Food & Drink

Recipe for good

Scotland’s National Chef, Gary Maclean, on our ever-delicious larder, his top eating spots and food bringing people together in tough times

By Cheryl Caira

You’ve been busy working with Galloway Cheddar and FareShare Scotland in community kitchens and cafes this month, to help alleviate food poverty and loneliness.

Their campaign is really simple – it’s bringing people together through food. It’s looking at food insecurity, but also supporting the community. We had a supper club with retired individuals, who were getting together for their own wellbeing and to keep up the social side, whereas with some of the other events, you’re looking at people who otherwise might not have eaten that day. All the volunteers have been so enthusiastic and giving with their time. There are a lot of really good people out there doing necessary work, but it’s bittersweet that we have to do it. 

What did becoming Scotland’s first National Chef – with the mission to promote Scotland’s tremendously tasty larder – mean to you?

There are definitely two sides to what I do. One is about supporting charities, schools and teaching kids to cook. The other is when I promote Scotland’s larder, which is undoubtedly the best in the world. So there are these two parallel universes that never really meet in the middle. I do get out and about a lot to promote. In a couple of weeks I’m in Chicago demonstrating some Scottish recipes on breakfast TV, this week I’m in London cooking at a dinner event. 

You’ve done a lot of educating and campaigns over the years around energy-saving cooking and how to minimise food wastage.

I’ve been looking at food wastage from a cost point of view, trying to help people save money on their weekly shop – to protect the people that are struggling. We’re probably in a worse state than we’ve ever been for a long, long time. I get asked a lot about recipes, but cost-saving and wasting less is more about an attitude. The biggest thing for me is how you look after leftovers. No one is eating leftovers off a plate, but it’s understanding how your family eat and what you can do with portioning. 

What’s the best way to eat seasonal food?

From a buying point of view, if you’ve got access to a supermarket, you’ll find that the cheapest, seasonal food – particularly fruit and veg – is at the front, so anything that’s in season is staring you in the face. There’s a misconception that cooking fresh food is more expensive than buying convenience. If you buy a processed product, not only is it bad for you and relatively expensive, it doesn’t really fill you up properly as there are no real nutritional benefits. 

You wrote a book called The Scottish Kitchen – do you have a bit of a soft spot for those timeless, nostalgic recipes we view as Scottish classics?

Most definitely. I know it sounds a bit daft, but I wanted to try and save the recipes that I remembered as a kid. We have haggis and clootie dumpling in the book, and tattie scones and square sausage get a mention, as well as some higher-end produce like venison. The idea for me was that if you had moved away from Scotland, you would flip through that book and it would just bring memories flooding back of your granny’s food. I was trying to have recipes that reflected Scotland’s past, but were also written in a modern way that you can make today.

Creel Caught at Bonnie & Wild in Edinburgh is your first solo venture.  Did you always know you wanted to focus in on seafood?

To be honest, I’d agreed to take the site on, but I wasn’t 100% sure what to do with it. Then I went and watched the Seaspiracy documentary, which I felt was a ghastly, one-sided tarring of the whole industry. I was absolutely livid. I’ve worked in the Scottish seafood industry for many, many years and I know the people and I know the efforts that Scotland and the UK make to separate ourselves and make sure that we’re following better guidelines. That spurred me on to open a seafood restaurant and support Scottish fishermen.

Let us in on some of your favourite Scottish eateries.

The Grove in Lenzie is our local family spot. I go to Ox and Finch, which I love, I normally go with a bunch of chefs. Recently I went to Graeme Cheevers’ Michelin-starred place Unalome in Glasgow’s West End for the first time. It was outstanding from start to finish. There’s no other word for it. Glasgow’s changing – in fact, Scotland’s changing – look at the new Michelin stars that just came in for Edinburgh as well. 

Last time we spoke, you mentioned that your nemesis dishes you hadn’t quite mastered were octopus and Brussel sprouts. Any progress?

Ha! I think I’ve sorted the Brussel sprouts, but I’ve not sorted the octopus. I’ve actually not cooked octopus since our last interview, I tend to avoid it!

You won MasterChef: The Professionals, in the face of competition from 47 other chefs. Is there anything that sticks with you from that experience? 

It sometimes feels like it was a different person that did it. It was a kind of weird thing to do, to be honest. The first couple of years you’re on a rollercoaster, of one thing after another. Even now, it still has an effect. Doing what I do now, working on a few books and keeping busy, your profile slightly changes. It’s sometimes fun when you’re in a newspaper and they don’t mention MasterChef. It’ll probably be there forever. I’ll get the new students in, and one of them will have Googled you. It’ll always be with you, with the joys of YouTube. I’ll probably still be talking about it when I’m 65 and hopefully putting my feet up. 

Gary is supporting Galloway Cheddar’s “Galloway Gathering Project” to help charities across Scotland tackle food poverty and loneliness. For more information, please visit