Scott Smith, Chef Patron, Norn

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th November 2016

Scott Smith, a former protégé of Geoffrey Smeddle, owner of the The Peat Inn which holds a star in the Michelin Guide UK, is the chef patron of Norn in Edinburgh.

Scott grew up with a passion for food and like most chefs started his career working as a pot wash for a local restaurant. It wasn’t long before he nabbed his first commis job at a small Sicilian restaurant working his way up to become sous chef. He later moved to the one Michelin-starred, The Peat Inn working under Geoffrey Smeddle before opening a new restaurant with award winning chef, Steve Collinson and then managing seven restaurants and bars working as a Food Development Manager. It was after leaving his development job that Scott pursued his new venture, Norn.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Scott about working with Michelin-starred chef, Geoffrey Smeddle, using Scottish based ingredients and why he credits his team with being his biggest inspiration.

halibut,  cauliflower, cobnut

nut milk

What first attracted you to the industry?

I’ve always had an interest in food and in how it makes people happy, but I honestly don’t know the moment I was first attracted to the industry. My first proper job was washing dishes in a busy restaurant, so I guess, like a lot of people, I was attracted to the buzz of the kitchen.

Can you talk us through your career?

I started out at the bottom, washing dishes in a bistro in Aberdeen and I really caught the bug for it and knew I wanted to be doing what the chefs were doing.

I got my first commis job at a small Sicilian restaurant working the starters and pizza section, I loved the organisation this taught me and working with dough every day and I worked my way up to sous chef. Then back to the bottom again at the restaurant at DCA working under Eddie McDonald. He was a huge inspiration and made me really focus on how to direct my career better and began teaching me about costing of dishes and how to be clever with cheaper cuts.

After this I moved to the Peat Inn working under Geoffrey Smeddle. This place, without a doubt, had the greatest effect on me and my career. It taught to really refine all my skills and palate and also how to be very self-disciplined, not accepting anything but your best as good enough. It was a strict, calm and very well run kitchen. Watching Geoff showed me that you don’t need to scream and shout to get the most out of staff and that being a mirror to them was a very efficient strategy.

>>> Read: Geoff Smeddle, chef proprietor, the Peat Inn

After this I moved on to get involved in a new restaurant opening with Steve Collinson. He allowed me to get stuck in with everything from when the site was a concrete shell. He trusted me with a lot and also taught me a great deal of what starting up and running a restaurant requires. I stayed with him for a year running the kitchen and supporting the business.

scallop, onion, watercress, crowdie

After this I had two options, sous chef at a good Edinburgh restaurant or Food Development Manager for a more corporate company. I opted for the development job so that I could further my knowledge on business and people management. I looked after the kitchens of seven bar/restaurants, making sure standards were maintained and improved, keeping kitchens staffed and driving the menus and quality forward. This was a very rewarding job. I met some great people through it and would not have gained the final confidence to take my own leap so early.

I opened Norn 12 months after I left this job.

Can you talk us through the menu at Norn?

The menu is a really simple format. We run a set menu of either four or seven course in the evenings. The first three courses are small starters followed by slightly larger main course for the next two. The final two will be dessert based, usually with course six being the bridge between savoury and sweet.

We also serve snacks before and after the meal with our version of a petit fours.

We don’t have any specific rule on the amount of fish or meat on the menu and base the dishes on what we think is at its best and needs showing off. We have a lot of vegetables dishes that have gone down really well with our guests.

Lunch is a simplified option of three courses with a choice of two in each course.

There isn’t a menu online, with that in mind how much would you say the menu relies on what’s available that day?

Norn    

We don’t publish the menu for a couple of reasons. First of all, we change it so often that to keep fully up to date with publishing would be very difficult and although we could say ‘sample’ menu, I really don’t like the idea of guests expecting to see certain things on our menu from reading online and then being let down when we don’t have them.

We also like the guests to come to us with no preconceptions of what they might have that evening. I find it adds another level of intrigue. We also don’t put any descriptions of what we have done with the ingredients on the menu so can customer imagine their dish before it arrives which will hopefully be a surprise!

The other reason is that the food is very ingredient lead. So we often get an amazing ingredient from our suppliers that we have not ordered but are advised is at its best, sometimes that will find its way rapidly onto the menu and we find ourselves printing the menus 15 minutes before the first guests arrive.

How often do you change the menu?

We change very regularly. We have just started our twentieth week of operating and about to print menu 35. Sometimes it will change as much as four times a week and sometimes only once. It really depends on the produce and how happy we are with a dish before putting it out. We are opening our development table soon which will help us move things faster in changes and get direct feedback from the customers sitting on this table.

