Andrew Fairlie, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Perthshire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st January 2010

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

The man behind Scotland’s only two Michelin star rated restaurant, Andrew Fairlie has an abundance of accolades under his belt rewarding many years of long hours in the kitchen. He was voted AA Chef’s Chef of the Year in 2006, and Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles Hotel was voted into the top ten Greatest Hotel Restaurants.

The chef is as skilled as they come, having won the Roux Scholarship and trained with French chef Michel Guerard at Les Pres d’Eugenie and later worked at Hotel de Crillon. The Michelin star rating has seen the Scottish hotel restaurant prosper and under Andrew’s watch, its stars seem very secure. His blend of Scottish and French influences, with Parisian techniques accompanying the finest British ingredients, has made Andrew one of the UK’s finest chefs and even resulted in an invitation to cook for Her Majesty the Queen. When it comes to fine dining, Andrew is an expert and The Staff Canteen was keen to find out more about the impressive Scot.

Andrew, first and foremost, thank you very much for your time today. Here we are at The Gleneagles Hotel. It's quite ironic really: you are a local lad; from 10 miles down the road. What made you decide to become a Chef? And was it always your idea to have a Michelin starred restaurant? Or was your goal just to be a chef?

It depends how far you want to go back. If you go back to when I first saw a professional kitchen, I was 15 years old; I knew then that I wanted to be a chef. In terms of Michelin stars and awards etc, I didn't even know what they were. At that time I knew I wanted to work in a kitchen. I knew the pay wasn't very good and the work was very hard but I just genuinely loved it. It has just been a mad journey from then.

So, you started in Perth and then you end up in the Charing Cross Hotel in London, that's one end of the country to another - how did that come about?

Well, when I first started at the Station hotel in Perth it was a British Transport Hotel.

Yes, of course Gleneagles was as well, wasn't it?

Yes, I actually used to come here and play football against Gleneagles when I was an apprentice.

And you've still got both legs!! (Laughter)

Yes. . . just! So it was part of British Transport Hotels, and my Chef at the time - Keith Podmore, who I started my apprenticeship with left Perth and was promoted to the Charing Cross Hotel in London. So at the age of 17, when he left I decided that I wanted to go down with him.

Now, when you were 15 (and I am going to get slated by our Scottish members here), you didn't have the choices available to you in Scotland that a 15 year old has available to them now. How important is it nowadays to go to London? Is it still as important as when you where starting out?

You don't have to go to London, but I think that as a life experience I would still recommend it. As a life experience for me, I loved it; it was fantastic. I worked very hard and I guess that was all part of my apprenticeship, my formative years first as an apprentice and then as a Chef de Partie in Boodles. I just loved it. The whole London experience for me was great.

You were at Boodles, and I believe at that point Keith Podmore, put you up for the Roux Scholarship? Yes. And I am sure you don't want to be reminded, but that is 25 years ago now.

Yes, I remember it clearly.

Was that quite daunting; to go into competitions at the time?

Well, I had applied to a number of restaurants in France and, at that time, the French laughed at us in terms of our culinary skills. So I had written to about 22 restaurants and I think I got 3 replies. . . and they were all a "No". And just at that time, when I was getting pretty frustrated with it Keith was trying to get me fixed up with Le Reserve, where he had worked as a young man. And then the Scholarship was announced. And Keith said to me "There's the letter, enter the Scholarship and see which one comes first" so that's what I did. And I won the Scholarship.

And do you think, that made the Andrew Fairlie that we see today? It must have be a huge influence on your career?

Yes, massive. Having been rejected by all those restaurants and then to win a Scholarship with Michel Guérard it was a massive influence. It was a strange experience. I was absolutely elated; and I still think it was one of the best moments of my life, when it was announced that I was the Scholarship winner. At that time, the first year of the Scholarship there was so much money /resources pumped into it. As soon as the announcement was made I was whisked off in a Taxi with Michel Roux to various radio stations to do interviews; then taken on a private jet with 45 journalists over to Eugenie Les Bains to meet Michel Guérard. It was the first time I had ever seen a three-starred restaurant. The whole thing was absolutely terrifying as well as being exciting.

We joked earlier, about it being 25 years ago. But a lot has changed in 25 years. The French don't look at us with the same eyes as far as our culinary skills are concerned. Would France still be a choice of yours if you won it now with some many other possible countries to choose from?

