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The master plan: an interview with MasterChef: The Professionals 2016 winner Gary Maclean

13 February 2017 by
The master plan: an interview with MasterChef: The Professionals 2016 winner Gary Maclean

MasterChef: The Professionals 2016 winner Gary Maclean tells Katie Pathiaki why he is proud to champion the career of a chef-lecturer and why competing is so important to a chef's development

Glaswegian chef Gary Maclean feels like he's been hit by a freight train. Since his magnificent MasterChef: the Professionals win in December 2016, his online profile has exploded. "The night I won, I got 8,000 followers on Twitter and about 1,000 requests on Facebook," he says. "My 14-year-old daughter had set me up a page on Facebook for anybody who was interested in following what I did after MasterChef. In the first hour it got 4,000 likes."

When I suggest it's a fan page, Maclean laughs. "No! Oh, god forbid, don't say that!"

But now the page is pushing 6,000 likes and Maclean regularly posts updates. It's hard to argue otherwise.

Maclean's experience provides some clues to how he won the title of MasterChef 2016. He lives by the motto ‘Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical and expecting more than others think is possible'. Alongside MasterChef, he is a national winner of the Nestlé Toque d'Or 2014, winner of the Craft Guild of Chefs Royal Canapé Competition, holder of six gold medals from the Nations Cup 2015 and four gold from the Nations Cup 2013, winner of gold and bronze medals at the World Skills Culinary Arts UK Finals and was named Springboard Future Chef in 2012.

"I love competing. I enter most of the competitions with students, as it's important for them to see and experience things outside the classroom," he says.

"You really see them develop from those opportunities. I entered MasterChef because the students would always watch it and say ‘Chef, I bet you could do that'.

"MasterChef was running for three weeks prior to anyone knowing I was on, so I would come into class every week and the students would ask, ‘Did you watch MasterChef last night?' And I would always reply nonchalantly ‘Yeah, yeah', and then all of a sudden I appeared on the show. A wave of shock went through the classrooms. It certainly gave me a lot more street cred with the students! The first thing they asked me was if I'd won, but I kept saying, ‘Don't be silly; I go out tonight'. They'd watch it regardless."

The show ran on BBC Two for six weeks and during this time, 48 chefs entered the kitchen.

Maclean's students were kept on tenterhooks as their mentor smashed the competition out of the park. In one of the episodes, judge Gregg Wallace said Maclean's lobster bisque was the "best he had ever tasted".

"I was dreading the skills test, but when I saw the bench, I thought, yee-haw!," says Maclean. "I got neck of lamb, which is one of my favourite cuts. I have obviously done a lot of boning out in my career and I got to do some proper cooking, which was amazing. I was lucky that I got ingredients I recognised.

"Throughout the show I think I showed a wide range of different skills and techniques; I don't think I was predictable. But I'm only saying that in hindsight. When you're there, whether you have a good or bad day, you go back to your hotel room and mull over the things you could have done better."

The competition was whittled down to four: Maclean; Elly Wentworth, junior sous chef at Lucknam Park; Matt Healy, regional development chef at Rational AG; and Arnaud Kaziewicz, head of food development at Donatantonio. For the Chef's Table challenge, Maclean was tasked with cooking a four-course meal for 28 chefs, including Michael Caines, Sat Bains and Simon Rogan, who had 30 Michelin stars between them.

Maclean won with a menu of razor clams in white wine with artichokes, lemons, asparagus, courgette and lemon gel; smoked roe deer with celeriac three ways, a mustard sauce and carrots cooked in whisky.

"During the competition, I kept putting food on half a plate, which Marcus Wareing hated, so I got a bit of stick for that. On the night of the final my wife threw a party and she cut all the paper plates in half as a joke. It's now my trademark, apparently."

Screen appeal
Maclean thinks that being a senior chef-lecturer played a big part in his success. It helped him appeal to the camera, as he was capable of talking and cooking at the same time, thanks to his job, which requires giving feedback and answering questions while cooking.

"I think being a teacher really helped me in the competition. You need to be really, really organised because you have 20 students in front of you and if one thing goes wrong, or your timing's out, it's a disaster. It's about being driven, organised and focused."

However, after winning the title, Maclean was still faced with criticism about his career.

"After I won I went on BBC Breakfast and one guy said to me, 'Well done, it's amazing that you've beaten all those professional chefs!' I thought, hold on a minute, I am a professional chef. It just so happens that I choose to teach other chefs. I'm proud to call it my profession.

"Being a chef is not just about being in a restaurant. I've got loads of students who will never work in restaurants - they're single parents, or they have elderly relatives or other commitments. We make sure the students know there's more than one route to being a chef.

