Flash-grilled: Stuart Ralston

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled: Stuart Ralston

Related tags: Chefs

Chef Stuart Ralston is chef owner of well-regarded Edinburgh restaurants Aizle and Noto.

What was your first job?
My first job was with my Dad (who was a chef), dishwashing at a little pizzeria in Kirkcaldy, Fife, called Mamma Mia's. I loved it. I did all the dishes and plated starters and desserts.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
I really love a cheeseburger. I love the burger at The Burger Joint at The Parker Meridian in New York. It's my idea of the perfect burger - soft squishy bun, thin double patty, American cheese, mustard, mayo, ketchup, that’s it.

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
Best meal I have ever had was probably Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York. It was breath taking, the produce is grown on site, the place is beautiful, and it changed the way I thought I wanted to cook.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why? 
David Chang is maybe the most inspiring industry figure, I love his rebel-like attitude and willingness to make mistakes. His restaurant empire is exactly the style I love, mixed Asian influences and really original food, everything about his business is something to aspire to.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
I would have loved to been a pro Rally driver!

What is your biggest regret?
My biggest regret is probably not taking a job at Eleven Madison Park when I had the opportunity.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
Dirtiness, people who don’t work a certain way drives me nuts, sections have to be clean and organised or it just does my head in

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
“When will you get soft furnishings in the bathrooms?”

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Probably Michel Bras’s Hot Chocolate Molten Biscuit, because it’s probably the most imitated thing I have seen. It was pure genius when he did it and it tastes great, to have that kind of impact globally would be nice.

Describe your cooking style in three words
Natural, delicious, seasonal

Most overrated food?
Gold Leaf on desserts. Totally pointless, expensive, tasteless, tricky to handle and just a waste of time.

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
Customers going to the bathroom. It’s a nightmare doing a fast tasting menu when you have to keep stopping because people are up off the table - I realise it’s not a realistic ask though!

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
Zoe Williams for The Telegraph ​(a 3/5), she unfortunately came relatively early on when I was trying to get Aizle off the ground. It was a cold night, we weren’t so busy so the room was a bit lacking, I had 2 chefs walk out and it was just me trying to do too much, stressed, and it didn’t go that well. I didn’t know she had been until I read it in the paper.

If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
I would like to cook for Anthony Bourdain, I really loved all his books and shows, he had a vast knowledge about the world, food, people and I think with his obvious struggles in life maybe I could have learnt some stuff from him.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
To be clear what you want and what you’re interested in, i.e. finding a place to work that you may have some personal interest in. If you like Japanese food, try working somewhere that does that cuisine. I believe that makes the hard work more enjoyable if you work somewhere you are interested in.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
Thermomix, its just the best and we use it constantly. If we didn’t have it, it would be a sad day.

What do you cook at home on your days off?
Well my wife and four-year-old son, Sonny, dictate what I cook. Firm favourites are roast chicken and root vegetables. I like to have a smorgasbord of things on my days off, good bread, salads, cheese, pickles etc. We always cook fish a couple times a week too, I’m lucky my whole family love to eat well and aren’t picky at all.

What’s your earliest food memory? 
Probably my mum, she cooked for us every night growing up, despite working full time. She made sure we ate things like shepherd’s pie and would make “stuffed pancakes” - which is Bolognese stuffed inside crepes and topped with béchamel – this was always a favourite with me and my brothers.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Stay humble, despite any success I have always been told to be polite and considerate, I try to remain this way all the time no matter who I am talking to.

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
I have been a frequent hospital person so it’s hard to say - but maybe the most serious was contracting MRSA in hospital, and doctors feared it would develop into Sepsis, which can be deadly. I made it though, after being quarantined.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
I like to go out for sushi to relax, usually with my wife, somewhere we can eat tons and catch up as we both have busy lives

Tipple of choice?
Nowadays pretty much strictly wine, I like red wines from Rhone and Cote de Beaune particularly. I don’t really drink that much anymore!

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Any/all of the following: fried chicken, cheeseburgers, chocolate mousse, Snickers, great pizza, sushi, cheese on toast, and cookies.

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