Yes it would. I know they have opened the Scholarship up now to America and anywhere in Europe but my first choice would still be France. I think at that level of Gastronomy, they still do it better. There is the odd one out there like El Bulli or Thomas Keller at French Laundry, but at the top, very top level they still do it better than anyone else I think.

After the Scholarship, you continued on in France?

Yes, I had a wonderful experience at Pre d'Eugénie with Michel Guérard. There were 18 chefs and I couldn't speak a word of French but they wanted to practise their English so I didn't feel under too much pressure as far as the language was concerned. I'd learnt a huge amount during my time with Michel Guérard and I couldn't really have asked for a more welcoming kitchen to start in. Michel Guérard himself was a real gentleman and very inspirational. He then sent me to work in Paris to the Hotel Crillon where he himself had worked and at the time had 2 Michelin stars. The Crillon was a hard, hard kitchen to work in. There were 45 chefs in the kitchen and I was the only foreigner there apart from one Japanese chap who worked in the pastry. It was a real baptism of fire for me at the time. It was completely at the other end from Eugenie but it was one of the pivotal times of my career. After three days of physical and mental abuse I was ready to chuck it and go home, but it was sheer bloody mindedness and stubbornness on my part that kept me there, and I'm glad I stayed. I learned a lot there, not least of all how not to treat my staff. So I did 18 months at the Crillon, got promoted and left with a huge sense of achievement and a fluent French speaker.

And then you came back home to do the Royal Scotsman?

No, I actually did a winter season at a one star restaurant as Sous Chef at Chez Nano in Megeve. By the end of a very tough season I knew I wanted to do something different, I had been in France for nearly three years at that point. Michel Roux phoned me and said that "Somebody had contacted him about this project in Scotland; it's on a train; do you want to come back and have a look at it?" So I did.

We have talked to a few of the Scholarship winners and there seems to be a great network between you all a real bond.

Yes there is. There is a mutual respect between all the Scholarship winners because we know how hard it is to win this competition, and it's getting harder every year. I think the Scholarship is unique because at the announcement you are elated of course but then very quickly you realise that there is an expectation and responsibility that goes with the title. You are now a member of the Roux Scholars Club and you are expected to be professional, disciplined and contribute back to the Scholarship where you can, it stays with you. I was honoured to be asked on to the judging panel a few years back and I can testify that it is a very rigorous process. I think that the Scholarship has achieved all that Michel and Albert had set out to do, and that was improve the level of cooking and opportunities for young British chefs. When you look at the list of past Scholars they have more than delivered.

Yes, absolutely. You have also done some fairly large properties in London, such as the Ritz Casino? Was that at the time that John King was the Chef there?

Yes, a big competition Chef at the time John as well as being a great cook and manager. I went there just after The Ritz Casino, had won the best individual team at the Olympics. Mick Kitts had just left, he was a very strong character Mick and had built a very strong and loyal team there. I took over as Senior Sous Chef, which was a big job for me at the time because at that point I was still quite young. I kind of went two steps forward and one step back at that time. I knew what my strengths and weaknesses were and I gauged that throughout my career. If I felt there were bits that I was missing then I would go back and pick them up and then move on. I loved the industry because it was so diverse. Basically the world is your oyster and if you are prepared to put your head down and work hard, really you can go anywhere you want in the world.

Andrew, your CV has got lots of bits for want of a better word, and lots of different establishments on. It is not a predominantly Michelin starred Chef CV.

No, not at all.

Would you say that is good advice to someone coming into the industry? Don't pigeon hole yourself at a too younger age.

Yes, definitely. You really need to get experience of large hotels and it's a good grounding for a young chef. Then from there you can make an educated decision on where you want to go.

Andrew, One thing that surprised me, when I was doing my research on your career was the role you took as Head Chef at Founders Club Disneyland Paris.

Yeah that's right, but again it was a conscious decision on my part. I had gotten to a stage in my career where I was comfortable in my cooking skills but no one had ever taught me how to manage. I knew that Disney had a reputation for having the best management training in the world and when the opportunity arose I jumped at it. I was working at Adare Manor in Ireland as head chef to Ian McAndrew, one of the best cooks I have ever worked with. Come the end of the month I was finding it difficult to justify why we were 4 or 5% behind in our GP, we were losing staff on a weakly basis- entirely our fault, and I knew there were core skills I was missing.