Info bar

‘Favourite ingredients’

Girolles – simply sautéed with parsley and garlic

Scallops – I prefer just to eating these really fresh and raw. Thinly sliced, brushed with sea buckthorn and salt

Asparagus – Love them grilled with a little butter and served with fresh peas, sorrel and the cooking butter

Sea buckthorn – These little berries are amazing, intensely acid and packed full of vitamin C. I used this in cooking a lot in place of lemon juice and to balance sweetness. Great to make as a curd. Just use a lemon curd recipe and replace the lemon with buckthorn.

Rhubarb – Best for me is just raw dipped in sugar, I love the sweet and sour contract. If cooked though, my favourite way is just poached in some sugar, water and dessert wine and then just served warm with ice cream

‘Signature dishes’

We don’t really have a ‘signature dish’ as we change the menu so much. One dish for me which really stood out was a pre-dessert we made using rhubarb, woodruff, popcorn and ground ivy.

We salted the rhubarb and then left it to hang to extract a salty and sour liquid which we then charged into a cream whipper. This salty sour foam was served with a bitter sweet ice cream made with the meadow sweet and then balanced with a sweet fragrant syrup made from ground ivy and crunch from dark caramelised popcorn.

Do you forage your ingredients? If so how do you avoid this being a gimmick now that it has become so popular?

We forage almost every week. I don’t find its a gimmick at all, although I do understand how it could be used as one. For us it is really important, it gets the team out together and we are always learning new things and discovering new flavours. It acts as a huge piece of inspiration for us and usually just the taste, look or smell of a newly found ingredient will lead to a new dish being created, sometimes without even having that ingredient in it.

We spend all our time as chefs stuck inside a hot kitchen, getting outside helps with inspiration, morale and team building. Also, taking the time to pick your own ingredients and the effort that is involved imbeds a care and respect for the produce.

Do you source your ingredients locally?

We source as much as we can locally, it is a huge part of what our ethos is about. All of our meat and fish is 100% Scottish and currently around 80% of all our fruit and vegetables are Scottish, many grown within the Lothians and organic. We are always trying to find ways to improve our supply connections. Distribution usually tends to be the hurdle for a new restaurant. There is some fantastic produce grown nearby but it is getting a regular supply delivered to us which can hold some of this back.

All of our dairy and most of our dry goods are sourced in Scotland with the exception of some spices and oils. We may be about Scottish produce and heritage but we also need to remember our heritage is hugely influenced by imports and outside cultures.

Where do you find inspiration for new dishes?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. A new ingredient, memory, music, nature, but we always make sure the finished dish is ingredient led and focused on availability and quality. A lot of the dishes can spur from an evolution of a previous dish or what one of our suppliers says is at its best. The dish will revolve around highlighting and enhancing flavour.

Who inspires you?

I know it is very cliché to say, but my team inspires me. They are always coming up with great ideas and giving me a different way of looking at things.

Whenever we plate a new dish for the first time I always ask their opinion as I think being critical on my work and their own work will help improve it.

apple, pear, honey, walnut

I think we all push and inspire each other.

Why do you think sustainability is such a hot topic right now?

I think it has been for a while within restaurants but it is finally, and rightly so, getting much more attention in the wider spectrum because of chefs and public figures being vocal about their foresight.

I think it is extremely important that we consider very carefully not only about the waste we are producing but also how that waste can be reused.

It’s a ridiculous thought that we could possibly have unlimited resources and that our waste wouldn’t make an impact. It is common sense that for anything to survive long term whether it be a business, resource or environment that the key word has to be sustainability and it is all our responsibilities to manage this.

How do you make sure you remain a champion of sustainability?

I wouldn’t see myself as a champion of sustainability. Myself and my staff are just making our point clear that we are doing everything we can to be sustainable. All our menus are on recycled and recyclable paper, we changed all light fittings for LED, every new equipment purchase I make I do a lot of research into the energy usage of it and the practises of the manufacturer. We support small scale and responsible producers of food and drink and will favour produce that is abundant.

All the waste (which is very little) that is created in the restaurant is strictly recycled and sorted correctly.

My sous chef is fiercely passionate about this as well and is amazing at enforcing these controls.

How would you describe your food style?

I would say it is very much ingredient and season led food. I guess the best name to tag it to would be Modern Scottish, although we don’t really have a set style.

We aim to keep the dishes as natural and clean tasting as possible with minimal manipulation to the ingredients unless it is to enhance it. We don’t use complicated techniques just for the sake of it. I find that style over substance is more of a show for the chef rather than for the food.

What are your future plans?

It’s still early days for us so our immediate focus is strengthening everything here and continuing to push for better dishes and a better customer experience. We are also growing our team to allow us to develop new things and give better working hours to the staff.

We have started looking at some land outside of the city to build a good sized kitchen garden so that we can grow and supply our own produce. Also we are looking at potentially another site more central to do something a little different and more casual. But these are all side projects just now and nothing is confirmed.

 >>> Read more in The Staff Canteen Menu Watch series here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th November 2016

Scott Smith, Chef Patron, Norn