Fifteen years ago I made a TV series about talented Scots. It featured the usual line-up of pop stars, models and entrepreneurs but one person stood out from the rest. He was the least famous of the lot but I liked him the most. His name was Andrew Fairlie.
He’d just opened his own restaurant inside Gleneagles Hotel and he was the hottest ticket in town, well on the way to his two Michelin stars.
We first met in a lay-by outside Glasgow. The format for the show involved finding out what made the person tick and for Andrew that was a day in his beloved hills. Despite being Scotland’s top chef, we bonded over a flask of stewed tea and a packet of shortbread. I’ve been his friend ever since.
If the hills were his escape, his home was the kitchen at Gleneagles and that became clear the moment you walked through the door.
I’ve filmed with lots of chefs down the years. Some act up to the cameras at the expense of their staff. Others try to fake a camaraderie that clearly doesn’t exist.
Andrew’s kitchen was different.
It felt as calm as a yoga class for people who’d just had a relaxing massage. In a small, separate space in the centre of the vast Gleneagles kitchen, his team of chefs went quietly about the business of producing the very best food in Scotland. In the middle of it all was Andrew, quiet and unassuming but clearly in charge.
He used his encyclopaedic knowledge of food and his passion for great Scottish ingredients to inspire his kitchen team and lead them to perfection. That produced a special kind of loyalty and admiration from those who worked with him.
And then there was his food. His smoked lobster is probably his signature dish. It originates from his classical training under chef Michel Guerard in France and it is also one of the most incredible things you will ever eat.
Some dishes sound good on the menu and look good on the plate but ultimately disappoint. Andrew’s food promised lots and delivered even more. Cooking that precise and remarkable was always going to attract attention and Andrew has had lots of that.
For the past 12 years, his has been the only restaurant in Scotland with two Michelin stars. It’s also been voted Best Restaurant in the UK and won every prize and award going. And all this in a corner of rural Perthshire.
That is his achievement. Andrew Fairlie has put Scottish food on the map and his commitment and high standards have inspired others and created the vibrant restaurant scene we all now enjoy. You will struggle to find a chef in Scotland who doesn’t list him as an inspiration.
That explains the reaction this week to the news that Andrew is stepping down from his restaurant due to a terminal brain tumour. Even for those of us who knew about his condition, the reality of the news coverage has been an absolute shock.
His professional career may be over but his excellence will continue under his team. Away from the kitchen, there is still life to be lived by this remarkable man, surrounded by the love of friends and family and an industry for whom he will always be, Scotland’s greatest chef.