For 34-year-old chef Lorna McNee, 2021 was a very good vintage.
Not only did she win a Michelin star for her restaurant, Cail Bruich, and brought this accolade to Glasgow for the first time in 18 years, she has just been recognised by global industry awards, La Liste, as a ‘new talent to watch’.
“It’s amazing, a great achievement,” says McNee, who is originally from Forres and worked at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles for 12 years. Among other things, this year she was also named 100 most influential women in hospitality by Code Hospitality and is an ambassador for Champagne brand Krug, who have invited her to travel to Japan next year.
Did you always want to be a chef?
No, I wanted to be a photographer. Unfortunately I didn't get into photography school so this is where I ended up instead. To be fair, I wasn’t very good at taking pictures, I just liked to think I was. I wasn’t very academic at school but I loved photography.
How’s this year been for you?
It’s been great, very good. I’m humbled by it. There is no better feeling than winning a Michelin star. I can take my hat off and say that is the number one best thing that’s ever happened to me, apart from getting married obviously. The star comes a close second to that.
Do you feel the pressure to maintain your star?
There is a lot of pressure but I try not to let that become a burden. I make sure that what we’re doing is to the best standard and that’s what we need to focus on. It’s the best thing I’ve ever achieved in my life, I love having a Michelin star and I never want to lose it but we do what we do and try not to think about it too much. The whole thing about Michelin is it’s about consistency and you have to ensure that every single table gets the same experience. Everything that goes out, through myself, on the pass, has to be the best dish it can be. If you’re half ass-ing it you’re not doing it right, you do it because you love seeing people happy, not because you’re constantly worrying that it might be Michelin at the table.
How has your cooking evolved over the last year?
I’d like to think it’s become slightly more refined and precise. Nothing’s changed with the quality of produce though, as we continue to always seek out the best. We’ve got slightly more chefs on our team so we can be a bit more adventurous and develop how we present things. We now have more time to do that with more bodies on the team, but with regards to flavour and produce, I stick to what I’m honest about. I haven’t changed the quality or standard of what I use.
Do you still get excited about new ingredients?
Of course, definitely. We had some hare in - brown hare - which is slightly different from the mountain hare that we’ve used previously, but it was very good. It’s stronger than mountain hare and venison but not overly game-y. We’ve also had some samples of Highland Wagyu, something we haven’t used in the restaurant before.
Do you have a calm kitchen?
I try to make sure we’re all happy and I hope that’s represented on the plate at the end of the day. I don’t want to have to work in a kitchen where everybody’s always walking on eggshells, scared to be here and worried what Chef's going to say. We try to ensure we’re open and honest and constructive and that if there’s a problem, you sort it. There’s always going to be heat of the moment stuff - you get frustrated with people - but I don’t think there should be screaming and shouting and throwing of pans.
Was the late Andrew Fairlie a good mentor?
Yes, and that’s exactly what I take on board - his nice, calm and understanding way. If there was a problem, you did know about it, but he didn’t scream and shout to get that point across. He talked to you, to tell you what you’d got wrong, how you fix it and what the outcome is. That’s what I’ve taken on.
What are your favourite Glasgow restaurants?
Ox & Finch is always a favourite. Also, Bar Brett, our sister restaurant which has a recent new chef, Ronan Shaftoe, who I think is great. His stuff is fantastic. It’s not a restaurant but Cottonrake Bakery is up there as well. I had a bit of carrot cake from there the other day and it was phenomenal.
What do you do in your downtime?
If I can get out to eat I will, but a lot of the time I just spend it with my partner, out walking the dogs or at home.
Are we going to see you on TV again anytime soon (McNee was named BBC’s Great British Menu Champion of Champions in 2019)?
If I got asked, I’d take it on board. I do quite enjoy it. It’s nice to meet other chefs and learn other things, every door is an opportunity, as long as it's the right one.
Cail Bruich, 725 Great Western Road, Glasgow (0141 334 6265, www.cailbruich.co.uk)