Interview with Stevie McLaughlin, Executive Chef at Andrew Fairlie Restaurant

The wealth of fresh, local produce grown in the ‘Secret Garden’, the advice and mentorship offered to the next generation of top chefs and, of course, the culinary masterpieces served in Scotland’s finest restaurant combine to make Andrew Fairlie’s lasting legacy, says Coach Paul

Stevie McLaughlin walks between the flowerbeds in her own field of dreams wearing a chef’s jacket and rubber boots. This is a working visit to check out rare and heirloom vegetables, fruit, herbs and edible flowers grown specifically for Scotland’s only two Michelin star cuisine. Schedules will be evaluated, some discussions on the deliveries that will be made for the week. From season to season, the menus are led by remarkable ingredients from the place Andrew Fairlie called his secret garden.
The name is still etched on the wooden door, eight years after Andrew convinced a local landowner to allow him to use the Victorian walled garden, sitting anonymously on a country lane.
There is a moment Narnia walking through the orderly greenery.
It has its own sense of calm and a microclimate with the Perthshire sunshine reflected off the thick stone walls that screen this space from the outside world.
When Andrew Fairlie died in 2019, the garden was part of his legacy as the restaurant team, led by Executive Chef Stevie and General Manager Dale Dewsbury, continue to develop dishes to showcase the best of Scottish ingredients.

Chief producer Jo Campbell leads the way in this special place. “We are always looking to improve things and try to find something new or different for the kitchen. We have our favorite varieties that are suitable for canapes,” she says.
Artichokes are new for this year, something the kitchen asked for, and the gardeners figured out how to supply. Jo’s phone still rings every day, part of an ongoing conversation about raw ingredients that can fill the plates.
Stevie says the chefs also enjoy spending time in the garden, both because of the special atmosphere in the place and the opportunity to talk about the colors and shapes of the ingredients.

“I want my chefs to understand what it takes to produce food, what it takes to get someone to deliver.
“Our heirloom vegetables, we chose the variety and explained that we want it at a particular time of year. It was the hard work of Jo and the team that made this possible.
“Just last Friday, one of the chefs, Evelina, came and we were sowing parsnips. So for her to see what a parsnip seed looks like and how we grow it is fantastic because chefs are so used to a box showing up. They might never see the top half of a fennel because it arrives chopped. I always thought that was really important and I don’t think there are many growers in Scotland who cultivate with such precision.

Jo will also take his team to monitor the service in the kitchen to see how the leaves and vegetables are used: “It’s important for us, so we understand if we can improve something, if we get the right sizes. We understand what our goal is.
“A lot of it goes straight to the plate, but some things have to be cut with a paring knife,” Stevie explains, instinctively grabbing a small radish and preparing the leaves. “When it is this quality, we want the vegetables to be clearly identified on the plate.
We head to the greenhouse where there are rows and rows of plants and vegetables, a chorus of green leaves ready to be inspected. There’s ground cress and broad bean blossoms to taste, spinach, pea tendrils, beetroot and a freshly torn Perthshire bok choi leaf.
“It’s instant freshness.
“We go get something in the morning and serve it in the afternoon,” says Stevie, “it’s a real treat”.

Sitting at the Andrew Fairlie restaurant, we talk about the future while remembering the past. “Part of the puzzle is obviously missing,” says general manager Dale Dewsbury. “The first 19 years of the restaurant, Andrew was the center. Now we are ensuring that people can see and experience a brilliant, world-class restaurant in its own right. We have a huge bond with Andrew, but he needs to be forward looking. I think that’s been the transition over the last three years.”
There is a tangible change in the dining room, it looks different after recent refurbishment but remains recognizable as the restaurant which set new standards for Scottish cuisine.

