Stephen Jardine: Chef award is Fairlie big deal

Chef Andrew Fairlie pictured at the Gleneagles Hotel. Picture:  Robert Perry
Chef Andrew Fairlie pictured at the Gleneagles Hotel. Picture: Robert Perry
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THIS week in London, a little bit of food and drink history was made. On Tuesday night,
Andrew Fairlie was named chef of the year at the prestigious Catey Awards.

It’s the first time in the 30-year history of the awards that a chef working in Scotland has lifted this ultimate prize.

Many people believe that London is currently the restaurant capital of the world. Yet the best chef wasn’t someone at the helm of a hot new eating experience in the capital or a young trailblazer turning heads with fashionable food. Instead the title went to a Scot who has spent 30 years at the stove and more than a decade running the same restaurant at Gleneagles.

To understand why, you only have to look at the judging panel. Fairlie was handed the chef of the year award by his fellow professionals with Michelin big names including Marcus Wareing, Simon Rogan, Angela Hartnett and Jason Atherton deciding the category.

What seems to have swung the judges to send the chef of the year title north of the Border was Andrew Fairlie’s commitment to industry training and the role he has played putting Scottish ingredients and cooking on the culinary map.

Despite being Britain’s best chef, you won’t find him on a TV show or barking orders in a tall white hat. His popularity comes from living the job.

Just a month ago he was cooking with four other chefs at a dinner in a barn on the shores of Loch Voil and he rolled up his sleeves like everyone else.

But he’s not just the favourite son of fellow chefs. What makes Andrew Fairlie really unique is the sheer breadth and scale of his popularity.

Eighteen months ago, Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles was named best restaurant in Great Britain in a poll of 75,000 diners organised by the Sunday Times.

And on top of all that, he remains Scotland’s only chef with two Michelin stars. At a time when Scottish food and drink is going through a renaissance, having the best chef in Britain living and working here really reinforces the extent of the changes taking place.

And he may be at the front but others are on the march with him. Twenty four hours before collecting the best chef title, Andrew Fairlie was on stage at Top 100 Restaurants Awards to collect the top prize for Scotland. But this year another six Scottish establishments joined him on the list with The Kitchin, Restaurant Martin Wishart and Ondine all inside the top 65.

All these restaurants are staffed with talented individuals who will go on to new exciting opportunities and so the movement spreads. Coming just weeks after Paul Kitching picked up a top award from the Craft Guild of Chefs, Scottish restaurants are the talk of the food world.

If eating out here used to be a lottery, the chance of winning gets better every year.