Stephen McLaughlin Head Chef Restaurant Andrew Fairlie

The Staff Canteen

Stephen McLaughlin is the Scottish head chef of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, the Gleneagles-based restaurant holding two Michelin stars.

Stephen first started working with Andrew Fairlie as a 17-year-old in 1994 and since then they have formed a seemingly unbreakable bond. Restaurant Andrew Fairlie is without doubt one of the best restaurants not only in Scotland but in Europe and, due to its eponymous name, Andrew is credited with the glory.

Today, The Staff Canteen talk to Andrew’s right-hand man, without whom the success of the restaurant could be markedly different. 

Can you talk us through your daily role, what your responsibilities are, at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, your job title, how long you've been here and what position you started at Andrew Fairlie's as?

Generally I'm here around the same time that the orders start arriving so I'll check that everything is there and that it's the quality and freshness that we need. Myself and the guys will then start prepping for the day. The guys will always write their mise-en-place list for the next day before they go home at night. This lets me know how the guys are looking for the day ahead and what jobs I can pick up for them. I'll usually pick up some butchery or prep some shellfish, prep a box of artichokes or a couple of kilos of wild mushrooms.

And you're head chef?

Yes, that's my job title but kitchen manager is how I see my role.

And what position were you when you started here?

Sous chef. When we moved up from Devonshire Gardens, Andrew was in the kitchen and working on a section. We had a head chef then who did what I do now. The head chef left and it was natural progression for me to move up. Working with Andrew from day release at college to head chef is where I am now. I have done everything in his kitchens from the lowest through to running his kitchen and playing a part in producing chefs for the future of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie.

Do you ever step back and think, "my God I'm head chef of a two star Michelin restaurant"?

A little bit lately because my profile is now increasing and becoming involved with thing like this and being part of the Scottish Chef Conference this year. I don't get star struck by the whole thing - it just doesn't appeal to me but it is very much part of the job.

Does the pressure that comes with your job stress you?

No, quite the opposite, it keeps me calm. I think to be in full control of various situations and to be able to enjoy what you do you need to have a level head. It's important to lead by example and remain calm.

I guess from working with Andrew over that long period of time you must have a pretty sound working knowledge of each other now?

Yeah, for sure. There was a discipline instilled in me at a young age that was also instilled in Andrew when he was a young chef. That's something that will never leave you. There are things that are acceptable and there are things that are most defiantly not. I know what these things are what is needed when developing a kitchen team and a restaurant, Andrew knows what makes me tick and I'm good at reading Andrew in the sense that we can have a short conversation and I know exactly what he's looking for.

And he must trust you implicitly as well?

Of course, he wouldn't let someone run his kitchen if he didn't trust them implicitly.

So what management areas have you improved in during your time here?

I think the main areas of improvement for me have been communication, man management and time management.

Obviously when you say man management from what we've spoken about earlier you seem to be, as I said, quite hands on working with the guys as opposed to being a dictatorial leader?

We speak to the guys we don't stand at the pass shouting and bawling. We don't get results that way. If we were to stand at the pass and shout and bawl then what we do wouldn't happen. There's a time and a place to stick your big toe up somebody's backside but there's also a time and a place when somebody needs a pat on the back or a cuddle.

What do you feel has been your single biggest challenge in your role since you've been here?

Lately it was kicking off the 2010 Scottish Chefs Conference in Glasgow. To cook and talk in front of 500 delegates was a huge challenge. I had to hold college students all the way through to seasoned hoteliers for an hour. Being able to keep them entertained and talk to them in a way that they could relate to what I was doing was tricky. It was scary but also an honour to be asked in the first place.

Was it difficult moving from sous chef to head chef? Did that worry you?

No that was easy. That first day was easy but when everything after the first day gets tougher becasue expectation grows and you have to keep growing with the expectation. Year on year the business grows. The people that have been here for ten years and the people that are going to be here for the next ten years have to grow with the business or the business doesn't grow.

You're very team-focused, we've picked up on that already how much importance do you place on the training and development of your team?

Absolutely massive. I mean there's no point in having a strong team for six months, you need to have a strong team when your doors are open. If you're open for nine years, if you're open for 25 years you need to have a strong team for that period of time.

What about yourself, how do you train yourself, how do you develop yourself?

Reading, eating, staging, experimenting with new produce and equipment.

Where do you see yourself in five years time and what are you looking to gain from your time here now? Where do you hope this period in your career takes you?

In five years' time where am I going to be? I genuinely believe I will still be here.

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

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th March 2011

Stephen McLaughlin Head Chef Restaurant Andrew Fairlie