One of Scotland’s most respected chefs, The Wordrobe meets Stevie McLaughlin, Head Chef at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie
“Just remember that this job isn’t just about cooking food, it’s a way of life.”
Restaurant Andrew Fairlie is no ordinary restaurant – and there are no ordinary people behind it. Based at the prestigious Gleneagles in Scotland, it’s currently the only restaurant in Scotland to hold two Michelin stars, and one of a mere five in the UK.
Its incredible founder Andrew Fairlie sadly lost his long battle with a brain tumour on January 22nd 2019, surrounded by his loved ones.
One of the country’s most inspiring chefs, the team behind his Perthshire restaurant remain devoted to providing guests with the same exceptional experience.
Head Chef Stevie McLaughlin, alongside general manager Dale Dewsbury, has taken over the business – with a future vision of the restaurant under Fairlie’s name. His death has changed how they work, because he is irreplaceable – yet somehow the legacy means the experience has become even more purposeful.
Eight months on from Andrew’s tragic passing, Editor Sophie Ritchie spoke with Stevie to find out more about his plans for the future, his passionate commitment to continuing the 2 Michelin star restaurant and his culinary journey so far.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I actually fell into being a chef by accident. When I was at school one of those skill seeker surveys said I should be a welder or a chef.
At a college taster day, the first demonstration by a welder convinced me that I was going to be a welder; but the afternoon session was with a chef.
The taste of the buttery pastry was delicious and I wanted to know how she did it. It was the flavour of that buttery pastry that took me to college.
Each day as I travelled through Glasgow, my bus passed One Devonshire Gardens. I knew it was the best and that I wanted to work there, so I asked and secured a placement.
I loved the hard work, and good humour that came with working in a kitchen – I just knew I wanted to be part of that world. Even the most mundane tasks I was doing opened up my eyes and the layers of learning inspired me again and again.
Where did you train? Tell us more about your culinary background…
I studied at Glasgow College of Food Technology and while I was studying there (in 1993), I started working as a commis at One Devonshire Gardens. This is where I met Andrew Fairlie.
I worked with Andrew for 26 years, initially at One Devonshire Gardens, then as part of the opening team as sous chef at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles when it first opened in 2001. I was promoted to head chef in 2006, a position I have held since then.
What’s your favourite autumnal dish?
My favourite dish at this time of year is creamed vanilla rice with spiced autumn fruits. Essentially, this is rice pudding, which is my ultimate comfort food – perfect for a chilly autumn day.
What can guests expect from a meal at Andrew Fairlie?
Ultimately? Flavour! Our motto when creating a dish is ‘simple things, done brilliantly’. The food here is simple, produce led, with a real focus on how it tastes.
In a generation when gimmicks and tricks seem to be increasingly important to catch a diner’s attention, we have stayed faithful to classic dishes and ensuring that every flavour shines.
Our kitchen is influenced by the seasons, with 95% of our vegetables and herbs coming from our Secret Garden. We grow heritage vegetables and varieties that you simply can’t buy in the shops, so the flavour is individual and unique.
If you partner delicious ingredients and great cooking with service that is guest-focused and polished, but not stuffy, you can start to get an idea of what a meal here is about.
Tell us more about Andrew’s legacy – what’s next for the restaurant?
Andrew was a brilliant chef, who really understood food. He has inspired me throughout my entire career. He was also a great collaborator, and generous with his trust, who drew good people around him.
People may not know just how strong a core of people there are at the restaurant who have worked together for a very long time. Dale (our General Manager) and I have worked together for 18 years and were on the pre-opening team, who set the restaurant up with Andrew.
My Senior Sous Chef is in his 9th year with us, my Sous Chef in her 11th year, and my Pastry Chef in his 10th year.
Dale has the same long service on his team Front of House. So we all have such a deep history with Andrew, and have collectively moved the restaurant forward with him, that there is a real sense of continuity.
cThe ethos of the restaurant is not going to change, because it is so much a part of us already, and we are so much a part of it. So a continued commitment to excellence in everything that we do is the only way forward.
Do you have any role models?
I have two role models. One is obviously Andrew. He taught me everything I know in the kitchen, as well as how to apply myself in the workplace. My pallet was honed with Andrew over the years, and he taught me how to truly understand flavour and its power.
When I first met Andrew I was amazed at how small he was. I thought all head chefs were big guys with big hats. He was small in stature, but his presence was immense.
My second role model is my father. He was the wisest man I’ve ever met. From childhood, he taught me how to conduct myself. He gave me my work ethic, and how to deal with almost every situation that life may throw at me.
While I am of course my own man, both of these men will continue to be shining lights in my work and private life.
What does hospitality mean to you?
Hospitality is an industry, a profession, and most importantly it’s a generosity of spirit. It’s the industry I’ve worked in all my life, but it still amazes me how many inhospitable people work in it!
At Restaurant Andrew Fairlie we want to serve people the best food we can and create a sense of welcome, warmth and occasion that makes them feel the service is personal and tailored to them, so they leave feeling the genuine warmth of our hospitality.
I love the creativity that working in this industry brings, and that we can create a moment that people will remember for the rest of their lives.
Name three of your top restaurants.
Ondine, Edinburgh: This is a seafood restaurant, which is simple but elegant; it’s the best of Scottish and British waters on a plate.
Epicure at Le Bristol, Paris: For me, this restaurant is inspirational. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit three times over the years, and each experience has inspired me in a different way.
Kaia-Kaipe, San Sebastian: A classic basque restaurant in Getaria. Their house speciality is whole turbot cooked outside over coals, which is incredible, and the wine cellar is phenomenal – I’ve enjoyed both premier and grand cru Burgundies on my visits.
What, in your opinion, makes a great restaurant?
To make a truly great restaurant, it needs a heart, personality, committed staff, great food, intuitive and thought-through service, and elements of magic and ‘wow’; as well as diners that ‘get it’.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chefs?
I think it’s vitally important to find a kitchen where you learn at least one new thing every day.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a big thing: some days it might be as simple as tying your apron correctly or answering the phone properly, and others you might learn a new technique that has a lasting impact on your culinary career.
Just remember that this job isn’t just about cooking food, it’s a way of life.
Finally, what’s next on the cards?
I think we have our hands full for the foreseeable future cementing everything we have inherited.
People knew Andrew as a champion of great food and service. We now need to take up that mantle and let people see that we have learnt well from him and are more than able to take Restaurant Andrew Fairlie forward into the next era.