Chris Stanley is the head chef of the three-AA-rosette Airds hotel and restaurant in Port Appin on the west coast of Scotland. He tells Katherine Price about coming late to hospitality and the hotel's new ‘Come Cook With Me' concept for guests.
Tell us about your background
I was a late starter as a chef. I studied economics and sociology at the University of Nottingham, but I wasn't particularly academic, so I went back to college as a mature student to study cookery at South Downs College.
Through that, I had lots of opportunities, including spending time in London at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. However, I didn't particularly like London.
Then an opportunity came up at One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow. I stayed there for nearly 10 years, working my way up from the bottom, and then the job at Airds came up two years ago and I stepped up to being a head chef.
What was it about Airds that attracted you?
I was looking at nice, small independent restaurants serving food at a high level. I wanted somewhere where I would be able to use what I had learned. I wanted to be out of the city, and I didn't want to be tied to a franchise.
Do you like to experiment and get creative in the kitchen?
Because of our location at Airds, overlooking Loch Linnhe and the Morvern mountains, I wanted to come up with a way of using the lobster from the loch, but I didn't want to just put a whole lobster in its shell on a plate. There's no fun in that for me, or for the guys.
I make a mini burger with the claw, knuckles and a salmon mousse, served in a mini brioche bun with buttered spinach and homemade ketchup. The tail is pan-fried, sliced and served with a cucumber and lemon dressing and sweet potato crisps.
What are your plans for 2017?
We've just come up with an idea called 'Come Cook With Me'. In the morning, I present guests with a basket of core ingredients, and I then sit down with them and we'll devise a menu together.
We get them into the kitchen to prepare the food themselves, under my guidance, and then after two hours or so they'll have a three-course meal, which they can taste and I can make suggestions for improvement. I will then cook the same meal, incorporating my suggestions, at a three-rosette level for them. It's about encouraging people to cook, showing them that it's not as difficult or time- consuming as it might seem. It's also about showing them the presentation side - there are certain ways to place things on the plate to make them look prettier.
What is the idea behind it?
If somebody wanted to learn how to cook fish, or if they wanted to do something with fresh pasta or something for vegetarians, that's fine. It's about developing them and showing them they're not a million miles away from great cooking, and that with a few helpful hints and a bit of confidence, they can do it again.