Features 4 minutes 05 May 2021

10 Quick Questions… with Chef Lorna McNee

Cail Bruich was awarded One Michelin Star in the 2021 Michelin Guide

Michelin Star 10 Quick Questions Chef

Cail Bruich means ‘to eat well’ and chef Lorna McNee ensures customers at this Glasgow restaurant do exactly that.

At what age did you decide that you wanted to become a chef and who or what inspired you?
I decided to be a chef around the age of 18. I'd been working in a small, family-run Italian restaurant as a kitchen porter and, when I didn’t get accepted onto a photography course I wanted, the Head Chef encouraged me to start cooking.

I would watch him at work and was fascinated by the way he could cook food for so many guests. I could also see how much enjoyment he got out of it.

I took him up on his offer and began to cook; then I went to catering school, where I was very much encouraged by my lecturers. I was told I was good at something, which I had never been told at school. This in turn made me work harder, which then led me on to new ventures in my career.

Who's the best chef you have worked for and which other chefs do you admire?
The best chef I ever worked for was Andrew Fairlie; not just in terms of skill set but also in the way he taught you to be a better chef and a better character. He was so calm, generous and nurturing in the way he worked, which I loved.

Andrew gave me everything I needed to be a better chef and a better communicator and he helped me to learn as much as I could about everything around me. He taught me how to respect food and this is something I always try to teach my chefs too.

Andrew was so humble and such a great leader. He gave me so much when I worked for him. He helped me to grow and all I’ve ever wanted to do is make him proud.

I also admire Stephen McLaughlin, who is Head Chef at Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles. Having worked with him for such a long time, I have come to understand his train of thought more and more and I now understand that the way he works is the best way to work. He is very methodical in everything that he does and that’s what makes the restaurant run like clockwork. I would not be where I am today without the discipline he has given me, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Another person I admire is Clare Smyth (from Three Michelin Starred Core), who is a real leader within our industry. The way in which she talks about the industry, her suppliers and the respect she has for food is inspiring.

I recently listened to a ‘Burnt Chef Journal’ podcast featuring Clare and the way she has turned the environment of her kitchen around in order to retain staff is amazing. It’s great to see someone so successful who understands that to keep your staff, you need to give back to them what they give to you. Above all though, her food is incredible!

What is your favourite restaurant and why?
My favourite restaurant is Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles. It was the first meal I had where I realised how good food can really taste. It’s also where it all began for me and the reason I’m the person that I am today.

What's the best meal you've ever had?
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay because growing up, I really admired him – and my partner took me there to celebrate my 30th birthday.

Core by Clare Smyth because Chef Stevie (McLaughlin) took me there when I left my job at Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles and I know chef Andrew had wanted to take me there.

If we are talking about the best meal based solely on what I had to eat then it would have to be The Ledbury. The food was fantastic and the hospitality we received was second to none. I am just glad I got the chance to eat there before it had to close its doors.

What's your favourite local ingredient?
Something we have here in Scotland that is phenomenal is langoustines. There’s nothing better in my opinion.

And your favourite global ingredient?
That’s a difficult one because I could say something as prime as a truffle, or something as simple as the humble lemon.

Where do you get your influences from?
I try and take influences from everywhere: maybe looking at a picture or listening to things people tell me about something they’ve seen or eaten. I mainly take my influences from the ingredients themselves though. I like to think that when something is in season, I focus on it and try and do the best I can with it using my imagination. If you have great ingredients and you treat them with respect, then you can’t go far wrong.

Is there a dish you could never take off the menu at Cail Bruich?
I don’t think we have been open long enough yet to establish a dish that we would never take off the menu, although there are a few that I really like and would love to revisit. We have had lots of great feedback on them and would love other diners to experience them.

We have a honey and lemon desert that we will continue to rework as the flavours just work together. It is a great dish to finish off a meal; light and fresh but with depth of flavour too.

The other dish I’d like to keep on and revisit is the foie gras. It is an idea I have taken from Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, almost in homage to him. It’s not the same dish we did there but it’s the creation of the foie gras and the method by which we cook and season it which I will never change. It’s fantastic and shouldn’t be played with.

What’s the best thing about being a chef?
Being a chef comes with great passion and that’s what I love about it. I really love my job. Getting to touch amazing ingredients every day, the adrenaline of a slick and busy service, hearing guests tell you what they loved about the food… all in all, it is making people happy which I really enjoy; the people I work with and the guests. Nurturing people and showing them why an ingredient is so special. There is no job like it. Food is an amazing thing, and we see it and eat it wherever we go.

And the worst thing about being a chef?

The unsociable hours. I have missed special occasions with my friends and family because working weekends is a big part of this industry. I’m lucky because I have a partner who is really supportive and understanding (as long as I cook for her on my days off!); a family who are immensely proud of me and who understand the sacrifices I have to make to be where I want to be; and a great group of friends who love food and just want to hear all about it, who miss me when I’m not there but who also know that when I am there, we are in for some fun!

And finally, which are your favourite restaurants in the Michelin Guide UK & Ireland?

Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Auchterarder, Scotland
Greenhouse, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Forest Side, Grasmere, England
Ox and Finch, Glasgow, Scotland
Ondine, Edinburgh, Scotland

Cail Bruich was one of 17 restaurants newly awarded One Michelin Star in the Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland 2021. See the full list of awards here

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