Lorna McNee knows first-hand what an incredible chef and teacher Andrew Fairlie was, having started out as an apprentice at his restaurant when she was just 21. 11 years on, she reflects on what she has learned and her favourite aspects of working in the hospitality industry.
She also tells us about the first menu she designed, explains the biggest challenges facing young chefs today and offers her advice for those applying for the Andrew Fairlie Scholarship.
Could you tell us a bit about your career background?
“I started in the industry as many chefs do - as a KP (kitchen porter) in a local restaurant, Little Sicily in Forres. After much persuasion from the head chef at the time, Antonio ‘Nino’ Abbate, I went to study hospitality at Moray College whilst continuing to work there, leaving 3 years later with an HNC Degree. After a little guidance and encouragement from one of my lecturers at Moray, I went in search of inspiration and organised a stage at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie… and inspired I was!
“I started working as an apprentice at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at the age of 21. Even though I had very little experience, chef Andrew offered me an opportunity. However, he made it very clear how much I would have to put into it and made sure I understood how hard it would be.
“Everything I put in, Andrew made sure I got back in the form of knowledge, opportunity and his passionate love of food. I arrived as an apprentice and gradually worked my way around each section of the kitchen to go on to become sous chef; the position I hold today.
“I have been at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie for nearly 11 years. I continue to learn, develop and be the best chef that I can. That is why I love this place so much.”
Can you remember the first menu you designed?
“Yes, it was for the Scottish Chef of the Year menu:
Turbot à la marinière
Confit leg, sprouts
Lime & basil
Lemon cerbena Ice cream
“It meant a lot to me and I worked on it for a long time.”
What is your favourite thing about working in hospitality?
“It is a non-stop learning environment and there is always something new to see or do, whether it is one of the team showing you a new skill or a supplier showcasing their product in the best light.
“New flavours and creations, new equipment and new thought processes… it never stops. You can learn from anyone; don’t ever think you’re too good for a commis chef to teach you something new.”
What are the biggest challenges facing aspiring chefs today?
“I think that maybe young chefs feel pressure to be the next ‘big thing’ or must be on a level with well-known chefs. This isn’t true; cook with your heart, be honest with yourself, do what you love most and make sure you enjoy your journey along the way.”
What impact do you think the Andrew Fairlie Scholarship will have on Scotland’s hospitality sector?
“Hopefully the scholarship will mean that chef Andrew’s legacy will continue to live on. It will be amazing for scholars to learn to work the way Andrew taught us. I hope that future scholars will take this to their own kitchens and that the calm, humble, disciplined way we approach our craft will spread through kitchens up and down the country.”
What 3 words would you use to describe a potential Andrew Fairlie Scholar?
“Committed, honest and humble.”
Do you have any advice for applicants to the Andrew Fairlie Scholarship?
“This is a fantastic opportunity. All future scholars will have the chance to follow in the footsteps of one of the best chefs in the industry, understand his teaching methods and be immersed in fantastic produce whilst surrounded by likeminded people.
“Think hard about this life-changing opportunity; if you want to work hard, learn lots and broaden your knowledge, then go for it and apply – what have you got to lose?! Good luck!”
The Andrew Fairlie Scholarship is an incredible opportunity for aspiring chefs – you can find more details and apply for the scholarship here.