Neil Mugg, head pastry chef, Gleneagles

The  Staff Canteen
As head pastry chef at Gleneagles, Neil Mugg is responsible for pastry across the whole operation at Scotland’s most prestigious five star hotel, a hotel  which not only boasts 232 bedrooms, 26 suites, four restaurants and a bar, but also hosts such world-important events as the Ryder Cup and the G8 summit. The Staff Canteen caught up with Neil to find out how he copes.   What first inspired you to become a pastry chef? I grew up on the west coast of Scotland in a place called Strachur in Argyllshire and originally I wanted to be a farmer. I used to sit on the tractor with the local farmer and when I got a bit older I started to drive the tractor myself. Then around the age of fourteen when the farmer retired I got into baking. We weren’t the kind of family that had Kipling cakes; we always had homemade stuff. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time but my mother was actually a very inventive baker and when I was a teenager we used to cook and bake together. What does your role at Gleneagles involve on a day to day basis? I oversee the pastry operation over the whole of Gleneagles. We’ve got several different outlets here. We’ve got the Strathearn restaurant, the bar and also afternoon tea which is very big business. Year on year we’ve developed our afternoon tea product and we now offer what we call an ‘afternoon tea experience’ where you get a little starter then you get to choose what type of tea you want; after that you get a savoury stand; then you get your tea topped up and then you get your sweet stand. We ask our guests to put aside an hour and a half to two hours to have afternoon tea as a real experience. How many people are on your team there? There’s twelve people including myself and my sous chef, Albert Close, and two of those are full time bakers who work throughout the night making all the breads, the scones, the sausage rolls for the afternoon tea and things like the suet pastry for one of the meat pie dishes in the Strathearn restaurant. Our pastry department runs 365 days a year, seven days a week and I can safely say that since I started in 2003 there’s never been a day that the pastry hasn’t run. I always say that in pastry the start of the new day is ten o’clock at night because that’s when the baker comes in to prepare and they finish about seven or eight o’clock the next morning. It really is non-stop. What’s your philosophy about training at Gleneagles? I feel that a lot of people invested in me and it’s only right that I should invest in other people. The young people that I teach at the college or who come in here for a stage – they’re going to be the pastry chefs of the future. I feel I have to do my best to train them and develop them but also to inspire them. I’m a great believer that people learn from laughter. I’m not a hard militant chef and I like to come to work and have a laugh. If you don’t laugh at work, it’s a long time in your day that you’re not laughing. I really believe that people learn and absorb better in a friendly environment than a hard, militant environment. In terms of training, you have a relationship with Perth College; can you expand a bit on that? Ian Ironside, who was a previous pastry chef here for about 25 years, built up a link with Perth College, which is the local college to Gleneagles. We would go in and judge the end of year exam. The first year I did that I thought, I’m actually asking them to do things I’ve never trained them in, so it was agreed then that I would go in maybe six days a year and do some training which I would then judge them on for the end of year exam. Then in 2008 one of the college lecturers took ill and I took on a paid role as well which is on top of the work I do there with Gleneagles. We get some really good students from Perth College. Gleneagles is hosting the Ryder Cup in 2014; what are the challenges when you have a large event happening at the hotel? We have a big golfing competition every year called the Johnnie Walker Championship. In 2005 we had the G8 summit and that was a phenomenal thing to be part of. During these events the hotel obviously becomes a lot busier. What we try to do especially with the G8 and probably with the Ryder Cup is give them what I call ‘a taste of Scotland’. You’re going to have people of all different nationalities coming to Scotland and I think it’s very important to give them a taste of that – other than just getting them drunk on the whisky! In terms of dealing with the increased numbers we will work with some partner suppliers who will make a few products for us. I will give them my recipes and they will make the product. What has inspired you most in your career? I think it’s the people around me that have always inspired me most, and the fear of failure – the fear of letting down the people who’ve invested in me. And finally what advice would you give someone who was thinking of becoming a pastry chef? I would say definitely do it. I’ve had a fantastic career being a pastry chef. I’ve loved everything I’ve done and I couldn’t imagine ever changing it. My success, I believe, has come down to following my heart. Also I’m only as successful as the team around me and the people who mentored and advised me, so I would say, don’t try and do it all yourself; seek advice; if somebody is willing to invest in you, accept it because ultimately that’s how you learn and develop.   View Neil's recipe for Tiramisu here View Neil's recipe for Raspberry cranachan dessert here

 
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th June 2013

Neil Mugg, head pastry chef, Gleneagles