"I think we don't hold culinary education in very high regard. It's a very hands-on, industrial kind of job. There's the old mentality that you learn your skills in the workplace, but abroad you can't do anything in cheffing without qualifications. Hopefully now, the head chefs will have a bit more push to send their young staff to college."

Maclean admits he almost wasn't on the show at all after being rejected twice.

"The first audition I had, I went dressed as a lecturer in a suit with polished shoes and didn't get through. The second time, I went the opposite way and dressed very casually but was still turned away. I wasn't going to bother a third time, but I stuck in the same application anyway. It was third time lucky! I was just so glad
I got through so that I could say I'd done something in the MasterChef kitchen. ever in a million years did I think that I'd win."

For some, stepping into a room where your every move is documented by a film crew would be daunting, but Maclean is used to the set-up as a regular guest chef on STV Glasgow's Riverside Show and Live at Five, where he demonstrates dishes. "The cameras never bother me," he says.

"There's obviously a lot more pressure in MasterChef. I was more amazed at the sheer size of it and the amount of work that went into making the show. It fascinated me and that distracted me from the fear of messing up. I found the whole process quite exciting."

From pies to Professionals Maclean's interest in food stemmed from his mother, who was a chef. At 12 years old, he put his talent to good use and started selling pies.

"I used to do a paper round and make about £2.50 from it. I got fed up, so I started making pies at home and selling them. I worked out that I could make more money from that than the paper round. You never know; if I'd stuck to that, I might have had a Bentley by now!"

From then, he was set on becoming a chef and went to City and Guilds college to study food technology. "The second I put on a pair of chef's whites, I felt like a superhero. I still remember the moment so clearly, at 15, knowing it was right," he says.

The college was also where he met his wife. "The one person who's been with me my whole career has been my wife," he says. "She's my driving force. As a chef, you can lose your pals, but she was always right there with me. It takes a special relationship to survive in a marriage with a chef. She is my rock. My family had their moment on the show and I was able to dedicate a dish to them. I think my teenagers were a bit shy, but they're really proud."

While at college, Maclean met Willie Pike, who became his mentor. "Willie used to be my lecturer and he has been with me every step of my career, at some point or other. We've had lots of great times together at the Nestlé Toque d'Or competition, Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace and so much more. We opened the new college together, too."

gary-maclean-student-team
gary-maclean-student-team
Maclean got his first head chef position aged 22 at a restaurant called 55 BC in Bearsden, Glasgow.

"I remember being a young head chef and being referred to as 'the angry man'," he says. "And looking back, I was angry because I didn't know what I was doing. When a problem came in, we had a customer complaint, no food or no staff, my only defence was to be angry and to try and blame someone else."

From there, he became executive chef of Glasgow Museums, and then moved into fine dining at a restaurant called Yes in Glasgow.

He then stepped out of the kitchen to open restaurants across Scotland, such as Art and he Social, with a company called G1. Almost six years later, Maclean became group executive chef at a family-run restaurant group on the west coast of Scotland called Buzzworks, before going it alone and setting up his own consultancy business, Maclean's Fresh Ideas, in 2009. In 2014, Maclean attended the University of Dundee and took a teaching qualification in further education and went full-time at Glasgow College.

Maclean teaches at every level, but his main focus is ensuring students are prepared for entering the workplace. "I love college and was drawn back to it," he says. "I was a part-time student there for eight years and almost every job I've ever had has come through the college, one way or another, be it through a lecturer who's helped me, or through connections. A couple of years after I graduated, I was asked to cover a class and I stayed for 13 years, helping out part-time every Wednesday."

Would Maclean ever leave teaching?
"The only job title that would ever tempt me is lottery millionaire. Being a lecturer is a long-term job offering long-term opportunities. The college is an exciting and happening place, and I really enjoy working here."

I think it's safe to say I already knew the answer to that one.

