Geoff Smeddle, chef proprietor, the Peat Inn

The Staff Canteen

Geoff Smeddle is the chef proprietor of the Michelin-starred the Peat Inn, in Fife. He studied a degree in history before deciding he wanted to be in the hospitality industry and after a summer in the kitchen with his aunt in France, he decided cooking was the career for him. He has worked with Herbert Berger and Chris Galvin to name a few and now he is celebrating ten years at the Peat Inn achieving the Michelin-star six years ago.

The Staff Canteen spoke to him about his slightly different route into the industry, why he chose to settle in Scotland and why young chefs now don’t need to cook in London anymore to gain exposure and recognition.

Your route into the industry is not typical of most chefs is it?

Chocoalte cremeux, coffee 

mousse and whisky ice cream

I was studying history at university, I’d intended to become a history teacher that was the goal, but when I was coming to the end of the course I realised that wasn’t the route I wanted to take. I can’t put my finger on why but I was drawn to restaurants – I wasn’t sure if I wanted a FOH role of BOH.

Had you worked in a restaurant before?

No, I enjoyed cooking a load of rubbish student meals! I got a lot of pleasure from it, probably more than they got from eating it. I was very fortunate at the time I had an aunt who had a restaurant in France and I spent a summer working there.

It was really to get an insight but I fell in love with it. My aunt was cooking in the kitchen and my uncle was running the restaurant, he was actually a wine grower so he was working in the vineyards during the day.

It was a steep learning curve, she was self-taught and her cooking was wonderfully flavoursome without any pretentious hang-ups. It was delicious, bourgeois, French cooking. In the kitchen all the smells, the excitement, confirmed in my mind that was where I was meant to be.

Top five restaurant meals

My first meal at l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the original site on Rue De Bac, Paris,  2004 was unforgetable, I still love going to the London outpost today; 

El Bulli: I dined there before it closed - it was as amazing as I had dreamed

Atelier de Maitre Albert: Guy Savoy’s rotisserie bistro in Paris.

Charlie Trotters: I worked in Chicago and managed to dine there during my time in the windy city

Los Caracoles, Barcelona. Sheer atmosphere!

Five most influential chefs in career

Herbert Berger, 

Chris Galvin

All my college lecturers at Westminster, VIncent square, London in the early 1990s: Bob Salt, Peter Richards, Terry Shoesmith, Simon Stocker (still there!) and Gerhard Moser. (Utter bastard, but good teacher!) I thi k about them all, all the time.

Vito Mollica, Four Seasons hotels

My brigade (past and present)  who push me and motivate me every day

Top 5 comfort foods

Peanut butter on toast

Reeses peanut butter crisps

Chicken dopiaza and naan bread

Cheese on toast with branston pickle

Left overs from a roast meal, especially Christmas dinner


Do you think that experience shaped the way you cook today?

In terms of cooking style I’m completely different but her emphasis was always on lovely French produce and delicious plates of food. As a chef you should be delivering those two things, it was an era decades before Instagram and twitter, there wasn’t this obsession with presentation. It wasn’t about trying to challenge customers with controversial combinations, it was a bout familiar combinations so maybe that is something which has stayed with me.

I think food should serve to bring joy and happiness at the table not confrontation, so maybe in more ways than I realise a lot of that attitude has seeped into my psyche as well.

You went to Westminster College and then you went to the Grill Room at Café Royal when Herbert Berger was executive chef, how influential has he been on your career and food style?

He always springs to mind and Chris Galvin, when I’m asked about influences, because they were at important times within my own career. With chef Berger that was the first Michelin-starred restaurant I’d worked in and it was my first full time job outside of college. He was always a very calm, mature, paternalistic figure.

He wanted you to work for him for two years and then he would help you move on and progress your career.  It was a place I learned some lovely classical cooking, when I was on the garnish section for example, there were two of us and you had 11 potato dishes to get ready every day. To have that versatility and variation is astonishing you wouldn’t find that nowadays – in 1995 you did.

Chris came a little bit later on but that was my first time being a part of kitchen management. I started with him as a chef de partie and under him became a sous chef at Orrery. That was a very fast paced kitchen, with extremely high standards and strict discipline. I don’t want to confuse the word discipline with screaming and shouting because it wasn’t like that at all. It was about having respect for ingredients, respect for everything going on around you, and just being highly organised.

I’ve been very fortunate to have two such calm, professional, paternalistic figures at crucial times of my career.

Was it a shock to the system stepping into a Michelin-starred kitchen?

The shock to the system was the tiredness rather than the environment. I’d worked in several places while I was at college, one was a brasserie and you can say ‘oh it was just a brasserie’ but there was very strict discipline and from that point of view I was very lucky.

As a cook I was very organised and efficient, even if I didn’t have a wide skill set at that point. So the number one shock was the tiredness and the hours, number two, in a good way, was how calm and organised it was. It wasn’t shouting and screaming and throwing pots and pans around.

After the Orrery achieved a star you moved on to work with Four Seasons Hotels, this allowed you to travel – is that something you believe is important for a chef?


