My first job was polishing glasses for a hotel in Perth. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I ended up waiting tables, but when I saw the kitchen get going I knew I wanted to be a chef. I was 14.
Staff meals are very important to me. It’s not a case of grab something to eat if you have time. Staff need to be able to sit down before service and eat properly.
My first chef said he’d only give me an apprenticeship if I passed my A-levels, which was a progressive thing for a chef to do at the time.
Opening up at Gleneagles in 2001 was like coming home; it’s just down the road from Perth where I was born. I’d held a Michelin star at One Devonshire Place in Glasgow, and we won back the star in less than a year. We got our second in 2005.
We used to cook from The Répertoire in the ’70s. It was properly old school, but a brilliant grounding in cuisine. Everything was made fresh and the standards were high.
It varies depending on the level, but chefs need to spend at least two years with me or it’s a wasted investment for both parties.
I won the Roux Scholarship just as my apprenticeship was coming to an end. It really opened the door for me because I wanted to work in France. Off the back of that I got a job with Michel Guérard, the proponent of Cuisine Minceur.
French kitchens were very tough environments in those days. Brutal is probably the word, especially in Paris. It was like military service. You wouldn’t get away with running a kitchen like that now: constant physical and mental abuse.
The UK was in the dark ages in terms of our cooking when I was training, so going to France was a real eye-opener. Technically I was sound, but the attitude to food was different. There was passion and enthusiasm.
What I saw in France had a big effect on how I run my kitchen now – I won’t tolerate bullying.
Japan is a big influence on my cooking. I’m making stocks with dashi and I’ve been experimenting with some local seaweed.
I have the perfect balance of work and leisure time. I make a good living out of it. A lot of top-end chefs that have multiple restaurants here there and everywhere aren’t happy – they put themselves under a lot of pressure.
It took a long time to build up a network of decent local suppliers. It was tough to find good produce in Scotland at first.
At 25 I worked as a chef on the Royal Scotsman before heading to Africa and Australia. Young cooks need a little break after a sustained period working somewhere tough. You have to do that or you’ll just check out altogether.
I don’t have any other restaurant projects. I don’t consult or have any other brand extensions. It’s about quality of life for me. I had a brain tumour in 2005, and that gives you perspective. I do a lot of cycling and hill walking, go to the football, cook at home and – most importantly – spend time with my family.