CHEFS 2014

Alistair Birt

Alistair-Birt_300Whilst studying for a degree in the Culinary Arts Alistair found a passion for chocolate and all things sweet. Under the tutorage of Yolande Stanley MCA Alistair competed in many national competitions and trained with some of the best in the UK and abroad including Ewarld Notter. This culminated to Alistair representing the UK at Worldskills in Calgary 2009 where he came 5th (the highest ever finish for a UK Participant) and achieved a medallion of excellence.  Alistair has worked at William Curley for 5 years where he holds the position of Head Chocolatier and in 2013 he was awarded an Acorn award for his work within the industry. 

Alistairs job ranges hugely from training to developing new products, ensuring quality is always the same, ensuring products are always in stock and overseeing that wholesale orders go out. Working with the very tallented William Cirley Alistair is also involved in demonstrations and even photo shoots assisting on Williams second book development project. 

Brett Graham

BrettBrett grew up in Newcastle (Australia), where he began his cooking career, aged 15, at Scratchley’s on the Wharf, a simple fish restaurant.

Later he moved to Sydney where,he worked under Liam Tomlin at Banc restaurant. During his time there he won the Josephine Pignolet Award. 
This moved Brett  to travel to the UK where he secured a possition at The Square, 2 Michelin stars where he honed his skills for three years.

The Ledbury opened in 2005, gained its first Michelin star the following year and was awarded two Michelin stars in 2010. The Ledbury has picked up many awards which include 29/30 in Zagat, joined the San Pellegrino List of Top 50 Restaurants in the World as the highest new entry in 2011 and now sits at number 10. It was also voted Best Restaurant in the UK for the 3rd year running in 2012 at the National Restaurant Awards. Brett’s low-key, refined techniques are original and it’s the quality of his dishes that makes The Ledbury so special.
Brett is supported by a young and energetic team, including sous chef Greg Austin.

Gerard Chouet

GerardChouet300Gerard Chouet is the head pastry chef at Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles. Born and raised in France, Gerard has nonetheless spent much of his career working in the UK including stints at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and Hotel Tresanton in Cornwall. He has been the pastry chef at Andrew Fairlie for seven years and describes it as the best atmosphere he has ever worked in. The Staff Canteen caught up with Gerard to find out what life is like for a French pastry chef in rural Scotland.
When did you first decide to become a pastry chef?
I grew up in Burgundy in France and my mum was a great cook. We used to have lots of family parties with all the neighbours and I used to help out in the kitchen. From a young age I saw how much people got excited over desserts so I started to make some very simple things like marmalade using fruit from the garden. We also had a yoghurt machine and I remember making yoghurt at home at the age of about ten. At the age of 19 I left school to do a professional apprenticeship in a pastry shop.
What were your reasons for coming to the UK?
My first experience at Le Manoir was very positive. The mentality was very different than in France where you had a lot of people screaming and shouting; I didn’t find that at all at Le Manoir and I wanted to recreate that experience so I came back to the UK and worked in Cornwall.
Then, when I came to Scotland, I had been working for some time in France and northern Spain so my plan was to stay for one year, mostly to stop me forgetting the language but I ended up staying for nine because of Andrew Fairlie!
What is it about Andrew Fairlie that has kept you there?
We’re not a huge team at Andrew Fairlie; we’re just nine chefs in the kitchen so we know each other very well; we help each other when we’re in the s*** and when there’s something wrong we try to find a solution together rather than fighting or screaming at each other. Andrew’s a nice guy who looks after us and has looked after me very well. There’s also very good communication between the kitchen and front of house so in service nobody’s screaming or calling each other bad names, so when you come to work you’re in a good mood.
How has your role developed since you started at Andrew Fairlie?
Since I started the business has really increased in volume and the team has increased from five chefs to nine. The quality and the attention to detail has increased as well over the whole kitchen, not just in pastry.
In terms of pastry, when I first came here there were a couple of things we were buying in but I said, “I can make that myself and I can make it better,” so that became my goal and now everything is homemade from start to finish. We buy the flour and the eggs from outside but that’s it, everything else is made in the kitchen – the chocolate, the bread, everything.
Have you developed as a pastry chef yourself?
I think I have improved as a pastry chef in all aspects since I’ve been here: my personality, the way I work, the way I think - they have all evolved. Technically I have learned a lot as well. At Andrew Fairlie we can go once a year for a stage in a restaurant of our choice. I did a stage in Bellouet Conseil pastry school and Valrhona Chocolate School in Paris where I learnt a lot about plating desserts, sugar work and these kind of things which are difficult to learn here on your own in Scotland. I used these opportunities to fill in the gaps in my career and I used the things I learned in competitions, which are a great way to try out new techniques, do research and experiment with things to see if they work or not; for example I was recently a semi-finalist in the Master of Culinary Arts competition.
I also feel that I’ve really developed as a teacher and trainer, which I really enjoy doing. I’m the only pastry chef here but there are one or two guys from the main kitchen who I’ve trained like Ross Clark, one of our CDPs who covers me when I’m off. I also teach the guys who come here to stage. I like teaching them and I feel it’s part of a pastry chef’s duty to pass on what we know to the younger generation so that the level of knowledge an
Gerard's skill continues to rise and rise. I’m passionate about pastry; I really enjoy what I’m doing and I want to share my happiness with other people and I think that if you teach with enthusiasm and love, people are more receptive and they learn better.

