‘O flower of Scotland. When will we see your like again?’ It sounds like a fairytale. The boy from Perth who started waiting tables in a local hotel aged 15 and went on to earn two Michelin stars. Sadly, there is no happy ending.
Andrew Fairlie’s untimely death at the age of 55 has robbed Scotland of a world class talent and a kind and generous man.
Born in the Letham area of Perth, Andrew was one of five children. His first kitchen memories were helping his teacher dad Jim prepare an evening meal for a big, hungry family before his mum Kay returned from her work managing a shop.
At Perth Academy he didn’t know what he wanted to do in life but the need for cash led him to a job waiting tables in the town’s Station Hotel.
His world changed one Saturday afternoon when he sneaked a spoonful of Beef Chasseur. That taste changed everything and Andrew immediately realised his future lay in the pleasure of food. He sat his exams, left school and started work in the kitchen the next day.
From there, Andrew followed his mentor chef Keith Podmore from job to job, picking up skills, knowledge and a commitment to perfection along the way. While working at the London club Boodles in 1984, he applied for the first ever Roux Scholarship.
Just launched by the great family restaurant dynasty, winning the scholarship opened the door for Andrew to world class food.
Moving to Michel Guerard’s three-star restaurant in France as part of his prize, he learned to cook on another level. He remembered that as a glorious time. “It was 18 young men and all we wanted to talk about was food” he recollected.
That training then led to Michelin star restaurants in Paris, Australia, Africa and the Alps. It was the Rolls Royce of training experiences and took him to the very top of the profession.
A spell on the luxury Royal Scotsman train rekindled his love of his homeland and in 1996 he returned as head chef at One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow, where he first earned a Michelin star.
The accolades came thick and fast and led to him being approached by Gleneagles chairman Peter Lederer to open his own restaurant inside the prestigious Perthshire hotel in 2001. He took with him Dale Dewsbury to run front of house and Stevie McLaughlin to look after the kitchen. Both remain loyally with the business to this day and will lead it forward from here.
On day one he asked them to make a list of what they loved and hated about restaurant life. That piece of paper formed the basis for what Restaurant Andrew Fairlie would and would not be.
Within a year the team had earned a Michelin star. In 2006 it became Scotland’s only two- starred restaurant. Customers came from far and wide to sample the best food in Scotland.
Andrew cooked for The Queen and world leaders at the G8 Summit and the biggest names in golf at the Ryder Cup. But the people who saved hard to visit on a special occasion gave him most pleasure. He said it was a privilege to share their big day with them.
Just six months before the G8, Andrew became ill on holiday in the Far East. A scan revealed he had a brain tumour. The surgeons removed what they could and Andrew endured gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Within weeks he was back at work. He later said his natural calm in the kitchen helped him stare death in the face.
In the years since, Andrew used his status to help youngsters who wanted to follow in his footsteps. Never forgetting his roots, he became a Roux Scholarship judge and gave a helping hand to many aspiring chefs. He also established his own kitchen garden to take him closer to the produce and to add an extra dimension to his cooking. The campaign for Scottish independence was also never far from his heart.
Other chefs might have used the success to endorse brands, launch a TV career or concentrate on money-spinning cook books. Andrew simply wasn’t interested in fame or fortune. All he cared about was making wonderful food. “My fame has happened accidentally. I let my cooking do the talking”, he said.
Spending so much time in the kitchen, Andrew loved to escape outdoors and he was happiest up a mountain or in the stand at Parkhead, cheering on his beloved Celtic.
Out of gratitude for the way they had helped him, he also raised funds for the Beatson Cancer Centre.
But more than all these things, Andrew loved spending time with his family. He was devoted to his daughters from his first marriage to Ashley, and was happy to be teased about becoming a grandfather recently.
In November it was revealed the cancer had progressed and no treatment could save him. Andrew married his partner Kate and vowed “to make every day gorgeous”. That included a final visit to Glencoe where his stepdaughters Kitty and Rosie suggested he take the chairlift to the top with Kate “so he could still climb mountains”. He later shared the image on social media tagging it, ‘my special place’.
Andrew passed away on Tuesday morning with his cherished daughters Ilona and Leah by his side.
The pain will be felt most by them, Kate, his parents and his surviving siblings Sharon, Phil, Jim and Katrina and their families but the ripples spread way beyond that.
His death is an immeasurable loss for Scotland. He lifted the bar and showed us all what can be achieved here with hard work, kindness and dedication. The tributes from politicians, football clubs, celebrities and chefs around the world reveal the extent of the influence he had.
At Gleneagles, the saltire flies at half mast.
His legacy will live on there where a beautiful portrait of Andrew hangs on the wall of his restaurant, watching over staff, customers and every plate of food.
Last year Andrew Fairlie said “I’ve lived a lot longer than I should have”. Calm and considered to the very end, those words are no comfort to all those who loved him and will always miss him.