It's been a year of highs and lows for Stevie McLaughlin at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, starting with the loss of friend and founder and ending with the restaurant retaining their two star Michelin star status
estaurant Andrew Fairlie opened in 2001 and is based at Gleneagles in Perthshire, Scotland. The restaurant experience is one of “let the cooking do the talking” in intimate and comfortable surroundings. Andrew sadly died at the beginning of the year and the team is now headed by Stevie McLaughlin. “It has undoubtedly been a sad year for us, but our enthusiasm, determination and standards remain higher than ever, and we’re thrilled – as Andrew would be – that this is being celebrated as we retain our two Michelin stars.”
What inspired you to become a chef?
To be honest, I fell into being a chef by accident. I took a skill seeker survey at school and the result said I should be either a welder or a chef. When I went to a college taster day, the first demonstration by a welder convinced me that I was going to be a welder; but the afternoon session was with a chef who made a delicious buttery pastry. I immediately wanted to know how she did it – it was the flavour of that buttery pastry that took me to college.
Each day as I travelled to college in Glasgow, my bus passed One Devonshire Gardens. It was the best and I wanted to work there, so I asked and secured a placement. I loved the hard work, and good humour that came with working in a kitchen, and that’s when I knew I wanted to be part of that world. I learnt something new every day, and even the most mundane tasks inspired me.
Taking over the helm at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie must be exciting, and at the same time very sad. Tell us how Andrew’s legacy influences your cooking?
Andrew was a brilliant, inspirational chef, who really understood food. He was a great collaborator, and generous with his trust, who drew good people around him.
Many people don’t know just how strong a core of people there are at the restaurant, and that we’ve worked together for a very long time. Dale Dewsbury (General Manager) and I have worked together for 18 years and were on the pre-opening team, who set the restaurant up with Andrew back in 2001. Between Russell Plowman (Senior Sous Chef), Lorna McNee (Sous Chef), Gerard Chouet (Pastry Chef) and myself, we have a combined service of 40 years; and Dale has the same long service on his team Front of House. We all have such a deep history with Andrew, and have collectively moved the restaurant forward with him, that there is a real sense of continuity.
Our motto is the same as it always has been: ‘simple things, brilliantly done’. The food here is simple, produce led, with a real focus on how it tastes. Our kitchen is influenced by the seasons, with 95% of our vegetables and herbs coming from our Secret Garden. We grow heritage vegetables and there are also varieties that you simply can’t buy in the shops, so the flavour is individual and unique to us.
In a generation when gimmicks and tricks seem to be increasingly important to catch a diner’s attention, we stay faithful to classic dishes, ensuring that every flavour shines. A continued commitment to excellence in everything that we do is the only way forward.
What’s on your menu for Autumn?
Autumn is a fantastic time for our locally sourced produce. Real seasonal highlights are the Perthshire grouse, partridge from the Borders, and the main course on our dégustation menu currently features delicious Highland Roe Deer.
A really interesting addition this autumn is locally reared black pig. This is a brand new product for this year and we’re using it in a number of different ways: we have a Cote du porc, which is shared between two guests and carved table-side; an assiette du porc, which is a tasting plate using various cuts of the pig, highlighting the delicious flavour and texture of the animal, while also showcasing the Chef’s skills; and for the first time we’re dipping our toe in the water with charcuterie production – we’re excited to see how this is received.
In 2020 we’re considering introducing one animal every few months to see the seasons influence the diet as the year goes on. For example, from the winter when the pigs are eating fat acorns, to the spring when they are eating young, tender, herby shoots, there will be a change in the taste and flavour profile of the meat. This seasonal approach is something we take in the garden with our herbs and vegetables, so it will be incredibly interesting to look at it from a meat perspective.
In terms of fish, we’re using Scottish shellfish which have been caught when water is cold and the currents are strong: Orcadian scallops, brown crab from Mull and langoustines from Harris.
The menu also features wild mushrooms locally foraged from around the golf courses, including cep, girolle and trompette de la mort. And, of course, we’re using the seasonal garden produce from our Secret Garden: plump golden raspberries, true baby parsnips, and tender cavolo nero.
Who are your culinary idols?
As a young chef growing up and training in the era that I did, for me the only place to look for true gastronomic inspiration was Michel and Albert Roux. Their books are a huge source of energy and excitement, and I found their spirit and passion infectious. It was something I knew that I wanted to emulate. They inspired me then and they inspire me now – I still look up to the Roux family in so many ways.
Another chef I looked up to was Nico Ladenis. I just loved his confidence and the way he stood firm on his culinary beliefs – he famously threw someone out of his restaurant for ordering well done steak! He’s completely different from the Roux, but I respect what he stands for. His restaurant was also the first three Michelin starred dining experience I ever had. I can still remember vividly what I ate, how it tasted and how it made me feel.
Your favourite restaurants?
Epicure in Le Bristol, Paris: I’ve been fortunate enough to visit this restaurant three times over the years, and each experience has inspired me in a different way.
Kaia-Kaipe, San Sebastian: This is a classic basque restaurant in Getaria. The house speciality is whole turbot cooked outside over coals, which is incredible!
Ondine, Edinburgh: A simple but elegant seafood restaurant – the best of Scottish and British waters on a plate.
Favourite kitchen equipment?
A Thermomix is my kitchen essential. We’ve got two in the kitchen at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, and they’re worth their weight in gold. You can cut, chop, blend, cook, mix, weigh and steam with them – it’s such a versatile piece of equipment, the possibilities are endless!
You can’t beat good quality, flaky sea salt for both its flavour and texture. Salt is a very powerful ingredient, and it can completely elevate or ruin a dish in just two or three flakes. Because of this, we put a lot of time and effort into teaching our chefs how to use salt properly and how to understand it. If used correctly, it will genuinely change your life.
What would you be doing if not a chef?
I would have explored the option of being a navigator on an aircraft carrier. I’m proud to have naval blood in my veins, with family on both sides having served and still serving in the Royal Navy and merchant navy. I used to visit my uncle and aunt in Portsmouth and we were able to get up close to warships and submarines, which I found really inspiring.
In another life I would have been an international goalkeeper. I played football to a good amateur level until aged 16 when I had to stop because of injury. I still love football and the technique is still there!
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