Andrew how did One Devonshire come about?

Well, One Devonshire was never my restaurant. I was employed as a Head Chef there.

Oh, OK I'd always assumed that it was yours in ownership.

One Devonshire, at that time, was an iconic hotel. It was one of the first what is now termed "Boutique" hotels in the UK, at that time.

Who owned it, Andrew?

Ken McCulloch owned it. It was a beautiful hotel. Very stylish and very service driven. Ken just called me up one day and said he was looking for someone to bring the Food and Beverage up to be inline with the reputation of the hotel, and was I interested. And at that time, my first daughter, Ilona was about 4½ , so we had to make the decision as to whether we were going to stay in France and keep her in school there or come back to Scotland. My wife by that time had had enough, she had been to Ireland, London, France and we had moved house nine times and she wanted to come back home and put down some roots. So I took the job at One Devonshire and in the first year we were awarded a star.

Was that part of your brief?

No, not at all and it wasn't something that I'd set out to do. It was probably my first real Head Chef role where I had the responsibility for my budgets, my staff, we had all the usual outlets that hotels have to deal with. For the first time it was my style of food and I was enjoying myself. I think I had set my own benchmark by that stage and without sounding arrogant or big headed, the Michelin star came relatively easy. It still came a huge surprise to get it that soon, but never the less fantastic.

And that again Andrew really raised your profile, didn't it?

Yes, it did. But I think One Devonshire was very, very well known and anything that I did was always going to be over-shadowed by the hotel. Ken (McCulloch) kept me very grounded - we had a business to run, customers to feed and ODG was always going to be his baby.

But was it the gaining of the Michelin Star that put Andrew Fairlie on the radar with The Gleneagles Hotel , how did that come about?

Gleneagles came about totally by chance. I came up to the hotel one day for an Academy Culinaire meeting and I met Alan Hill Food and Beverage Director and we were just having a chat because I had arrived early. I'd said it was a shame that somewhere as iconic as Gleneagles didn't have a smaller niche restaurant like it used to have and I think it just planted a seed with Alan.

Was that a conscious thing on your part where you sowing a seed?

No, no not at all. We were just sitting having a casual chat, that's all. When One Devonshire Gardens was sold Alan phoned me and said "Do you want to come up and have a chat? If you are thinking about doing something else, come up and see us before you make a decision". And that's what I did. I went up to see him, I think on the Wednesday and by the Friday I had agreed that I would come and by the following Friday we had signed the contract.

Blimey, that's fast work.

Yes, well it was an easy decision to make.

OK, you have been here 8 years now. How has your food style evolved during that period of time?

I think it is probably simpler and less fussy now than it was then. I think when I first opened Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles there was a huge pressure because of where we were. We really needed to hit the ground running. So I was very, very nervous, but the core staff all moved with me so I knew we would make it work. I had the rare opportunity to design my own restaurant and kitchen. I suppose I cooked the same food that I was cooking at One Devonshire except we didn't have to worry about room service or weddings any more. I really throw everything into it at the beginning. The food became much more detailed, not in a complicated way we just had much more time to concentrate on our cooking. We refined service and I suppose we got rid of everything that was frustrating about working for someone else. At the same time I knew I couldn't afford to fail. Gleneagles wouldn't allow me to fail. I probably over complicated things for myself and put too much pressure on myself during that time but as the years have gone by, I am a lot more confident about what we do. We've got total control over the restaurant and it has just grown organically.

Was it a conscious decision, for you and your team to get two Michelin stars?

It wasn't a conscious decision at all.

Did the Gleneagles hotel put any pressure on you, by saying "We want a Michelin starred restaurant"?

No, none what so ever. We actually have a perfect contract that we started with 8 years ago and we have never, not even once, pulled it out of the drawer and had a look at it. I think it is a win win situation for both Restaurant Andrew Fairlie and Gleneagles Hotel. No, there has never been any pressure at all. I think they knew me well enough and they knew that was the standard I was cooking at anyway. Yes. We were awarded our first star, pretty much immediately but we knew that within a couple of weeks we were cooking better than we ever did at ODG. We were awarded the second star after two years, which was an amazing feeling. What was really satisfying about it was that it was comfortable for us. We were cooking every day and really enjoying ourselves. If I had to get up every morning, thinking "Oh my god. I have got to run at 100 miles an hour to maintain this level of cooking; this standard" then I wouldn't do it.