“As long as we’re here, neither I nor Stevie will let go of this connection with Andrew, but this must be a modern restaurant. We will fly the flag the same way he did.
The past two years have been a time of self-assessment for anyone working in hospitality. During the break, there were moments that clarified the restaurant’s purpose for Stevie.
“I derive confidence from the feeling of freedom we had while Andrew was here. We know where the settings are. Every plate we serve should be brilliantly cohesive. We can change the look of the room, we can add more color, we can use different ingredients while staying true to the philosophy of the restaurant.
“We went through this process. You see many of our contemporaries, they went through this audit and they decided that they wanted to work in new professions. Collectively, as a team, we have gone through the same two years and have come to the conclusion that we are in the right place, with the right people”.
Growing up, Stevie sought out comfort food rather than lavish dinners. “I remember a chip sandwich with good home fries, double cooked, lots of sea salt. Buttery Sunblest bread. Breaded fresh fish. It’s a living memory.
Stevie is now recognized among the best chefs in Europe, but things could have turned out differently. It all started with choux pastry.
“Leaving school after fourth grade, Skillseekers came to look after people like me. They gave my details to the computer and the printout said I had to be a welder. I was sent to college for an open house, I did three different types of welding. Cutting things, welding things together. The speaker’s eloquence was phenomenal. I will be a welder.
“We came back in the afternoon and the group was taken to home economics. There they made this hot crumbly dough with cream and that’s it, that’s what I wanted to do.

He enrolled at Glasgow College of Food Technology. Part of the second year of the course was to find an internship. “I used to get the bus from where I was staying in Glasgow, it passed One Devonshire Gardens on the Great Western Road. I thought, if I’m going to be a chef. I want to work in the best place. Pavarotti goes there. The Spice Girls are going. I want to work there.
“I arrived for an interview, I had blue cords, brown oxford shoes, a striped shirt and a purple leather tie. I come to the door and say I have an appointment with the chef. It was Andre. He immediately put me at ease without even trying.
“He took me to college every Thursday. It was quite an intense little kitchen. I loved hearing the characters that were in the kitchen. I loved the work I was doing. I think the chef thought I had a good work ethic. He helped me find a job at Malmaison, then after about a year when a job came up at One Devonshire Gardens, I came back to work with Andrew.
Restaurant Andrew Fairlie has signed a lease at Gleneagles for the next 10 years, with the team eager to write a new chapter.
“It’s approaching the anniversary of the first service. I don’t think any of us had a 20 year plan, but the reality now is 30 years for the restaurant and the people you meet along the way,” says Dale.
“I serve people now who are the children of those I served when I
“Stevie has a right arm who has been in the business for 10 years, my restaurant manager has been with us for almost nine years. The sommelier is seven years old. We all came back ready to continue.

The kitchen
The Andrew Fairlie restaurant opened in 2001, receiving its first Michelin star eight months later, followed by a second in 2006. This is the standard they have achieved since.
The kitchen is organized close together but with individual sections. The restaurant is empty, set with cutlery and glassware. There is already a calm and determined industry among the chefs. Getting ready to put on a show. It’s not as explosive an experience as you might imagine from watching cooking shows. The one common theme is that timing is everything.
One of the menu staples is the five-hour smoked lobster on whiskey barrel crisps. I find them laid out ready to be dressed for the evening service. You can really smell the smoke.
The sofas are being assembled. A balancing act in some cases, others will be as simple as a frozen oyster leaf from the garden. There is a collection of vegetables and leaves that are now laid out for later use.
The chefs stand at the station, methodically working on their own preparation. It’s later, when the orders arrive, that they begin to sync into a ballet as Stevie works to assemble the constituent parts into a plated whole.

From the à la carte menu, these smoked lobsters, crab claw with grilled langoustines or veal sweetbreads will be the most popular choices tonight. As a dish of lamb in a herb crust or roast turbot fillet.
Dessert orders for a Grand Marnier soufflé or a warm rhubarb and ginger tart. Dale is a reassuring presence between the dining room and the kitchen, relaying specific requests and letting everyone know how the night’s plan is going.
There is an element of crowd participation during the delivery to the pass where the dish is assembled, with every part of the cooking process confirmed for the whole team to hear.
Waiters come in and out carrying silver platters with the tasting menu in progress. Knife, foie gras, halibut. The canapes continue.
I notice and appreciate the consistency, the attention everything receives and the common thread of these colorful patches of secret garden flavor.

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