What a great summer we have had, and even now in November it is still very mild,
FOOD TOURS AND COOKING WORKSHOPS
I have had a busy year developing my food tours and classes, with some wonderful trips across Scotland showing visitors this beautiful country that is Scotland. I have been lucky enough to have worked with some other businesses to provide these trips and cooking workshops and also with “Welcome to Fife” at Fife Council, a small but perfectly formed team that make up the tourism arm of the council, They work tirelessly to help those of us like me to promote this amazing region.
I have made a short video which is available on you tube to promote them please do share.
VEGETABLE COOK BOOKS
As most of my readers will know I have embarked on a project of writing small cook books to promote single vegetables, the idea for these came from the many people who, during my cooking demos and workshops asked for ideas on cooking vegetables as they only had three or four. I always publish them about now in time for the Christmas market, yes unashamed promotion. I suppose I should bring each one out in its season but as the books are available year round and in lots of book shops people can buy them when the vegetable is actually available, My latest one is called Tomato and like the the others has 30 recipes, I was about to add, “for the vegetable” but of course a tomato is a fruit! Suffice to say I have treated it as a vegetable in this book (as we do most of the time!) although there is one sweet dish with green tomatoes. There are now 6 books in the series Beetroot, Kale, Courgette, Carrot, and Cauliflower and I have decided to package them altogether to produce a boxed set which will make a very fine Christmas gift. The pack is sturdy and easy to wipe clean as it will live next to the cooker!
The books are on sale now on my website at Waterstones and at many good shops across Fife, Perthshire and Angus
I will also be selling them and The Hairy Bakers cook book at
Eden court fair Inverness November 16th 17th and 18th
Easterbrook Hall Dumfries November 19th 20th
Strathmiglo fair Saturday November 24th
Scone Palace Christmas fair
St Andrews Farmers market 1st December
Dumfermline Farmers market 8th December
And a book signing at Waterstones St. Andrews late opening November 29th
West Fife Eatery.
As Fife food ambassador I enjoy the fact that that Fife is a microcosm of Scotland as a whole, it’s an amazing region, just look at what we produce; There is the magnificent shore line with its 130 plus miles of world class coastal path taking in the pretty East Neuk fishing villages where lobster, crab, razor clams, langoustines and mackerel are all landed. There are all the accompanying fish processors from frozen fish to award winning fish smoke houses. There the hinterlands of the east of fife with the cereals such as oats and barley for the distilleries, further inland we have great vegetables even peppers! There are all categories of livestock from grass fed cattle and sheep to pigs and poultry with a few small producers of rare breed pigs such as Gloucester Old spot and Soay sheep. Then of course there are fruit farms and our famous and only artisan cheese maker, and not to forget our wild harvest, from roe deer, partridge, pheasant in the hills to mushrooms such as chanterelle and ceps in the woods and all manner of herbs and plants from wild garlic, made use of by Trotter’s Independent Condiments with his Wild garlic pesto, to rowan and elderberries. I plan to look more closely at these as the year progresses. But this has become a long introduction to my main subject! Which is west Fife, as Food ambassador I try to cover the whole region and talk about the whole area, but in general when I do my food tours people want to visit the East Neuk so I take them to Ardross farm shop and the East Pier smoke house and the wonderful chocolate maker the Cocoa tree in Pittenweem and then we often cook together using the produce we have seen and tasted.
