THE CHEF SERIES – ADAM MEETS MARK HEIRS
In our meet the chef series, we profile leading chefs and find out more about what makes them tick.
Arbikie’s Adam Hunter caught up with one of Scotland’s top chefs Mark Heirs.
The ‘Scottish Larder’ is experiencing an amazing resurgence in demand from chefs and consumers for the bountiful premium produce available. Scottish food is synonymous with provenance, quality ingredients and unrivalled taste. Leading the charge of flying the flag for the ‘Scottish Larder’ are a talented and diverse group of Scottish chefs.
I was thrilled to catch up with Chef Mark Heirs whose passion and dedication to his career has always impressed me. Mark grew up in the hospitality industry and from a young age he knew that this was his passion:
“I started my culinary training at catering college in Glasgow, where I also worked in one of the city’s most prestigious hotels, One Devonshire Gardens, like many young chefs I aspired to work at the highest level and to me that meant a Michelin starred kitchen so I moved to London to work in the 3 Michelin star Fat Duck, at that time voted the number one restaurant in the world.”
Mark now runs a successful private chef business and it’s the diversity that clearly motivates him:
“For the last three years I’ve been working as a private chef. I love the variety. Private chef work isn’t all about cooking for billionaires on yachts in the Mediterranean; I do a lot of corporate catering, product launches and entertaining VIP clients. I go into people’s houses and take the stress out of entertaining at home.
The private chef sector is booming and having been fortunate enough to sample some of Mark’s dishes, it’s the creativity and use of ingredients that always fascinates me.
“Sometimes new dishes just pop into my head, and the base idea of a new dish will just come to me. Most of the time however I find a new ingredient that I absolutely love and create a new dish around it. My dishes and menus are a constant evolution I’m always looking for ways to make every dish just that little bit better”.
What matters to Mark is finding the best ingredients and using that as a base to create new dishes. I can’t help but make the comparison with Arbikie as the ingredients to make our gin and vodka are grown on the farm. Kirsty often tells me that if our farm team didn’t grow and harvest the best raw ingredients it wouldn’t matter how good her and Christian are at distilling. Mark concurs with this view when it comes to cooking:
“Provenance is hugely important to me, all my clients want to know exactly where their ingredients have come from. I want to know it’s seasonal and local where possible. I like to have strong relations with the producers of all my ingredients I’d much rather go direct to the farm than buy from some faceless wholesaler”.
There is a lot of talk about the provenance of Scottish food and drink companies. At Arbikie our field to bottle ethos is rare and we were the first gin distillery in Scotland to actually distil its own gin without buying in mass produce neutral spirit.
“I think sometimes we take for granted the abundance of world class products we produce in Scotland. We have the absolute best fish and shellfish; Scottish Beef is synonymous with world-class quality. We have amazing chocolatiers, rapeseed oils, cheesemakers that can rival the French we even have tea plantations in Scotland now. Then there are berries, venison, game birds and so much more. And that’s not even touching on the fantastic spirits Scotland produces, what bar in the world doesn’t stock Scotch Whisky and now with Gins and Vodkas we are right at the forefront of world class spirits. Show me a chef that wouldn’t give their right arm to have access to Scotland’s larder and I’ll show you a chef who’s lost their passion for food.”
The synergies with Arbikie are clear; we are dedicated to becoming the most progressive distillery in the world placing provenance and traceability of ingredients at the heart of the business. This approach is incredibly rare in the industry. Mark picks up on this:
“Arbikie have a very similar ethos to produce as me I love the Field to Bottle ethos. The Arbikie Strawberry Vodka is amazing to drink and even better in deserts. I used it in a trifle at Christmas and it worked a treat. My signature dish with Arbikie Kirsty’s Gin Cured Salmon, with compressed cucumber and crème fraiche”
I first came across Mark in the first series of the Masterchef Professional series on BBC in 2008. Mark reached the quarterfinals and was the first of many Scottish chefs to follow this path including previous winners Jamie Scott and Gary Maclean. The boom of ‘TV’ chefs has exploded since the days of Delia and there are a plethora of opportunities for Chefs to raise their profile. Mark who regularly features on STV acknowledges this, however his advice for young chefs centres on hardwork:
“You only get out what you put in. That has two meanings firstly with your attitude and the way you approach jobs, this industry has a habit of swallowing you up the hours are long, hard and can be really unpleasant, which can easily demotivate you and any team your leading. You have to be able to rise above it and approach all jobs with enthusiasm and most importantly have pride in what you do. Secondly the same goes for day to day cooking
Mark lights up when he recalls how a mentor of his on retirement gave him his old book full of recipes, top tips and general guidance built up over 50 years of experience. “It had everything from how to butcher a cow to preparing the perfect canapé”. As our chat comes to an end I take the opportunity to get some guidance for myself in the vain hope that one day I can host a dinner party without having a breakdown:
“Keep it simple, buy the best ingredients you can afford and don’t mess around with them too much, Oh and don’t buy glass plates, I hate glass plates”.
And not for the first time today, I agree with Mark, stay away from glass plates!