Stephen McLaughlin is Head Chef of Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland, which has held Two Michelin Stars since 2006.
Having completed a work experience placement at One Devonshire Gardens, where Andrew was Head Chef, Stephen then returned to work for Andrew after college, working his way up over 6 years from Commis to Sous Chef.
When Andrew left One Devonshire Gardens to open his own restaurant in 2001, Stephen went with him, starting out as his Sous Chef before being promoted to Head Chef in 2006. Sadly, after a long battle with a brain tumour, Andrew passed away in January 2019. His long-standing restaurant team, led by Stephen, keep Andrew’s spirit alive in the restaurant he created, where the ethos is all about sustainability.
We caught up with him for a chat.
How did you first get involved in cooking?At age 17 I attended an open day at the Glasgow College of Food Technology where a chef lecturer made a delicious buttery pastry. I was immediately captivated by its flavour, texture and how it made me feel. I knew from that point I wanted to know more….
While travelling to and from college I would pass One Devonshire Gardens, an award winning boutique townhouse in Glasgow. I knew it was the best restaurant in town and that I would love to work there one day. Upon gaining an unpaid collage placement there I would meet the second most important man in my life after my father, and that was Andrew Fairlie.
Can you remember your first shift?It was a Thursday morning and I was asked to pick salad leaves and heads of lettuce, along with fresh herbs, most of which I had no idea what they were or what they were for. What I did know was that at some point in the day there would be a customer ordering and eating these leaves that I had prepared and I found that really exciting.
Who or what were the main influences in your early career?My main influence and mentor throughout my career has been Andrew Fairlie. First and foremost Andrew taught me respect. He taught me to respect myself, to respect others and to always respect the produce we were working with. He taught me restraint, knowing and understanding when less is more and that quality is always first. He also taught me that you must be consistent in everything you do, play to your strengths and trust your instincts.
There are many dishes that I cook today that remind me of Andrew – but it is not always the finished dish that reminds me but more how we get there – sourcing the best produce and paying meticulous attention to detail in the preparation and execution.
Where do you find your inspiration?Sourcing and working with the finest produce is what keeps me inspired day to day. So much of our cuisine is produce led and we are extremely fortunate to have established relationships and friendships with a number of suppliers. We also look to seek out new producers every year.
In the early part of my career my mentor was (and always will be) a huge inspiration but as time has evolved and through my own learning and confidence I am inspired by our suppliers and what I can create with their incredible products. I am inspired to showcase their produce and to highlight with pride the tremendous quality they have crafted and to give this experience to the customer.
Our walled Victorian garden is hugely inspiring and, during the prime growing months of May to September, 95% of the vegetables we serve in the restaurant we have grown ourselves. We exclusively grow heritage and true baby vegetables, herbs and cresses, varieties you simply cannot buy in the shops. This helps to keep our creativity flowing and interesting for our customers.
Does this ethos carry through to your home life?My leisure time is filled with family dinners and getting the children interested and curious to taste new things. We have raised beds at home which I love to cook from. This will also teach my children the importance of growing your own and the benefits of eating from the land. Textures and flavours that I cook with in the restaurant will inspire a dish to cook at home for my family.
Do you follow a life motto? And what are your future goals?My life motto is: simple things, brilliantly done.
My goal is to maintain Andrew’s legacy and culinary traditions. This includes managing our team in a fashion that allows them to develop and flourish, allowing our restaurant to become better year on year.