Scottish chef Nick Nairn on the virtues of cooking ahead of GWCT Scottish Game Fair

Scottish celebrity chef Nick Nairn writes for The Scotsman on the virtues of cooking and the difficult two years he has experienced ahead of next week’s GWCT Scottish Game Fair.

Talk about annus horribilis. My Twitter bio reads ‘still here after flood, fire & pestilence’.

March last year saw my beloved cook school in Perthshire flooded after a frozen pipe burst, leaving the kitchen four inches deep in dirty water, destroying appliances and woodwork.

Then in August, my new restaurant in Stirlingshire was destroyed by a devastating fire caused by malfunctioning kitchen equipment. It took six fire engines and 30 firefighters to put it out. Then, of course, Covid has taken its toll on everyone in the hospitality industry. Talk about a kick when you’re down.

Scottish chef Nick Nairn

However, my team and I are charging forward with repairs and new projects. We are building bigger and better. It would be all too easy to sink into a dark hole at this point, but we are staying buoyant by adopting an unstoppable attitude which is paying dividends.

I have always cooked using Scotland’s natural larder and I’m a vociferous advocate of eating wild game.

So, when I was approached by the new organisers of the GWCT Scottish Game Fair to deliver a brand new fine dining pop-up restaurant on the banks of the River Tay, I jumped at the chance to showcase the best of Scottish produce.

I only live an hour away, so I have been attending the event for decades, but it has never been particularly known for its on-site restaurant. So I have poured everything into this ambitious project, which is sponsored by fourth-generation Scottish family butchers J.W. Galloway.

Gone are the usual faceless caterers. Instead, we have collaborated with Cai Ap Bryn of Game & Flames, who is a big name in British BBQ. The way he cooks everything outside on big metal racks certainly adds some theatre and will stop passers-by in their tracks. The smell will be incredible. He will be joined by my executive chef Stephen Crawford, who will oversee everything for me while I mingle with diners out front.

Cai recently spent the day with me testing recipes and devising the menu. We are on the same page when it comes to ingredients and methods. I think Cai is very talented. It isn’t easy to cook for large-scale catering events on open fire and produce consistent results, but he can do it. Cooking game in this way takes it to the next level. Dishes will include things like roast haunch of roe deer and warm woodpigeon salad.

The game meat we will be serving is provided by Castle Game near Edinburgh. I have known Neil Gilmour, the owner, for years. I have a real passion for field sports and cooking with game. I love shooting pheasants and partridges each season.

I ensure everything we shoot is eaten. I have taken a lot of criticism online over the years from people that question my passion for field sports. I think this comes from a lack of understanding. If the public realised how wild game is harvested and how important it is for rural economies, they would have a different view. So if you are new to eating game and curious to learn more about its credentials, then come find me at Scone next month for a natter.

- The GWCT Scottish Game Fair is being held July 1-3 at Scone Palace in Perthshire. For info, visit scottishfair.com.

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