Stephen Jardine: Auld Alliance can work in reverse

Not so long ago, the idea of French chefs coming to Scotland to learn about food would have seemed as ridiculous as trying to sell ice to the Eskimos.

The perceived wisdom was that the French wrote the book when it came to cooking and Scotland was just a grubby footnote. Then things started to change.

At first it was our produce that caught their attention. Lorries packed with the finest seafood left the Highlands and didn’t stop until they reached the Parisian street markets. Scotch beef, lamb and game followed that same route.

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Curiosity about this land of plenty brought the first wave of French chefs over here and soon the trickle turned into a tide.

Now some of the finest food being served in the UK comes from French chefs who have settled here because of our dynamic food scene. From Raymond Blanc and Helene Darroze to Claude Bosi and Bruno Loubet, London is awash with Gallic talent.

But the Auld Alliance ensures Scotland isn’t being left out. Last year, I was lucky enough to meet the great Pierre Koffman on a visit north of the Border. Finishing a fine lunch in Edinburgh, he told me the quality of food being served here is unrecognisable from what he once knew.

Next week that will be recognised when 16 aspiring French chefs and waiters from the Lycée Hotelier in Brittany arrive here to meet our food producers and chefs and learn more about the Scottish larder.

Now in it’s fourth year, the Budding Chefs exchange programme also includes a series of talks from some of the biggest names in the food including chef Tom Kitchin and Financial Times food critic Nicholas Lander.

The project is the brainchild of Edinburgh restaurateur Fred Berkmiller and is organised in association with the French Institute.

“I’m always looking for ways to re-connect people, especially youngsters, with what they eat and cook and this programme is the perfect opportunity to do just that”, said Fred.

The youngsters trip will include visits to Peterhead fish market, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie’s kitchen garden at Gleneagles and a tour of Blackform Farm in Perthshire where Wagyu and Angus cattle are raised.

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The initiative culminates in a pop-up restaurant in Edinburgh next Saturday where they will put what they’ve learned to the test creating a special dinner for 250 people.

I can’t think of a better way to mark Scotland’s food and drink revolution than having youngsters from what has traditionally been the greatest gastronomic nation in the world coming here to see what they can learn from us, and ensure our reputation keeps on growing.