I spent a number of years with them in London, Chicago and in Prague. It was a fascinating eye-opener for me, juggling things like banqueting, room service, breakfast – I’d never done breakfast in my life! It’s a skill in its own right which should never be underestimated. If you want to see an organised chef go and watch a breakfast cook.

There was an immense focus on training, it was a great company to work for and I learned a lot of lessons which I carried away with me.

Did travelling have an impact creatively and on your skill set?

Certainly, you get to see different cuisine, different styles of food and different attitudes to ingredients. Different countries approaches evolve at different times. What was so fascinating about Chicago was how diverse the scene was, the steak houses which are now common in London weren’t then and the diners right up to top chefs were all in one melting pot in Chicago. That was fantastic and I think travel was fascinating, I’m pleased I did it and I’d recommend it to anybody. It broadens your horizons and then you can cherry pick from there what will work for you wherever you end up.

You bought The Peat Inn, in Fife, in 2006, what made you want to settle there?

I’d been working in Glasgow for three years with the Conran Group, I was at a bit of a cross roads and I thought I would go back down to London. Then Chris Galvin, that’s the great thing once you work for him he becomes a lifelong mentor and friend, told me The Peat Inn was on the market. He said ‘you’ve got chef patron written all over you Geoff, you should go and see what’s going on’.

I went to have a look around and I thought it’s been a lovely restaurant for David Wilson for 30 odd years, it could be a great restaurant for me too. It was just a feeling rather than a logical thing I suppose, and I had always wanted to have my own restaurant. We took the plunge and ten years on here we are.

Rhubarb, amaretto and lemon tiramisu

It’s always been used as a coaching inn, it’s gone through different guises from a hotel to a pub and now it’s a restaurant with rooms which you could say is the coaching inn of the 21st century.

Do you ever miss London?

No, I love to visit, but I couldn’t live there anymore. When I was starting out in cooking, one of the huge differences was if you wanted to be a chef, working and being recognised you had to be in London and there was nowhere really to be outside of there. Nowadays you can travel all over the country as a young chef, working your way up your career ladder and you never need to step foot in London if you didn’t want to. There are that many great chefs outside of London now and that’s not taking away from the chefs who are in London, they are world class but it used to be London or a rubbish pub – not anymore.

Was it always the plan to stay at The Peat Inn for a long time?

Yes, it was always a long-term goal. For us it’s very much a way of life, we live in the village we have two children at the school and all things being well we will still be here another ten years.

What would you say you are most proud of in those ten years?

We are proud of some of the accolades we’ve got like the star and moving up The Good Food Guide, they are a nice pat on the back for everyone’s hard work – not just me as a chef but everyone in the team. Running the business has been a steep learning curve but I’m proud of how we have grown the business and I’m proud of some the great members of our team who have come through the ranks or gone on to do great things.

You’ve had the star for six years, is there a lot of pressure to maintain it?

We enjoy having it and we don’t feel it as a pressure, it’s a privilege. It’s not a promise of what you are going to do in the forthcoming year it’s recognition of what you have been doing in the past year. As a team we are focused and everyone understands our goals and commitments and that’s the way we make sure we don’t let standards slip.

How have your dishes and the menu changed in the last ten years?

We’ve changed the format particularly at lunch time, we now have an al a carte menu, menu of the day and something we call a chef’s menu which gives guests the chance to have a more indulgent lunch. In terms of the actual dishes we’ve certainly simplified them, there’s more elegance, finesse and refinement. Having fewer things going onto the plate means you can give more concentration onto each item. Hopefully that results in better flavour, better texture and ever increasing consistency.

The only thing that has been on the menu the whole time is a soufflé but the flavours are always changing. Dishes come and go, we’ll always have lobster, scallops, langoustine on as we are only a few miles from the coast and game such as venison, grouse during that season. These familiar, core ingredients, come back around but the dishes we create with them will be different each year.

And would you say you have a style?

Denice of scottish artisan ''bean to 

chocolate, coconut mousse and banana-

yogurt sorbet

My style has changed enormously over the ten years, it’s become a lot less frantic and a lot more simplified. I used to try and put three different cuts of meat on a plate and I look back and think it was completely bonkers. We are privileged to have fantastic Scottish ingredients, so that is the starting point and we use simple techniques, they may be classical or sometimes quite contemporary, to create dishes which I hope are elegant, but above all full of flavour.

What are your plans for the future?

We occasionally get asked if we would like to do other ventures or projects but what we like more than anything else is being here with our team, looking after our guests and making sure we are delivering the best experience we can. That’s why I wanted to be a chef and owner of my own restaurant. I feel things might be diluted if I did other projects, may be in time I’ll feel differently.

And what about the future of the industry, which chefs are exciting you at the minute?

I’m going to be biased and say Scott Smith who used to work for me here and he’s just opened his own place in Edinburgh, called Norn. Definitely one to watch! Obviously very fond of Ian Scaramuzza, who worked for me when I was in Glasgow – he’ll have a stellar name sooner or later, opening a fabulous restaurant we all wish we had done.

>>> Read more about Ian Scaramuzza here

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Editor 24th June 2016

Geoff Smeddle, chef proprietor, the Peat Inn