But what of the west, I think because of the proximity to Edinburgh and the motorway, visitors tend to be less inclined to explore. St Andrews and its environs are a draw, but there is much to see and do, and perhaps also the locals are less aware of their natural heritage in the region. I was involved in he Bruce festival a few years back and it was noticeable that local visitors were not interested in produce from their region, the fact that Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline Farmers markets are never as well attended as St Andrews shows this, all credit then to number 29 in Dunfermline a quirky eatery in the attractive Bruce street in the old town, which interestingly is just up from the Glen gates where the farmers market used to be, but due to the poor attendance there the market has now moved out east to the Fife Leisure park where admittedly the parking is much better. Anyway back to Bruce street and dine at 29, Restaurant Manager Neil Gardner tells me that the new menu is aimed at a young Dunfermline market and judging by the night we were there its working, but he is also determined to introduce local produce. It’s a fun place to be, which feels like a cellar or basement, with large pillars down the middle and a brick wall at one end. There is an eclectic mix of pictures, framed tartan and mirrors on the walls, all adding to the eclectic feel. Loud music is mainly Scottish contemporary with the Proclaimers and Texas featuring heavily. The menu is aimed at a young market with families and covers most bases. But do try the “hot rocks” steaks, as although it’s a bit of theatre you can cook your steak yourself at the table exactly as you want it! Neil wants to use local producer Puddledub for his meat and that will develop in time. John Bonner the executive chef has worked hard to create dishes which appeal to his market and are well presented and colourful. One hopes that the good people of Dunfermline will support such an admirable enterprise.
Dine at 29
29 Bruce Street Dunfermline
Well this was one of the most demanding jobs I have ever had to do:
Take a bunch of guys around Scotland on a ……….. Whisky tour!
It’s great how my website brings in all sort of enquiries from cooking with children, men, women and family groups to after dinner speaking at Tourism or business events, talking at Book festivals and organising food demonstrations all over Scotland – Ballantrae? Watch this space.
So it was, I got an email from Dubai – bunch of guys on a stag do with the “bachelor” passionate about Malt whisky. After much deliberation and to-ing and fro-ing I created a whisky tour for them which not only they will never forget but neither will I!
The stag stuff was sorted very quickly with a nightclub in Glasgow; I had nothing to do with that!! But earlier in the day my friend Brenda from Tasting Scotland https://www.tastingscotland.com/ took the guys on a wonderful walking tour around Glasgow showing all aspects of the Glasgow food culture from Indian through to Chinese and Italian. They loved it. It’s good to have friends in the right places!
We set of on the Sunday of that amazing week of sunshine driven by the characterfull Gordon from William Sleigh https://sleigh.co.uk/ transport to our first Distillery – Auchentoshan https://www.auchentoshan.com/ which happily was a perfect first stop. Their “Ultimate Experience” tour was just that, with an excellent in depth explanation and tasting from the cask we were on our way. Two more distilleries Deanston and Gleggoyne and then to an excellent lunch at the Old Mill at Killearn https://www.theoldmillkillearn.co.uk/ Then onto Balquidder where I put my trust in my old friend Tom Lewis at his superb Monachyle Mhor https://mhor.net/monachyle-mhor-hotel/ who produced the most amazing dinner with each course matched to a whisky. Tom of course came into our private room between courses to explain what it was next, and why he matched the whisky. The boys loved it.
After a great night at the hotel and superb breakfast we set off for Speyside by way of Edradour and Dalwhinnie, the day time high light was lunch at the Auld alliance in Kingussie where Lydie Bocquillon https://www.auld-alliance.com/ the chef owner cooked a great lunch and we were beautifully looked after by her lovely daughter Sky.
The evening highlight was a visit to Glenfarclass, https://www.glenfarclas.co.uk/ which is one of the favourite whiskies of our “bachelor” so we arrived and I introduced him to John Grant as the owner! He was overwhelmed, more was to come on this memorable visit, Calum the distillery manager took us on a tour where we were actually able to put our hands into the spirit stream in the “safe”. Now for those in the know the spirit safe is where the excise man usually steps in and has everything padlocked but here Calum opened it up and plunged his hands into the stream and encouraged us to do the same and rub our hands together to smell the barley!
And so to dinner with John Grant himself the highlight of highlights here as each person was invited to pick a bottle from the shelf from his birthday year and pour himself a dram! There was even one for my year!! Again I had a friend locally who put me in touch with John Grant who now has many more Glenfarclass Ambassadors!