Marcus Wareing on Gary Maclean

Gary Maclean with Marcus Wareing, Gregg Wallace, and Monica Galletti
Gary Maclean with Marcus Wareing, Gregg Wallace, and Monica Galletti
"From my point of view, whatever the chefs did in the competition, when it came to the final, I only judged them on those three dishes. "We had three very different chefs in the final, but I felt we had three plates of food from Gary which had pushed his cookery to a new level. He had clearly been inspired by Esben Holmboe Bang at Maaemo in Oslo, and that three-star experience was key to his success. "Maybe, through his experience and his age, he had managed to go off on a particular track, take a punt, take a risk with his cooking. Gary had the edge for me because he was completely inspired by that experience and he had the ability to add a bit of it into the final. I think it's interesting that he wrote the menu while at Maaemo. He taught himself along the way. "His starter was stunning, as I said on the show. I loved the presentation - it was very cool - and the main course was very strong, had good flavours and a great combination of ingredients. The dessert was safe but very well executed. Gary showed courage. "Gary's an unbelievable lecturer and if I lived in Scotland and my son or daughter wanted to go to catering college, I would want them to be taught by him. He's not someone who has gone onto MasterChef and wants to open their own restaurant; he wants to carry on teaching. As we know, the teaching profession has had a lot of flak from our industry, but he's a teacher who can go the extra mile. "My brother was a teacher for 14 years and it was all about red tape - that's what held him back. If we get teachers like Gary in our colleges, we should let them flourish, let them inspire the young kids. He's an inspiration and a credit to his profession." CV 1999-present Chef-lecturer, City of Glasgow College 2009-2010 Owner, Maclean's Fresh Ideas 2007-2008 Group executive chef, Buzzworks, Ayrshire 2001-2007 Group executive chef, G1 Group, Glasgow 1998-2001 Executive chef, Yes Glasgow 1996-1998 Executive chef, Glasgow Museums 1993-1996 Head chef, 55 BC, Glasgow 1990-1993 Chef de partie and sous chef, October, Glasgow 1988-1990 Commis, Holiday Inn, Glasgow Pan-seared loin of roe deer, raw spiced and caramelised cauliflower, oats and nuts, salsify, brambles, game chips and roe deer sauce
Pan-seared loin of roe deer, raw spiced and caramelised cauliflower, oats and nuts, salsify, brambles, game chips and roe deer sauce
s cooked on *MasterChef: The Professionals* Serves 4For the roe deer 1 saddle roe deer (on the bone) 2 sprigs rosemary 2 sprigs thyme 1 bulb garlic 20g oil (rape or vegetable) 100g butter (unsalted) Bone and trim the saddle of deer. Cut each of the two the loins into six equal pieces (12 pieces in total). Marinade in a little of the oil and half the herbs for at least four hours Pan-sear three pieces of loin in a hot nonstick pan. Add the other half of the herbs and two slightly crushed garlic cloves. Once the pieces have coloured, add the butter and baste. Remove from the pan and finish in the oven at 180°C for 4 to 6 minutes, depending on size. Once cooked, put on a plate and smoke with a smoke gun, using a cloche or bowl to cover the meat. Rest before cutting. For the roe deer sauce 1 carrot, roughly chopped 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped 20g oil (rape or vegetable) Bones and trimmings from the roe deer ½ bulb garlic 2 sprigs rosemary 2 sprigs thyme 2.5 litres brown chicken stock ½ leek 1 white onion 100g butter Place the carrot, celery, leek and onion in a pressure cooker with a little oil and caramelise without fitting the lid. Place the roe deer bones into the oven and brown for 10 minutes at 180°C. Once you have achieved a good colour on the vegetables, add the garlic, the herbs, the browned bones and the stock. Place the lid on the pressure cooker and, once up to pressure, cook for 15 minutes. Once cooked, pass the liquor into a wide-bottomed sauté pan and reduce. Once you have reduced by two-thirds, incorporate the butter and pass into sauce jugs. For the raw spiced cauliflower 20g coriander seeds ½ cauliflower, broken into florets 20g chives, chopped Dry-roast the coriander seeds. Blend in a Thermomix, add the cauliflower florets and continue to blitz until it looks crumbly. Remove, season and mix in the chives. Put to one side until needed. Caramelised cauliflower ½ cauliflower, broken into florets 2 sprigs rosemary 2 sprigs thyme ½ bulb garlic 100g butter (unsalted) Cut each cauliflower floret in half and place flat side down in a non-stick pan. Add the herbs, garlic and half the butter. Cover with a cartouche made from silicon paper and carefully cook the cauliflower until the flat face has coloured. Add the rest of the butter if needed. For the oats and nuts 50g hazelnuts 1 banana shallot, diced 25g honey 25g butter 2 sprigs rosemary 2 sprigs thyme 100g porridge oats Roast the hazelnuts in the oven at 160°C for 5 minutes. Once roasted, remove the skins in a dry cloth and blitz the nuts in a Thermomix. Place on a tray with the shallot, oats, honey, butter and herbs. Bake in the oven at 160°C for 10-12 minutes. For the salsify 300g salsify 200ml red wine 100ml port 50g butter 2 sprigs rosemary 2 sprigs thyme 2 cloves garlic Wash, peel and cut the salsify into eight pieces and place it into a small pot with all the other ingredients. Cover with a cartouche and cook until tender. Once almost cooked, reduce the cooking liquor to a glaze. Game chips 2 good frying potatoes Wash the potatoes. Cut into thin slices with the gaufrette section on the mandolin. Using a 35mm cutter, cut little disks from the slices. Deep-fry in oil at 180°C until golden brown and crisp. To garnish 1 punnet brambles ½ tub seasonal leaves Save Save
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