Interview: Andrew and Jim Fairlie, chef and farmer

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Who says two brothers can't work together? David Miliband may have left frontline politics after his younger sibling, Ed, beat him to the Labour Party leadership, but two Scots are proving family ties make perfect business sense, finds Alice Wyllie

• Jim, top, and Andrew Fairlie (bottom) take time to relax at Gleneagles

CAIN and Abel. Romulus and Remus. Noel and Liam. Ed and David. History is littered with examples of where working with your brother can go wrong, and Andrew and Jim Fairlie know all about learning to work together.

Growing up on a council estate in Perth, the brothers lived quite separate lives. With three years between them, different friends and unrelated interests - not to mention three other siblings to contend with - they spent a lot of time apart. However, every evening, their parents – a teacher and a shoe shop manager – would insist that all seven family members sat down together to a meal.

That early parental diktat is one of the reasons that food is so important to both brothers. Andrew Fairlie, 46, is the only chef in Scotland to hold two Michelin stars – at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles – while Jim, 43, is a successful farmer who started the Scottish farmers' market movement in Perth 11 years ago and supplies lamb directly to his brother's restaurant. Today they work closely together and have a strong relationship, but, in the past, they have had their moments.

We meet on a sunny day at Gleneagles where the siblings have found a rare window in both their schedules to champion Scotch Lamb as part of this autumn's Festival of Scotch Lamb. Jim is up early every day on the farm, while Andrew works late into the night as one of Scotland's most talented chefs. They are easy in each other's company, although not overly effusive or tactile, Milliband-style.

Sitting in Andrew's empty restaurant while his staff busy themselves around us preparing for the evening's service, Jim is the more talkative of the two, but looks to his older brother to take the lead, and, when I ask my first question, suggests Andrew goes first.

"Our family didn't sit down and have elaborate meals, but we did all sit down and eat together," explains Andrew. "As a family we didn't really eat out in restaurants when I was younger so I didn't know you could have a career as a chef, and at that time it certainly wasn't considered rock and roll."

Andrew started out washing dishes in a local hotel at 14 and began an apprenticeship at 15 before winning a Roux scholarship at 20. He worked in a number of top French kitchens before returning to Scotland to work at Glasgow's One Devonshire Gardens before setting up shop at Gleneagles in 2001.

It was while he was at One Devonshire Gardens, however, that he took a call from his brother that would turn their relationship into a commercial partnership. "I was working on the Glenearn Estate at the time," explains Jim, who now runs Kindrum Park Farm at Logie Almond, near Perth. "Everything was fine for the first couple of years but then with BSE the price of lamb collapsed. So, I gave Andy a call and said, 'will you take lamb off me because we're getting buttons for it in the market?' And he said: 'Yes. If it's good enough.'"

"I tasted his lamb and loved it," says Andrew, taking up the story. "At that time farmers had no idea how to get their stuff to market. It was lorryloads of beef or lamb and they just abdicated all responsibility for it from that point. But from a chef's perspective, I think I did have a better idea of it all because I knew how Jim worked. And from my experience of working in France, it was normal for restaurants and farmers to have a close relationship."

Provenance is a word which has become increasingly trendy in the food world, and telling customers exactly where their food has come from is a powerful marketing tool. For the Fairlie brothers, however, it just made sense to utilise their relationship, and any positive marketing angle which has arisen from the partnership is simply a bonus. "I take a lot of pride in what I do," says Jim. "If I produce a lamb I want it to be given a massive amount of respect after I'm done with it. And that's why I give it to Andy. He treats it with the kind of respect that makes people go 'wow, that's incredible' when they taste it. And for him, buying from his brother means he knows where it comes from and he knows how good it's going to be, and he can put it out there comfortably."

"It was great for me to state on the menu that it was Glenearn lamb, and when guests asked the staff about it, to be able to tell them that it's supplied by the chef's brother," adds Andrew. "It's a kind of confidence thing for our guests, that direct relationship, especially after BSE. For me that personal relationship with a supplier is hugely important."

As part of that relationship, Jim eats regularly in Andrew's restaurant, and, in return, Andrew often visits his brother's farm, taking his staff with him, so they fully understand where the produce they work with starts out life. They speak regularly on the telephone, but – as two people who work very long, very different hours - working together has given them the opportunity to spend more time together.

However, gleaning any insight into any more personal bond is tricky. Questions as to the nature of their relationship are met with either fairly neutral answers or answers referencing their work. They are clearly two driven men thoroughly absorbed in their line of work, and were it not for their professional connection, one wonders how often they'd communicate. Since Andrew left home while Jim was still a child, and spent his early adulthood travelling for work, they might easily have drifted apart. Working together, it appears, has brought them a little closer, even if they don't really voice it.

When I ask Andrew what he's learned from his brother, his answer, as it often does, refers to their working relationship. "I've learned how incredibly hard it is to do his job," he says. "There are times Jim looks at what I do and thinks, 'why would you want to be in the kitchen for 14 hours a day?' And I'll go up and see him doing lambing in the wind and rain and I think, 'why the hell would you want to do that?' So there's a real respect on both sides. It's something that I do a lot with the young chefs in there. I'm passionate about getting them to understand the product, getting them down to farms and knowing that there's someone on the other end of that product working just as hard as they do."

It took a while for their working relationship to be as smooth as it is now, however. When Jim moved to Kindrum Park Farm in 2007, he knew that his newly acquired stock wasn't up to scratch yet and that no amount of brotherly goodwill would see Andrew serving it to his guests. "You get feedback from your customers, but when I get it from Andy, there's just that little bit further that you've got to go all the time," he says with a laugh. "Andrew's standards are extremely high. Higher than anyone else we have dealings with. And it makes me conscious of everything I do. And I know that if things are not right, I'm going to get a phonecall from him: "Jim, no happy with this."

And so when he took on Kindrum Park, Jim had one of the lambs slaughtered and sent it up to Gleneagles to be inspected by Andrew. The chef's response? "Never cross my path with that again." Jim was dropped as a supplier for a whole year until he got the stock up to scratch.

They insist, however, that there's never been friction in their working relationship, only frustration when Jim was trying to bring his stock up to Andrew's high standards. "There was a little frustration in the early days," says Andrew. "It's been a huge learning curve for Jim, but we've never fallen out about it. Not like we used to!"

How was their relationship growing up in a seven-strong household in Perth? The pair share a look and a knowing laugh. "All right," says Jim carefully. "Depends which side of the bed you were on! We were a very busy family as kids. We did a lot together, and while there are only three years between us, it's a big three years. Andy left home when he was 15 and I was still a kid. There were so many of us around that there was…" Andrew interjects: "lots of people to fall out with!"

From a hectic childhood to a hectic working life, it seems it's always been difficult for the pair to find time for each other. But just as their daily meal brought the family together once a day when they were younger, today their intertwined careers offer a similar connection. A chef's relationship with his supplier is one of the most important he'll have, and if that supplier is his brother, it makes for a particularly tasty combination.