Next day brought two more distilleries – Glenglassaugh and Strathisla and so onto my next surprise for the group. I had hired Glentruim https://www.glentruimestate.co.uk/ castle for the night where I cooked dinner of local venison and a simple cranachan, which they helped prepare in the kitchen. On the journey up we had a discussion about Cullen Skink as they has had some in Glasgow, so I was able to get the ingredients and make that with them as well, a real Scottish food experience. I had also managed to source a few whiskies they had not yet tasted, so the evening developed into a good session around a roaring log fire long into the night.
A slightly delayed departure next morning! took us onto the glorious road to Fort William, and after Gordon showed us Neptune’s staircase at the end of the Caledonian canal, we had a quick tasting at the Ben Nevis distillery before we headed for Oban and lunch at Coast https://www.coastoban.co.uk/ – local shellfish and Halibut from Gigha were excellent. On down to Carradale where we spent our last two nights with some excellent local food at Dunvalanree https://www.dunvalanree.com/ owned and run by Alan and Alison Milstead who cooks brilliantly, and we made a dent in Alan’s excellent whisky collection too.. Final full day was a tour by Frank McHardy of Springbank distillery which was thoroughly enjoyed.
What a great trip it was – Scotland looking fantastic and I provided an experience which could not be bought off the shelf aided by great friends and acquaintances – old and new, along the way!
Can’t wait for the next one now – who’s interested – get in touch!
Last week I had the great pleasure of hosting a group from Dubai – guiding them around a few distilleries to show them just a flavour of what we can offer here in Scotland for the food and drink connoisseur.
Find the full story in my next blog – but here’s a glimpse for now!
Day 1 – www.auchentoshan.com followed by Deanston & Gleggoyne then great food at www.theoldmillpitlochry.co.uk, Balquidder and an evening at Monachyle Mhor Hotel.
Day 2 – Edradour & Dalwhinnie, lunch at www.auld-alliance.com in Kingussie, then Glenfarclass and dinner with John Grant the owner.
Day 3 – Glenglassaugh & Strathisla, with a surprise overnight stay at Glentruim and my own culinary delights.
Day 4 – Fort William to see Neptune’s Steps, Ben Nevis Distillery then on to Oban for lunch at Coast; www.coastoban.co.uk
Day 5 – Full day tour at Springbank
Our final evening – tired but happy!
There is so much to see at the Chillilicious base in Ceres and so much which connects with our theme of Innovation Architecture and Design
Tricia and Stacy are nothing if not Innovative, a chilli farm in Fife for a start! It’s the first in Scotland and they have been growing chillies since 2011. That’s not all, Their pest control is done not by chemicals and sprays but by natural means. If you visit the farm – it’s open every weekend from Friday – Tricia will tell you that the farm was on the site of a former linen mill, whilst all the buildings from then have gone, the remains of the pond where the flax was broken down to make linen is still there and every season frogs congregate and produce……… more frogs! And these little chaps spend their days eating all the slugs which might damage the chillies! A natural pest control. What next for these innovative girls – frogs legs? And if that isn’t enough they also buy in a mass of ladybirds which eat all the nasty bugs that might also damage the chillies, The word for a mass of ladybirds? A loveliness!!!
Without going too deeply into the private lives of the Chillilicious owners, you have to look at their wonderful house as you drive into the farm. It’s on the right as you approach the little farm shop. The roof is based on a church roof and is one of the steepest in Fife! And the window is a Norwegian based design so, when you are there just look around and image all the comings and goings in history, look to your left and the banks which now graze sheep were where the linen was dried after the soaking in the pond and to the right of the house Tricia’s kitchen where all there condiments are made is a log cabin.
Stacy is an artist who has worked with Liz Rowley the well known stained glass artist and she brings her design skills not just to her glass kitchenware available in the shop but also to the designs for the labels of the condiments and her “take” on the Burns’ Selkirk grace is painted on the ceiling of the shop
Visit soon and the studio for open Studios the first week end in May
Some hae heat and canna eat
And some would eat that want it
But we hae heat and we can eat
And sae the chilli be thankit
About a month ago I was asked to put together a unique list for the website “Welcome to Fife” that encompasses many of the elements of my project with Fife Council linking Fife food with the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, for places to visit at this time of year.
