Chef Andrew Fairlie has revolutionised his menu at Gleneagles, embracing the unusual and intense flavours that can be found in his new kitchen garden. Janet Harmer meets the ‘chefs' chef' and Catey award winner
But not Fairlie. He says he has never had the ambition to open a second restaurant, even though his original contract for his eponymous restaurant at Gleneagles never restricted him from doing so, as long as it wasn't within a direct competitor, such as at Turnberry or the Old Course hotel in St Andrews.
And he has never been interested in developing a TV career or a major public profile, despite being given the opportunity. "I've done the odd cooking-based programme, but I'm not interested if it involves me playing a particular role and following a script," he explains.
"TV doesn't faze me, but I'm glad I didn't do Great British Menu - it wouldn't have suited my personality." Instead, he continues, as he has been since the launch of Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles in 2001, to ensure the business remains at the forefront of the finest service and cuisine, providing support to young chefs, and flying the
flag for the best Scottish ingredients.
His sustained, diligent work, which includes his annual judging duties at the Roux Scholarship and his £1,000 cash bursary and two-week work placement for the scholarship he launched six years ago for first-year students at Perth College, earned Fairlie the coveted Chef Award and a warm standing ovation at the 2014 Cateys.
Fairlie was heralded by the judges as a chefs' chef who has never been sidetracked by creating an ego for himself. They praised him for his dedication in creating a restaurant that is not only frequently rated as the best in Scotland, but also the best in the UK - 2012 saw Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles topping The Sunday Times Food List, based on customer feedback.
For Fairlie, receiving the Chef Award proved to be an overwhelming experience. "I was enormously humbled by people's reactions," he says. "To receive an industry award in front of 1,300 people is really quite special. And when I returned to the restaurant, all the staff were genuinely delighted."
Team effort The reaction of the staff to Fairlie's success is no real surprise, considering the inclusive way he runs the business. When talking to him, he frequently name-checks members of his 23-strong team, made up of 11 in the kitchen and 12 front of house, highlighting the contribution they have made to his success.
Many are loyal lieutenants who have supported Fairlie for a considerable amount of time. Head chef Stephen (Stevie) McLaughlin has been with him since 1995 when they worked together at One Devonshire Gardens, while Dale Dewsbury returned to the restaurant as front-of-house manager at the end of 2012 after a brief stint outside the industry.
Dewsbury left Gleneagles in January 2011 after working with Fairlie for 10 years. And then there is Gregor Mathieson, former general manager at One Devonshire Gardens and his partner at food and beverage consultancy Fairlie & Mathieson, which has worked with hotels such as Chewton Glen and Cliveden.
"Gregor is something of an unsung hero and genius," says Fairlie. "He held my hand throughout the opening of the restaurant and was responsible for all the minutiae. I am very fortunate to have his support."
The garden gang
One new member of the team whose impact has been considerable is head gardener Jo Campbell. Previously in the same role at Raymond's Blanc's renowned kitchen garden at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire, Campbell, with the help of her assistant Tina Barnes, has created a three-acre kitchen garden nine miles from Gleneagles. Known as the Secret Garden, it is proving to be something of a haven for Fairlie and is
the key reason why he is so passionate about the food leaving the kitchen. In fact, the recent focus on garden-grown produce has totally changed Fairlie's approach to cooking, giving it a new lease of life.
"The food has gone through different stages over the years," he says. "At one point it lost the plot when the younger chefs were given too much rope to cook dishes that were overly creative. They were influenced by what they were watching on YouTube, using smoke guns and the like, and that never worked for us. Guests said they didn't come to us for that style of cooking."
Working together and inspired by the produce grown in the garden, Fairlie and McLaughlin have totally changed their approach to the restaurant's three menus: an Á la carte and two tasting menus, incorporating an eight-course menu degustation at £125 and a six-course menu du marché at £95.
Previously, dishes would have been devised around the fish or meat, but now vegetables are increasingly taking centre stage.
"The quality of the food we are receiving from Jo is making a notable difference to our finished dishes," says Fairlie. "The vegetables are so fresh and full of flavour that our cookingis simpler than it has ever been."
