Craig Millar, 16 West End, Fife

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th January 2012

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Craig Millar, is chef patron of Craig Millar at 16 West End, seafood restaurant in Fife. He sources much of his fish on the West Coast as he is always very keen to know how the fish was caught and by whom. He’s worked with his main fish supplier for the past 13 years. Craig utilises the best of produce from land and sea and offers flavour driven, clean and refined seasonal dishes. The food at Craig Millar reflects modern trends but at the same time retaining tradition. He uses Scottish produce with an Asian and European influence for his modern dishes. An example is hand-dived scallops with Jerusalem artichoke purée, smoked bacon, nuts and seeds that have a burst of intense flavour. Okay Craig first and foremost great to see you obviously a heavy night ((laughs)). Let’s start with a little bit of background on you what made you decide you wanted to be a chef? Well initially I wanted to join the army. I went along with my older brother, who joined the RAF and I went along with him to keep him company when he went to the careers office and I ended up signing up for the army and then before I knew it I thought, ‘Hang on a minute ((laughingly)) am I actually going to go and actually join the army?’ I play the bagpipes so I was going to go in as bandsman. Okay. And the guy said, “You should get trained up as a medic,” so I would come out with a trade and at the same time I'd kind of applied to go to college to do a catering course and I got accepted to go to catering. Which college? Dundee College. Okay and you’re from Dundee? So I went back to the Army careers office and the guy said, “Look if you go in, if you do your course or whatever, get qualified, then we can put you in the army catering corps,” they still had the catering corps at that time and you get fast tracked to promotion. So I did the catering course then didn’t bother going back to the army and so I ended up joining Crest Hotels. Okay if you were embarking on a career as a chef again would you choose to go to college or would you choose an apprenticeship? What would you do? It’s a tricky one actually because there's a lot…there is some good colleges out there but there's nothing beats hands on experience at work and in industry. I think a mixture of them both would be good. You know maybe a couple of days a week at college or day release or whatever that would be the way forward. So you go off to Crest Hotels and what happens then? I was down there for almost three years. So this is in England now? Yes in High Wycombe. I was in High Wycombe for three years, while I was down there Trusthouse Forte bought the Crest Hotels and we were rebranded as a Post House and the menu came through the post and it was boil in the bag, I suppose early sous vide I imagine but not as nice back then and not what it is now. No it was all brought in from Puritan wasn't it or somewhere like that? Yes even the entire dessert menu came in boxes although at the time you got to portion up the desserts and then they realised that some people might portion it slightly bigger than other people so then it came in pre-portioned. So that was the end of that part of my career. It was quite interesting working through such a major rebranding but it wasn't for me so I high tailed it back to Scotland and started working in small places. I was in a hotel, called Fernie Castle for about four or five years. I went there as sous chef and then got promoted to head chef and I think it was about a year which was fine but it was very sort of function driven, weddings banqueting, a lovely place but it wasn't really for me. And then the opportunity came for me to go into restaurants which I grabbed with both hands and then here we are now really. Craig probably you've become on the radar for a lot of people through the Seafood Restaurant in St Andrews, highly acclaimed Seafood Restaurant of the Year, being very honest I can’t remember what year, you had three rosettes, very modern building, there was two wasn't there is that right? There was two there was the original one down in St Monans which was an old fisherman’s house that had been converted into a restaurant and things started off there. That was 13 years ago I think I started down there and then about eight years ago we decided to move into St Andrews and we got this big glass box out and was very successful to start off with. And you were a business partner there you had a share in it you were the chef how did it work? Yeah I went there as head chef and then had the opportunity to buy into the company within a few years, became a director and a partner and yeah things were moving on fine and we did do very well awards wise. So what changed for you because obviously you’re not there now you've gone back to the original operation which is under your own name now so what made you decide it was time for a change? I think we both just kind of wanted to do our own thing to be honest. I mean obviously initially when I joined up with Tim, I did say then what my goals were for the future. And that was to own my own place and the opportunity came along for me to do this. So tell us about the numbers of covers you were doing at the Seafood? The Seafood Restaurant in St Andrews was about 60 covers, the one in St Monans was 40, 45, when we opened the St Andrews one you were pretty much full for lunch and dinner every day from April through until October. I mean it is still seasonal. It’s a funny place St Andrews. Yeah, yeah. I was going to say it’s still seasonal isn’t it? I mean the old course have almost a season