This post was far from difficult to compose – a list of those places that I love to visit; businesses built by friends, through hard work and determination; and communities who appreciate the architectural development of their surroundings influenced by food and lifestyles. Admittedly, the hardest part was what to leave out, so have a read and then let me know what you would put on your list, and why.
Continuing the theme of food connected to Innovation Architecture and Design, here are some interesting places to visit in Fife and most of which you’ll also be able to eat at! Enjoy this blog by Fife Ambassador Christopher Trotter.
1 Falkland Pillars of Hercules – fantastic organic cafe and farm shop, but also worth a visit is the toilet block! Designed by a local architect in conjunction with Bruce Bennet, Pillars’ owner, using local timber and composting toilets and fused glass windows by a local artist.
2 St Andrews – the Byre Theatre in Abbey street is on the site of an original cow Byre which was on the edge of town in days gone by. The current building is the third theatre on the site.
3 Dunfermline – The Bruery, home of De Brus Brewery named after the family of Robert the (De) Bruce. Admire the classic Georgian Building in the heart of the town just along from the Alhambra theatre and the Abbey.
4 Glenrothes. The town of Glenrothes was built on farm land after the war, and today several buildings have already been listed . St Columba’s Church is very near the town centre and is worth a visit.
5 St Monans – the East Pier Smokehouse. This building was an old smokehouse and fish processing plant and current owner James Robb has reinstated the smokehouse and converted the rest into a cafe, which is now open for the season.
6 North Queensferry – The Wee Restaurant, owners Craig and Vicki Wood have recently renovated their interior its worth a visit, quite apart from stunning view of all three of the Forth bridges from the door!
7 Cupar – the sugar beet factory. It’s not possible to get in just now, but this remarkable symbol of Scottish farming Innovation stands as a beacon on the way into the old market town of Cupar. The only one of its kind in Scotland!
8 Pittenweem – the Walled Garden Kellie Castle. The National Trust properties will all be open again for Easter but the walled garden is open all year round, designed in the tradition of Medieval houses to provide both fruit vegetables and medicinal plants for the household, Kellie is still run on organic principles and has one of the oldest collections of Scottish apple trees
9 Auchtermuchty – Archibald Findlay’s packing factory. With a plaque going up on the wall of this building to commemorate the great potato breeder, Auchtermuchty is worth a visit not just for its musical output!
10 Ladybank – Off the Rails exhibition.“People Eating” The former station master’s house at Ladybank Station now houses an arts space and this is worth a visit any time but the exhibition is fascinating!
24 HOURS IN LONDON
What would you do for 24 hours in London? Go and see a show? A concert? An exhibition? Perhaps take in some street entertainers (There are 6 yoda’s outside the national gallery) maybe an obscure church you heard about on the radio? Or blow it, just have a great meal! Well I had two great meals and somehow did all of the above as well and more. London is like that you can plan ‘till you are blue in the face – we did two meals and the rest just happened apart from the main event, but more of that later. Hedonism was to the fore!
First stop on arrival at Kings Cross was lunch at Plum and Spilt milk named I gather after the livery of the former rail company whose hotel the restaurant is based. I know nothing of “chef director” Mark Sergeant but there is more than a nod to the Simon Hopkinson school of cooking, unlike Hopkinson, although there is lip service to great British ingredients, how sad that in an otherwise superb prawn cocktail the prawns weren’t British! That said great things were done with pig’s head and green lentils, but one always has to brace oneself for London prices. Ah how lucky we are in Scotland!
The Calvinistic guilt kicks in at this point and rather than drinking red wine all afternoon which I would have loved to have done we set off for the exhibition bit of the trip (one of two!) Caroline knows the mother and brother of the photographer responsible for “Altitude” in King’s Place a truly wonderful space north of Kings Cross (staggering distance of the restaurant you understand) and it was here we saw Alexander Lindsay’s remarkable photographs. Huge landscapes where he has taken dozens ( hundreds?) of images and carefully blended them together which gives a phenomenal sense of depth, the focus being pin point from the scrub in the foreground to the snow on the peaks 100 miles away. Are they worth £10000 plus?
