A Chef with Local Knowledge - Mark Greenaway chats to Val McDermid

24 August 2016

A CHEF WITH LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

(JUST DON'T ASK HIM FOR A DEEP-FRIED MARS BAR...)

Mark Greenaway has little patience with the caricaturing of the Scottish diet as a queasy cavalcade of macaroni pies and deep-fried confectionery. “These things are such easy targets,” the celebrated chef told his audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. “The perception of our food is so bad.” And yet, as his interviewer Val McDermid gently noted, many Scots do grow up with limited exposure to international cuisine. “You’re from a typical Scottish working class family,” she said to Greenaway. “You took your holidays at Butlins. How did you develop a palate?”

Greenway, born in Biggar in 1976, acknowledges that there were gaps in his knowledge when he started out: “I genuinely didn’t know what a prawn was.” But if his learning curve was a steep one, he scaled it quickly, making a fixture of himself in high-end kitchens and claiming a national award for a dessert dish when he was just twenty-one years old. (Prawns were not involved; white chocolate ice-cream, candied kumquats and caramel-dipped raspberries were). “I always wanted to be better than the chef next to me,” he said. This ambition secured him his own place, Restaurant Mark Greenaway, in 2013, with his fiancée Nicola Jack as co-owner and maitre d’. “No backers, no bank loans,” he said proudly. “It’s ours, and we built it from nothing.”

Nothing, that is, but the skill and determination that has seen Greenaway twice represent Scotland on the BBC’s Great British Menu and become a celebrated champion of Scottish produce and cooking. He reserves special scorn for the idea that high-end cooking requires the sourcing of far-flung ingredients. A commission to cook at the 2012 London Olympics came with the caveat that the meal should be 100% Scottish – far less of a challenge to Greenaway than the organisers supposed. “They said, ‘Do you think it’s possible?’ Of course it’s bloody possible!”

His trusted local suppliers are celebrated alongside his own recipes and techniques in his new book, Perceptions. “It was important for me not just to tell my story, but to tell their stories; without those guys I wouldn’t be able to cook the food I do with the flavours it has.” McDermid has already awarded the book pride of place in her own kitchen. “You might think the world has enough cookbooks, but Perceptions is different,” she said, praising its practical advice and accessibility.

Must one, however, hone the persona of a particularly grouchy dragon in order to qualify as a serious cook? Greenaway denies that the stereotype of the exacting tyrant applies in his own kitchen. “You don’t get the best out of anyone by them being in fear of where they’re working,” he said. “And it doesn’t make the food any better. The days of shouting and screaming are done. It’s drama for TV; it’s not how kitchens are run these days.” Was that a disappointment to a writer who specialises in the darker side of human interaction? Apparently not: as long as Greenaway remembers her celery allergy and keeps her a serving of his special vacuum-brewed broth, Val McDermid will remain a regular at Restaurant Mark Greenaway.

 

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