Mark Donald, head chef, Number One at The Balmoral

The  Staff Canteen

Mark Donald is the head chef of Michelin-starred Number One at The Balmoral. The young chef's illustriuous career has seen him work at Noma, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Hibiscus and Bentley restaurant in Sydney, to name a few. 

We spoke to Mark about his early days working in pub kitchens, the chefs that inspired him and why he tries to scrupulously document every one of his recipes.

When did you decide to become a chef?

The Balmoral   Number One   Highland Wagyu Beef%2C Beetroot%2C Smoked Bone Marrow%2C Bitter Leaf

Highland Wagyu Beef, Beetroot,

Smoked Bone Marrow, Bitter Leaf

Recipe here 

I was always interested in cooking but not in a romantic way, cooking with your gran making fairy cakes or anything.

I started washing dishes when I was 16 in a local pub when all the chefs went out the back to have a cigarette I'd tell them if a ticket came on. Eventually I just stopped calling them in and started cooking it myself. 

What advice would you give to yourself if you were starting as a commis again? 

I would probably tell myself to go to bed earlier sometimes, some nights that I stayed out too late. Keep my mouth shut sometimes - when I was a young chef I was probably a bit outspoken, but that was just the kid in me. 

Did you have any goals when you started off and how many of them have you achieved? 

One of my earliest goals was to stage in a Michelin star restaurant. I remember not being in cooking long and I heard about El-Bulli and about internships and stages and all these amazing places - this was before you could see everything on the Internet in the palm of your hand, you had to do a bit of research. 

I did a stage at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles - that was probably the earliest goal, just to expose myself to a different way of cooking and high-end arty food. 

Then later my goal was just to keep progressing. I wanted to work somewhere on the San Pellegrino list; I think Noma was number 9 when I applied and then it was 3 when I eventually got my stage there and it got to number 1 while I was doing my stage there. 

Of all the great chefs that you've worked for, which of them would you aspire to be and why? 

That's a tough question. Working for Andrew Fairlie, obviously his temperament in the kitchen was unmatched. He was a bit of a unicorn in the kitchen, militant but very quiet, calm, calculated and coordinated. At that level of pressure I find it very hard to relate to, especially with three Michelin stars. 

Temperament-wise, Andrew. 

In terms of creativity there's obviously Rene Redzepi. Of the chefs that I've worked under and been mentored by he's unmatched. He's a genius. I think he's got a brilliant mind.

Flair, I would say Claude Bosi. For such a big guy, he's got so much finesse. He's got an amazing character - as long as you don't cross him. 

Do you remember what the first dish you put on a menu was? 

Yeah I do actually, it was in a pub in Glasgow. 

How did it feel? 

It was good, it was a special, it was a dish called 'fly cemetery', which was from my gran's cookbook, which is basically just raisins and currants stewed with loads of spices in between shortcrust pastry, and it resembles flies in a cemetery.

It was a great feeling, you take ownership of it more and you're more invested in what's going on the plate and I think you care a bit more as soon as you get something on the menu. 

Gadgets you can't live without: 

Mark Donald   gadgets I can't live without

If you have to give a single piece of advice to any young aspiring chefs what would it be?

Keep your head down, keep your mouth shut unless you're asking a good question.

Take notes. Don't lose your books. So many of my chefs and peers that I've worked with have messaged me saying: 'do you know what that recipe for that salsa verde we did' or do you have that recipe we did ten years ago' and you want to help them but I don't know where some of my recipes are either.

I know where most of them are, they're jotted down but when you leave somewhere, document it properly and back it up. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th September 2019

Mark Donald, head chef, Number One at The Balmoral