And so on to a bus in the pouring rain to the Strand passing my Alma Mater the Savoy hotel and buying some yummy cheese (not at the Savoy) for later. Now the real reason for our trip as we nod to Nelson and pass under Admiralty arch in to the Mall, no, we are not off to say hi to Princess Charlotte, but to the Mall galleries and the Pink Lady Photography awards where Caroline is a finalist in the awards one of 150 out of 6000 such a thrill to be there. And whom should we bump in to but Joan Ransley a fellow Guild of food writers member and also a finalist. What an evening, Champagne Taittinger, Errazuriz wines and yummy nibbles and bumped in to Xanthe Clay and Michel Roux ( Ah kent his faither- old Scottish joke) For me the great joy of the event was the fun of meeting like minded people who love food and photography what an honour to be there!
Phew, taxi to the depths of west London, cheese and wine with best loved friends (they must be, putting up with two drunks arriving on door step at midnight) and so to bed.
Breakfast in 164 Wandsworth bridge road and then bus journey to not quite meet two friends in town (such is London) so little escape for coffee in Royal Academy friends room and saw the delightful Timothy Hyman exhibition of drawings of the Maggie’s cancer centres which we know, as Caroline helps raise money for our local one in Kirkcaldy. And so to lunch….
Polpo in Beak Street. Caroline had given me the cook book and so it seemed rude not to go, based on Venetian “small plates” it was a joy, terrific service from Nora who really made our lunch. Some lovely flavours Artichoke and speck crostini and Coppa peperonata and goat cheese, to name but two! Buzzy atmosphere, we almost felt like the beautiful people
On the way back to the train we found a food market right outside Kings Cross go there ! its great.
Ah London. but good to be home
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fabby evening with Jason Bouren woops no Busby! and the superb Christopher Delalonde
Hotel Du Vin has changed over the years from the original concept from Gerard Basset whose idea of offering a variety of top class wines with simple food which began the operation with a couple of hotels in 1994. Since then it has blossomed in to a larger business with three outlets in Scotland and the most recent one to open in St Andrews. It has retained the good wine idea and uses top class wine merchant Bancroft wines as one of their suppliers. The food is bistro style and the atmosphere very relaxed. Those that remember the St Andrews Golf hotel are in for a lovely surprise, spick and span and friendly staff! They are fortunate to have Christopher Delalonde at the helm who is one of those people who has forgotten more about his special subject than I will ever know – wine! Former Piper – Heidseick Champagne sommelier of the year A Master Sommelier whose skills as a host are also impeccable. St. Andrews is indeed blessed to have such a man
On my visit for a wine tasting dinner which was held in their intimate Macallan Boardroom with whisky still life’s on the walls and spectacular views over the west sands, we had a tasting presented by Jason Busby from Bancroft wines whose quiet knowledge of his subject has come from years of experience and from also making wine, which for this writer was most interesting as you can imagine! “Chateau Largo” will declare its first vintage later this year. It was a Rioja evening and we began with a delicious light white to drink with a simple canapé of chicken liver parfait. Jason descriptions and explanations were most enlightening and bodes well for future events I had never had a single vineyard Rioja before and this was superb but you can always recognise a good wine as it continues to develop in the glass and under Christopher’s careful chilling warming and decanting as appropriate we had a real viniferous experience, matched with contrasting textures and flavours from the kitchen. My favourite was probably the 2007 reserva which not only developed with each mouthful but responded to each dish in a different way. If this kind of quality of wine and information sets a bench mark then there will be many more excellent evenings to enjoy at the Hotel Du Vin St Andrews.
They plan also to focus on wine events and hold a wine tasting every Friday with canapés for just £19 and with Christopher to guide you, you could ask for no better wine experience, unique indeed to St Andrews. – Seek it out