By Iain A MacSween
Photograph by Roz Skinner
A special ‘Eat Drink Hebrides Trail’ launched in March this year with the aim of highlighting the best food and drink experiences available throughout the Outer Hebrides. Local businesses are listed as either being producers, places to eat or places to buy local produce.
Brothers Allan and Ewen MacLean, from North Uist, run three highlights of the food and drink trail: The Stepping Stone Restaurant and MacLean’s Bakery, both in Benbecula, and Bayhead Shop, in North Uist.
Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of MacLean’s Bakery and the business has grown over the years with the opening of the Stepping Stone Restaurant in 1997, and Bayhead Shop in 2009, and is now one of the larger private employers in the islands.
Hebridean Smokehouse in Clachan, Isle of North Uist, is one of three finalists in the Best Food Producer section in the 16th BBC Food and Farming Awards, it was announced today (Sunday).
Hebridean Smokehouse has been smoking locally reared and landed fish and shellfish for nearly 30 years. All of the salmon, sea trout and shellfish used by Hebridean Smokehouse comes from, or is landed on Uist, and the peat used to smoke these products is cut from the island.
Hebridean Smokehouse began life as a small business in about 1983 with the trading name of Mermaid Fish supplies, owned and run by George and Rosemary Jackson. Mermaid mainly supplied local islanders with fresh white fish landed on Uist and latterly, with the acquisition of a small smoking kiln, the Jacksons started peat smoking the cod, haddock and locally farmed salmon.
With the retirement of Mr and Mrs Jackson in 2000 the business was taken forward by Fergus and Anne Granville and the name Hebridean Smokehouse introduced. Since they took over, the smokehouse has grown in size with a new building and a larger kiln that now smokes all the salmon, seatrout and shellfish in the Hebridean range - although sadly none of the whitefish once landed so regularly here in the Outer Hebrides.
Today Hebridean Smokehouse employs around 12 local people all year round with many more joining the team at Christmas.
The presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme and founder of the awards Sheila Dillon says that through the nominations for the awards we want “to find out from our listeners who the food heroes were in their neighbourhoods - anyone, any organisation, that through food was making life in Britain better."
The winners of the 2015 awards come from right across the UK, and include Queens University, Belfast’s Professor Chris Elliott who was presented with the Food Game Changer Award by Julia Glotz, for his government review into the horsemeat scandal and his important work in advising the government on assurance of food supply networks. BBC Cook of the Year was Bristol’s Jo Ingleby who has developed the idea of ‘experimental cookery’ for the under-fives, and Best Food Producer was presented by Cyrus Todiwala to Northumberland’s Doddington Dairy.
Eighty-two year-old Joan Bomford from Worcester scooped the Countryfile Farming Hero Award, having been farming since the 1930s. And Randolph Hodgson of Neals Yard Dairy was honoured with the Derek Cooper Lifetime Achievement Award. Bristol Mayor George Ferguson presented
Steve Griffiths, Head Gardener for the Knowle West Health Association at Springfield Allotments in Knowle West with BBC Radio Bristol’s Food Hero gong.
The café at Kilbride in South Uist, set beside the road between Polochar and Ludag on the way to the causeway to Eriskay is now open four hours a day from midday, seven days a week.
This gives customers a chance to access free wifi while enjoying uninterrupted views across the Sound of Barra and enjoyed a varied menu of lunches, snacks and hot and cold drinks. The café is open 12-4pm every day at present.
A chef from Iochdar, South Uist has been named as the Young Highland Chef of 2015. Twenty-five year old David MacDonald beat off competition from nine other finalists to win the title at a cook-off, held at Burghfield House in Dornoch.
David was selected as the winner of the title by a panel of expert judges led by internationally renowned chef Albert Roux OBE KFO. The other chefs on the panel were Andrew Fairlie of Gleneagles Hotel; Brian Maule of Chardon d’Or in Glasgow; Steven Docherty of The First Floor Café in Windermere; Glen Watson of The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield and Derek Johnstone from The Golf Inn in Gullane, East Lothian.
David wins a week’s work experience at the Roux family’s two Michelin starred restaurant, Le Gavroche, in London, £500 and a trophy.
The Young Highland Chef competition, now in its sixth year, is organised by North Highland College UHI’s Burghfield House training restaurant and the Albert Roux Consultancy.
Entrants aged between 18 and 30 were invited to submit a three-course dinner menu for two with crab in the starter, venison in the main and apple in the sweet, with a budget of £20 per cover. Ten applicants who were judged to have come up with the best menus on paper went on to cook their dishes at the final.
David, who is a sous chef at the New Drumossie Hotel in Inverness, produced the winning meal. He prepared crab and pearl barley risotto, roast crab claw, smoked eel and parsley mascarpone for the starter; loin of venison, boulangerie potato, caramelised onion puree, confit shallots, charred leeks, burnt onion and juniper jus for the main and vanilla custard, apple compote, toffee apple, cinnamon, shortbread and coffee for the sweet.
Michael Golledge (23) from Grandview House in Grantown on Spey came second in the competition, winning £250 and a week’s work experience at The RAC Club in London. Thomas Wright (23) from the Coul House Hotel in Contin took the third spot, receiving £100.
Speaking about his win, David said: “Having come second in the previous year’s competition, I was determined to win this year. I wasn't so nervous for this year’s competition as I have learnt so much in the last year and felt more comfortable with this year’s brief. As soon as the brief was out I knew straight away what my menu would look like. I am excited to have won the opportunity of a week’s work experience at Le Gavroche. Just to be able to see how a kitchen of that standard operates will be amazing.”
