always looking for new ways to help people.


Tell us more about your love of travelling - where's your favourite place?

My favourite place that I've been to so far has to be the Maldives - a friend worked in the travel industry and got me an amazing deal through work. We were very fortunate to stay in a water bungalow right over the sea. Next on the wish list is to go to Japan - I've been looking at tours which go around spring time so you can see the amazing cherry blossom. My go-to destination is Barcelona, I try to go there a couple of times per year because I feel it's my second home.


Where do you get inspiration from?

If i'm looking for inspiration and to get my creative juices going there is nothing worse than staring at a blank screen at the desk in my lounge so I get myself out of the house and to the beach in Hove, or a cafe to people watch or of course to PLATF9RM! I love to mix up my work with where I feel like being on that day - this freedom to change things up means things stay energised and fresh.


Do you have a special memory from childhood you'd like to share?

So my favourite thing for my friends and I to do was to set up shop outside my house. We'd sell our old toys, biscuits (that we'd nabbed from home) and 'perfume' which was really just water with flowers stuffed in it. It's probably the start of my entrepreneurial journey.


What drew you to PLATF9RM?

I thought I wanted to work from home, but when I started to do that I realised I miss being around people and that I actually get quite a lot of energy from being around like minded people. I knew PLATF9RM Hove was opening so I waited to come along for a trial and loved it from day one! There are dogs, lots of tea and lots of people I've meet who've become friends and who I've actually done work for. It's a great source of business for me and for inspiration and new ideas.

I'm also lucky to be part of the community and to work with PLATF9RM on their email marketing and business plans. It's such an interesting business to have a bit of sight behind the scenes!


Now for the serious question: who's your favourite dog?

KIPPER!! But they are all soooo cute. I do get withdrawal symptoms when I'm not in for a few days.


Thank you Natalie!

If you want to be a member at our space, get in touch for a tour and trial.