How do you come up with new ideas for desserts and what inspires you?
Since I’ve been here I’ve developed a lot of recipes so often I’ll revisit something I’ve done before but I’ll add something new and fresh to it. I also read a lot of books and magazines to get new ideas. I go online where you can find lots of great ideas, then I can put my own personal twist on them as well as keeping them within the philosophy of what we do here at Andrew Fairlie.
I also take a lot of inspiration from nature and the amazing produce here in Scotland. About 200 yards from my home there is a small wood where wild leeks, wild garlic, wood sorrel flowers, chickweed and elderflowers grow, so at the moment  I have an elderflower and peach soufflé on the menu with elderflowers from that wood. Next month there will be lots of raspberries so they will also feature on my desserts  – these kinds of ingredient are local, fresh, seasonal and free – what more could you want?

You’ve been in Scotland for ten years now; where do you see your future lying?
I want to stay in Scotland and open my own small chocolate business. I love teaching as well so I’d like to teach pastry at the same time, maybe part time at a local college.
You wouldn’t want to move back to France?

No, I’m very well known here and I know all the suppliers so I would have a very strong foundation here which, strangely, I wouldn’t have back in France. Also France has a very strong tradition of pastry already but here in Scotland there are a lot of things I think I could help to develop so I think my input as a teacher would be more helpful

Michael Smith

MichaelSmithMichael was never fond of school, but he soon found he was a quick learner in the kitchen.

Michael was born and bred in Inverness. He wasn’t really interested in school, and was looking for any avenue to get out of education. He started a part time job at a restaurant in the Glen Morrison Hotel pot washing, and realized he enjoyed the camaraderie of the kitchen.

Taking an HND in Edinburgh with work experience at Arisaig House, Michael met one of the first high profile English chefs to cook in Scotland, Matthew Burns. He showed Michael the levels of excellence expected when cooking Haute Cuisine.

Michael was thrown off his HND and decided to take a full time job at Arisaig House. Through Matthew’s recommendations Michael gained experience in London at Le Pont De La Tour and a couple of months training at Le Gavroche.

In 1999, Michael was head-hunted by Andrew Radford who was about to open the Blue Bar & Restaurant in Glasgow’s Lighthouse Centre. Michael moved on to be Head Chef at Stefan King’s newest ventures, Arta at the Old Cheese Market in Glasgow’s Merchant City and also, Gong, in the West End. He designed and developed both kitchens and the menu concepts of each restaurant.

In 2005, Michael was interviewed and appointed head chef by Shirley Spear at The Three Chimney’s. Shirley was immediately taken by Michael’s genuine enthusiasm for working with fresh, Scottish ingredients of the very best quality, such as he would be using daily in Skye. The Three Chimneys has held 3 AA Red rosettes for 12 consecutive years.
Michael and his French wife, Laurence, their daughter Margot and son Oscar, are very settled in Skye, having bought a traditional cottage at Borreraig a few miles from the restaurant.

Philip Howard

A quiet culinary professional, an absolute chef’s chef and highly respected culinary figure, Philip Howard has been the head chef and co-owner (with Nigel Platts-Martin) of The Square since its opening in 1991. He saw the restaurant relocate in 1997 from its original site in St James’s to its current location in Bruton Street, Mayfair. Prior to joining The Square, Phil worked with Marco Pierre White at Harvey’s, and Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum. He started his career at Roux Restaurants, having changed tack following the attainment of a degree in Microbiology at Kent University.

Phil’s distinctive modern French food has enjoyed great critical acclaim and huge consumer success. Its reputation has been forged through the delivery of pleasure through harmonious flavour rather than technical wizardry or innovation. A first Michelin star was awarded in 1994, and a second followed four years later in 1998. Both Phil and The Square have won a vast array of other awards over the years, including Chef’s Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year in many guides and publications.

Phil has chosen to remain in the kitchens of The Square doing what he enjoys most - cooking. He has, however, had many popular appearances on TV, the most notable of which was his successful participation in BBC2’s Great British Menu where his fish course won a place at the final banquet. He is also a regular guest on Saturday Kitchen and Masterchef, and has written two critically acclaimed cookbooks - The Square; The Cookbook: Volumes 1 and 2 - Savoury and Sweet (published by Absolute).

Phil has cooked at many events, both nationally and internationally. Industry events, high profile charity fundraising dinners and corporate hospitality have all profited from his cooking. Hotels and restaurants in Australia, Singapore, Dubai, Maldives, New York, Boston, Belfast and Moscow have welcomed him to their kitchens for a variety of gastronomic events.

Phil is a partner in three other restaurants - The Ledbury (with Nigel Platts-Martin and Brett Graham), and Kitchen W8 and Sonny’s Kitchen with Rebecca Mascarenhas.

Married to Jennie, with two children, Millie and Ali, Phil is a keen runner (25 marathons), triathlete and skier. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1966.