Fairlie explains that the creation of the kitchen garden has put in place the last piece of the jigsaw in the supply chain. "We've always had a very close working relationship with our meat and fish suppliers, but we had to rely on our vegetable suppliers bringing us whatever they had. I wanted to create our own garden to give us more control and we were lucky to come into contact with a couple who were happy to rent out their walled Victorian garden."
Fairlie says that although it might be tempting to adopt the Simon Rogan or René Redzepi style of inventive cookery, he is happier taking a simpler approach. "What we are doing is probably closer to Bruno Loubet's menu, where he highlights the vegetables and might use some pigeon as a garnish," he adds.
For example, fennel, broad beans and garlic chives pack such a flavour punch that they get top billing over the accompanying stone bass. And where once Fairlie would have served a canapé of foie gras, he will now serve a mauve radish.
"It is the perfect radish, picked that morning and served simply with smoked salt and butter. It is something I would never have done just a couple of months ago," he says. "Our approach to cooking is now so different. When we ask Jo for broad beans, she says she can grow 70 varieties, so which one do we want? We're experimenting with lots of new flavours, such as Tokyo turnips, Stone Yellow carrot and candy radishes, and it is revelatory.
Flowers have been taken off the restaurant tables and replaced with edible cresses from the garden, and customers are encouraged to touch and taste them. It is a tangible insight into the increased emphasis now being put on the provenance of produce.
Fairlie's new enthusiasm for his culinary repertoire mirrors his return to full fitness following recent radiotherapy treatment to shrink a brain tumour that was originally diagnosed in 2005. Despite an operation at the time to partially remove the tumour, he has gone on to receive chemotherapy and radiotherapy to stop the frequent epileptic seizures he subsequently suffered.
Now, the immediate challenges that lay ahead include Fairlie's involvement as a passionate supporter in favour of the Scottish independence vote on 18 September - "I genuinely believe it will be a yes vote" - followed a few days later by the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, during which his restaurant will be booked out for the duration by an unnamed private individual.
On a more long-term basis and driven by the renewed vigour the garden has instilled in him, Fairlie is looking forward more than ever to the next six years of the 10-year contract he renewed in 2010 with Gleneagles. "I hope to be able to extend it again - it is something that works perfectly for me and the hotel," he concludes.
Menu du marché, £95
•Courgette and heritage tomatoes
•Grilled baby leek with wild mushrooms, lobster bisque and tarragon
•Potato and truffle gnocchi, slow-cooked lamb and rainbow chard
•Garden fennel with crushed broad beans, stone bass and garlic chives Wild Borders roe deer, tomato fondue and grilled Little Gem
•Rapeseed cake, summer fruits, cherry ice-cream
•Coffee and chocolate
Andrew Fairlie's achievements As the inaugural winner of the Roux Scholarship in 1984, 20-year-old Andrew Fairlie was given theopportunity to train with legendary French chef Michel Guerard at Les Pres d'Eugenie in Gascony.
He went on to work in Australia, Kenya, London and Ireland, as sous chef at Adare Manor, County Limerick, and in Paris at Hotel Disneyland, where
he set up the fine-dining restaurant.
In 1994, Fairlie was appointed to his first head chef position at Ken McCulloch's townhouse hotel in Glasgow, One Devonshire Gardens, where he was awarded his first Michelin star.
In 2001 he ploughed £115,000 of his own money into opening Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles in Auchterarder and, within a year he was rewarded with a Michelin star and the Newcomer of the Year Catey. Previously renowned for its impressive leisure facilities, the five-red- AA-star, 232-bedroom resort was now also a serious foodie destination.
A second Michelin star in 2006 heralded a rash of accolades for Fairlie including the HIT Scotland Industry Award, the Chefs' Chef of the Year at
the AA Awards and the Scottish Chef of the Year at the inaugural Scottish Restaurant Awards.
In 2011 he put his health issues to one side to climb Mount Kilimanjaro on behalf of HIT Scotland and was invited to join the select ranks of 160 Relais & Chateaux Grand Chefs worldwide.
The following year saw the restaurant named as one of the best in the UK by The Sunday Times.
Fairlie describes his latest success, winning the 2014 Chef Award Catey, as "very special", particularly because he was shortlisted alongside three chefs he highly respects: Sat Bains, Tom Kerridge and Nathan Outlaw. "It is an award I've coveted for a long time," he says.
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