and an off season workforce and that's a five red star property, so it is kind of out there isn’t it St Andrews, geographically? Sure. And I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way because it’s a beautiful, beautiful place. I mean most of your trade comes, you know, during the golfing season to be honest. You do get a lot I mean there's a very good university there as well so you do pick up a lot of trade through that, parents dropping their kids off, and obviously the kids are pretty wealthy as well but Christmas time the place is like a ghost town which is unfortunate. So now exciting times then you’re under your own umbrella, your own steam. Yeah that was the 1st June this year we decided to do that. So what’s the restaurant called? Craig Millar @ 16 West End.. Okay. Which is the second seafood restaurant yeah? Is that right? Well that was the original restaurant but that's had many name changes through the years. When I started it, it was called the Cabin and then Tim my business partner at the time decided we're going to venture into…I mean he did classics as school, he was at quite a posh boarding school he decided to call it Ichthus which was ancient Greek for fish… Why? I have no idea, no idea and that didn’t last very long I think that lasted about three or four months and then it was Ichthus the Seafood Restaurant and then we lost the Ichthus but… When customers phoned up and couldn’t pronounce the name of the restaurant. Well it was the staff that couldn’t pronounce it ((laughingly)) when they were on the phone. Yeah. So Craig tell us about the business then we know it was 45 covers but food style, what do you want to achieve, where are you going to be in five years time? ((sighs)) Obviously the whole Michelin thing, you know, when you start off and think I want to get a Michelin star, you want to aim for the top. Yeah absolutely. And then after a while I thought you know I'm quite happy having a full restaurant. If I had the choice between a full restaurant without a Michelin star and a half full one with then you… I think the moment it becomes your own business the business aspect becomes more important than the accolade aspect doesn’t it? Yeah. Often one drives the other but… Sure but I mean having said that I'd be a bit disappointed if I got through my career without getting one but I wouldn’t go out of my way I mean guys that sort of say, “Yeah we're going for a Michelin,” I don't know how you can say that. Yeah. And food style? Food style, we're modern it’s not over-fussy and we can't really afford to be because there's only a few of us in the kitchen. How many of you are there? Well there's two of us plus one at weekends off season and then we’ll maybe go up to four full time in the summer. I mean we're still sort of testing the water at the minute. Obviously we're very wary of the seasonality of the place so I'm not going to throw loads of staff at it in the winter. You've got to look after the pennies at the end of the day so I'm trying to go down the old sort of seasonal chef route because the last thing you want to do is bring somebody on and promise them full time hours and then have to get rid of them close season. Is recruiting of staff difficult? ((sighs)) Well it’s not  easy but I always feel it does work itself out at the end of the day, you know, you’re in a blind panic for a few weeks then all of a sudden you think, ‘What was all the problem about,’ you know then if people do turn up… So in terms of menus that you run how many menus do you run? We run…what I started off doing was I ran for lunch we do three, three, three menu and we also run a set menu alongside that, cheaper menu for £18, three courses for £18 and we’ll run that all year round at lunchtime. For dinner, during the summer months we’ll run three, one, three, three dinner menu plus a five course tasting menu with or without wines alongside it. And what do you charge firstly for the three, one, three, three menu and… £35. for two course, £40 for three, £45 for four I think it is. Tasting menu’s £55. Still good value though. It’s not bad yeah. It’s not too bad. In the winter we’ll lose the tasting menu and we’ll put a set dinner menu in three courses for £25. Really just for the locals I mean it’s mainly the locals you'll get. I mean we get a lot of repeat business down in St Monans so that menu’s got to change fairly often. Are you able to attract people across from Edinburgh? Yes we do. There's a lot of holiday houses down in St Monans and the surrounding villages Elie, Pittenweem,  Anstruther. Elie is that where Bruce Sangster is? Bruce is in Elie yeah he's the next village along from me. So it’s becoming a little sort of culinary hotspot there is it? Well it is yeah you've got Geoffrey Smeddle at The Peat Inn just up the road as well and then of course you've got the Seafood Restaurant St Andrews, Peter Jukes at The Cellar in Anstruther and then you've got Jimmy Graham at Ostlers Close in Cupar. I mean Scotland’s quite exciting at the moment isn’t it? Yeah there’s a lot of places in the area, Fife has always been pretty good. I mean it used to be I think before Martin Wishart and any of these guys, before the big sort of Michelin thing in Edinburgh, that area, Fife used to have the highest number of AA rosettes per capita than the rest of Scotland. I mean it really was the sort of…what was that place? The Ludlow of Scotland really in that area and all the produce there as well it’s fantastic. Think you have what it takes to run a restaurant like Craig's? Then check out our head chef vacancies

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th January 2012

Craig Millar, 16 West End, Fife

IN ASSOCIATION WITH