Albert Roux said: “Young Highland Chef 2015 has, without doubt, seen unprecedented success. Entries were at a record level and choosing the finalists from the written entries was particularly difficult as the standard was extremely high. Thought had gone into the dishes, with flavours and presentation of the highest order.
"The generosity of the sponsors and Burghfield House, the hosting venue, made this a competition young cooks will continue to aspire to. Well done to all who participated, particularly the winner David MacDonald, who will now spend one week training at Le Gavroche.”
Anne Frew, assistant director of service industries at North Highland College UHI, said: “Hosting the Young Highland Chef of the Year competition is the highlight of the year for our staff and students at the North Highland College UHI Burghfield House campus.
"It is such an inspirational experience for the young chefs and hospitality managers of the future to have the opportunity to meet and provide hospitality for six of Britain’s most accomplished chefs. The competition itself is going from strength to strength and it was lovely to be able to welcome this year’s ten finalists to the Burghfield for the competition cook-off.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, later tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating David MacDonald. David Stewart said “This is a great achievement for David. This competition showcases the talent we have here in the Highlands and Islands and I would congratulate David, and the other nine finalists, together with North Highland College UHI and the Albert Roux Consultancy who organised the competition for the sixth year. I wish David, and all the finalists, all the very best in their future careers."
Other finalists in the Young Highland Chef competition were Sean Beaton of the Eilean Dubh Restaurant in Fortrose; Claire McMurray, a student at West Highland College UHI; Darren Ross of the Roxburgh Hotel and Golf Course in Kelso; Jordan Clark of the Loch Melfort Hotel near Oban; Curtis Cross of Links House in Dornoch; Ross Payne from West Loch Hotel in Tarbert and Ruari McCartney from the Ulbster Arms Hotel in Halkirk. Each contestant was presented with a signed certificate and a Robot Coupe Micromix Blender.
Burghfield House is run as a training restaurant by North Highland College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands. The University of the Highlands and Islands and North Highland College UHI offer a range of tourism and hospitality courses, including a professional cookery HNC and a tourism and hospitality BA (Hons).
David MacDonald in the live cook-off
Left to right: Steven Doherty, Albert Roux and Andrew Fairlie tasting David’s winning menu
The Young Highland Chef 2015 judges and winner. Left to right: Derek Johnstone, Steven Doherty, Brian Maule, Andrew Fairlie, David MacDonald, Albert Roux, Glen Watson
Photos taken by Mark Rodgers (MKR Photographic)
Coffee-lovers in Stornoway are in for a real lip-licking treat as a new mobile street café opens up to the public.
This unique pop-up café is the street-food arm of Moray Weir and Becca Engebretsen’s new business Titchy Pitch, a mobile catering and events management company.
Having successfully launched the islands’ first cocktail bar in February 2013, they decided to make their services more mobile.
With a gap in the local market for an artisan coffee shop, Titchy Pitch was born.
Moray and Becca travelled down to southern England recently to take delivery of the pod, and while there they met up with a specialist coffee provider, striking a deal which ensures that they will serve only the very finest coffee to their customers. To complete the package, they bought a small eco-friendly Fiat for towing and delivery purposes, in the same distinctive mint green shade as their pod. The pod will be predominantly based in the parking area beside ERA nightclub.
Becca said: “We are providing a service that doesn’t currently exist, so that we are not in competition with anyone else. There would be no point in duplicating a service that is already in existence, rather we are presenting an alternative option for lovers of food and coffee.
“All our coffee is the very best artisan coffee available, and we will have a range of bagels, focaccias, croissants and rustic rolls with a variety of delicious fillings, all of which will be as locally-sourced as it can be.”
Browsing the coffee menu, it’s easy to see why Titchy Pitch will be so alluring to aficionados. The beans are supplied by the 918 Coffee Company, artisan roasters of coffee from across the globe.
“We are selling a lifestyle that we want people to embrace,” said Becca. “It’s not just a cup of coffee.”
With this in mind, the pod will serve up single origin coffees from Tanzania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Java and Italy.
Like the set of a Hollywood movie, in just 15 minutes the coffee shop can be transformed into a cocktail bar for hire.
The pod is ideal for weddings and parties, with Moray and Becca having already taken bookings for the near future.
The pod is interchangeable, its versatility is such it can also be made into a seafood bar, ice cream shop, or DJ booth.
The first of a planned fleet, you will soon be able to book multiple pods to cater for your various needs at your event.
“You name it, we can do it!” vows Becca.
In keeping with the eco-conscious ethos of their suppliers, Titchy Pitch will be extremely environmentally friendly.
All cups and cutlery are biodegradable, and the coffee-machine deposits will be made available for compost.
The new venture has already created employment for five people, and they too, are an important part of the aesthetics. Becca explained: “Our uniforms are in the style of the 1950’s because that fits in well with the theme of the pod, and of the whole business
“The 1950’s were synonymous with quality of service, and that’s what we are aiming for too.” Titchy Pitch, with its 50’s staff, vintage colours and traditional quality of produce and service will be an attractive addition to any event. By late August, Moray and Becca hope to be able to start a delivery takeaway service, bringing coffee and snacks to the population of Stornowa
“You won’t have to leave your office or house,” said Moray. “Just tell us what you want and we’ll take it right to you.”