It seems to me, and it is very apparent in the kitchen, that there is a great skill factor in there - you can see that. And it feels a very comfortable in there; a real pleasant environment to work in.

It is and I'm glad you noticed it.

And that doesn't always come at that level, lets be honest.

No, but I think that some chefs love that high-octane atmosphere of a really tough kitchen, I have been in enough kitchens now to know which I prefer and what works for me. I now surround myself with like-minded people I like, and have built a really solid and loyal team around me. If we evolve, naturally, as we have done so far and we keep adding to the restaurant and in 5, 10 15 years time, if Michelin then decide that we are a three star restaurant and we are not having to stress out about it or work ourselves into the ground every single day to maintain that, then great. But if it gets to the point when we are putting too much on our staff or myself then we stop.

One of the interesting things I heard, when we were doing the filming was your comment that you look at a dish and think "what can I take away from that?" When I saw your food today, it reminded me of my time in France. It's based, very much, on a quality product, great technical skill and using 2, 3 maybe 4 key components that work and marry well. There seems to be a lot of Chefs out there today, that say "I need to put something on it; something around it." Whereas you are almost thinking "Do we need that?" And I think that is really refreshing. You can look at your dish and think "That's it; that is enough."

Yes I do now, but I think that only comes with maturity and confidence. I have been looking at Japan and I am very interested in their philosophy on food, purely because of the simplicity of it. It's the essence of capturing that ingredient at its peak; enhancing the flavour of it and then presenting it. It's brilliant in its simplicity. Most of the great chefs working today have all been to, and have been influenced by Japan. I remember eating Joel Robuchon's food a number of times when he was cooking at his peak in Paris and thinking, how can this be any more perfect. He then spent a few years in Japan and I'm sure he would agree that's its had a profound influence on his food.

Yes, I think Japan has got more Michelin starred restaurants than any other city, hasn't it?

Yes, Kyoto, and Osaka has just come on this year and Tokyo has now more 3 star restaurants than anywhere in the world. There has to be something in that

Andrew, one thing I wanted to touch on, was you became very ill. You had a brain tumour. Yes. Obviously, that is an incredibly serious illness. How much did it change you and you thinking? Did it change your outlook on work and life?

Strangely enough no. When I was diagnosed as having a brain tumour I had to get surgery; I had to get it removed. And talking to my doctors and surgeons at the time they said "When you come through this at the other end there is all sorts of emotions you are going to go through" and they tried to prepare me for the worst, I suppose. And, yes, people do come out of serious illnesses like that and they divorce their wife; and change their career or they go through deep depression or something radical has to change.

And lets be honest, you are in a very high-pressured job anyway.

Yes, but I guess I was almost waiting for this depression to set in; the stress to tell . . . and it didn't. And my surgeon said "Well, Andrew it just lets you see that what you were doing before was actually alright. You don't have to change anything." I had a pretty balanced lifestyle before, so I just got back to health and carried on from where I was before.

It's great to see you looking so well. Finally, Andrew, what does the future hold for Andrew Fairlie? Another Restaurant Andrew Fairlie.

I could never do another Andrew Fairlie, this is unique; this has been 8 years in the making. I can't divide Andrew Fairlie to go and do Andrew Fairlie in London or anywhere else, it is just not possible. I need to expand; I need to do other things both for myself and for the team. I have any incredibly loyal team - Steve my chef, Dale my manager and Gavin my sommelier, all these guys have been with me throughout. I need to move up in order for them to expand themselves. So we are at the stage now, where we are looking to do other things as long as it doesn't compromise what we have here. This is always going to be the nucleolus of anything that we do from now on. But there are books, media, other things that I can do. I do a bit of consultancy at the moment which I am enjoying.

So have you got a book planned?

Yes, we are looking at a restaurant book at the moment. As soon as I decide what I want it to be and what I want it to look like.

I know a very good website that can run a competition on that, if you want to?

(Laughter) I'll give them to you at half price!!

>>> Read: The Roux Scholarship winners: where are they now? (part 1)

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st January 2010

Andrew Fairlie, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Perthshire

IN ASSOCIATION WITH