Chef flying Scots flag in Olympic TV cook-off

WHO hasn’t done it? Arrive home, keys somewhere else, what else for it but to at least consider the climb in through the window option?

In Mark Greenaway’s case, home was a flat four floors up. And while Mark, it turned out, was a perfectly good chef, he certainly was no Spiderman.

“I ‘died’ twice,” he groans, recalling the aftermath of attempting to break into his own home which resulted in a stomach-churning 30ft fall, being impaled on a fence spike and emergency surgery to fix his collapsed lungs.

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“When something like that happens,” he adds, “you think differently. You try then to grasp more from life. You take more opportunities and push yourself more because you realise that you have to. You only get one chance.”

The plunge happened while Mark was working his way up in the restaurant trade, Down Under, in the heart of Sydney.

Quite probably he would still have gone on to become one of the rising stars of the Scottish food scene. He is the delighted winner of a string of awards.

His signature Restaurant Mark Greenaway, at 12 Picardy Place, was awarded a coveted three AA Rosettes in January.

As of next month, he’ll be a national television chef vying for a shot at creating The Great British Menu. He’ll be the only Scottish-based chef in the contest, aiming to dish up his own take on the perfect meal for a squad of Britain’s top Olympians.

But first he had to pull through the fight of his life.

“I’d gone home to get changed but my keys and my phone were at work,” says Mark, taking time out from the red-hot confines of his surprisingly compact restaurant kitchen.

“I thought I could climb up the fire escape and get in through a window, but my right foot slipped. As I made a grab to steady myself, I ripped my right arm open. There was this five-inch gash on my right arm.”

He was left hanging on for dear life, a 30ft drop below and no power in his right arm to help pull himself to safety. There was only one thing for it. Let go.

But as he braced himself for hitting the soft grass below, his left leg smashed against a balcony. Just for good measure, he avoided the grass and instead landed, impaled on a fence.

What happened next was life or death stuff. His ribs had broken and pierced his lungs, causing them to collapse and him to stop breathing.

“Luckily, people in the apartment below had phoned for an ambulance and the crew did an emergency procedure to drain my lungs which had actually stuck together. At that point I was probably more concerned about my leg than my lungs.”

In hospital Mark needed a metal plate to repair his broken leg. But his lungs weren’t strong enough to cope with the anaesthetic and collapsed again, sending the surgical team back into emergency mode.

“I stopped breathing for the second time,” he adds. “I needed another emergency drain. I woke up next day with tubes everywhere and no idea what was going on.

“But the human body is amazing. I spent two weeks in hospital, couldn’t work for three months. You discover that the body is an incredible machine. The doctors and nurses were amazing – the healthcare second to none.”

Today, he’s none the worse for it. In fact, it may well have been a major motivating factor in driving him on to becoming one of Scottish restaurant scene’s most promising new names. And, of course, he is about to become even better known.

A week on Monday, he’ll reveal to the nation the cooking skills that have earned him rave reviews here, when he helps kick off this year’s Great British Menu series, which is now a regular event on the television calendar and a chance for leading chefs around the country to put their skills to the test against each other.

This year the theme is, fairly obviously, the London Olympics. The challenge: to produce an Olympic feast for the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave, boxer Amir Khan and rower Sir Matthew Pinsent.

It’s a televised gold medal cookathon sprint that will see him battle it out in a regional contest against, perhaps bizarrely for a Scottish heat, Reading-based Michelin star chef Alan Murchison of L’Ortolan, and Colin Buchan, of Gordon Ramsay’s London’s restaurant, York and Albany.

“They’re both Scottish, but I’m the only Scottish-based chef taking part in the contest,” clarifies Mark, 35, who started cooking aged 14 in his mum’s kitchen after she got so fed up cooking separate meals for her fussy kids, she told them to just do it themselves.

Mark enjoyed it, got a job in a local hotel kitchen in Lanark and by the time he was 18, he was cooking at the Glasgow Hilton.

A spell at various restaurants around Scotland was followed by that eventful spell in Sydney where, when not plunging from a fire escape, he worked his way round top restaurant to top hotel, adding to his own skills and helping win awards.

Back home, he opened Restaurant Mark Greenaway in February last year. By January, the AA had called to offer a coveted three rosettes to add to his Scottish title of Rising Star Chef of the Year 2011.

“I do feel that I’m really representing Scotland and there is a bit of banter on the programme about the fact the other guys don’t actually live or work up here,” he adds.

Naturally, Mark embraces the patriotic theme to its limit – bringing to the studio kitchens produce from his own suppliers.

“It wasn’t part of the brief for the programme, but I made sure that all my main ingredients are Scottish. I know the products well, I trust my suppliers and I’m proud of what they give me and what good quality it is.

“It made sense to me to show that off.”

Of course, to divulge his menu for the programme would be to spoil the fun. But it’s fair to say he may well have opted to tweak some of the highly-praised dishes which regularly win rave reviews from diners at Restaurant Mark Greenaway.

His Loch Fyne crab “canneloni” is one example. It is served on a glass saucer covered by a bowl which, when lifted, revealed a mist of applewood smoke and is adorned with a lightly roasted cauliflower custard and jewel-like lemon drops.

Or his striking “jam jar” rhubarb dessert of smooth eggy vanilla custard, with rhubarb jelly and warm rice pudding shrouded in a collar of dried rhubarb and smeared with rhubarb fool.

There may be an element of “Heston-style” theatre, too. Mark certainly has no qualms about creating a stunning show with his mouth-watering creations. “The term ‘molecular gastronomy’ gets banded about too much,” he groans. “I’m more ‘modernist’. I like to push the boundaries of using technology that’s not been seen before or isn’t widely known.

“But I embrace it to a sensible level. Yes, some of that can be a bit ridiculous, some chefs and mixologists put mounds of foam on everything – who wants to be served a big dish of foam?

“So I like to use small elements, just enough but not overboard.”

It’s a fine balance, but one he hopes will earn him cooking gold. He has, after all, perhaps a slight head start.

He says: “The thing is, if your ingredients are rubbish, no amount of modern trickery will make them better. A carrot imported from 3000 miles away and turned into a hot jelly with foam on top will still be a rubbish carrot. Starting with the best ingredients means you get the best out of it whatever you do.”

• The Great British Menu begins on Monday, April 9 on BBC2

The Olympic (hob) rings

THE Great British Menu: The Olympic Feast sees 24 of the finest chefs in the country compete in eight regional heats for the chance to create a four-course menu to be served at a prestigious event for famous Olympians at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

The Scottish heat will be judged by Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis, London. The winner cooks again in the final where the three judges – Prue Leith, Oliver Peyton and Matthew Fort – will score the dishes before a public vote decides which should feature in the final menu.