Scott Davies – a finalist in BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 – is only the third head chef in 30 years to run the renowned five-star Three Chimneys restaurant in Scotland’s remote Isle of Skyle.
Q. The Isle of Skye is a tad remote compared to St Andrews? What challenges do you face?
The biggest challenge is running a kitchen seven days a week when there can only be deliveries on five of them. It takes a lot of forward planning and even then, most stock arrives mid afternoon instead of the usual early morning delivery. So there is always pressure to get through all of the preparation work before the dinner service begins.
Rough island weather can also mean the boats just cannot get out to sea and so, suddenly, there is no supply of langoustines, crabs or lobster. Even the best fresh white fish supplies come from Mallaig and if the Armadale ferry is cancelled it is a long way to drive round to Skye instead. Unpredictable delivery is the biggest challenge.
Q. You are the third chef at Three Chimneys in 30 years. What plans do you have to make the restaurant your own?
I joined in June 2015 and from my first day every lunch and dinner service has been full. We even extended lunch service much later into the season than before and all of this has meant there has been less time for development than I would have wished for.
My first change was to introduce new breads across all the services and I have steadily evolved the tasting menu and gradually introduced new dishes to the dinner menu.
The idea is to get back to the roots of what Shirley and Eddie (restaurant owners) always intended when they founded the restaurant thirty years ago:
“the absolute best of Skye and Scottish Land and Sea delivered to you on a plate.”
Of course I will be using all the fine culinary techniques that I have learned through my career but I will also be getting back to the Nordic traditions that are part of the heritage and survival story of this island. For instance, ensuring we can feast on the bounty of summer but make sure the winter is provided for: fermented carrots, salted mushrooms, cured and smoked fish.
Over the last few years the main kitchen, The House Over-By and The Restaurant have been completely refurbished to create a consistently light, airy, relaxed, Scandinavian atmosphere. The last piece of the jigsaw is to create the dishes of Nordic Scottish cuisine that will perfectly suit this stunning new environment. When I get this right, Shirley and Eddie’s entire rejuvenation of their enterprise will be complete. Our brand new team will all be singing off the same hymn sheet and of course we hope our guests are going to love it.
Q. The Three Chimney’s owners are trail blazers in using local seasonal food in Scotland. Is this a passion of yours?
I will always prioritise local seasonal food that is available to me and I will be building up our own larder of the best local preserves as well.
I think the best way to think about local produce is, whether that single ingredient is better than any I ever had available to me before. If the answer is yes then I will go for it. For instance, the Pecten Maximus scallops that are hand dived for us by David Oakes in Sconser on the shores of Loch Sligachan. This harvesting method means David is only choosing the scallops at their perfect point of maturity. They get to us the same day and have a taste and texture that is second to none.
Q. What was it like judging The Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards 2015?
This was a great opportunity and I was very excited by all the new Scottish products in competition. I was delighted to be part of the judging panel giving awards to Skye Sea Salt working so close by to us on Loch Snizort, and to the Katy Rodgers creamery at Knockraich Farm, Fintry.
Q. What are your thoughts on the current trend of chefs growing their own produce or foraging?
We have two local foraging experts working for us. They deliver a steady supply of mushrooms: Wax Cap, Chanterelles, Girolles and Blewits to name a few. Also wild berries, Sea Buckthorn and our latest new ingredient – Reindeer Moss or lichen, which we dehydrate and use as a garnish.
I do have plans to revitalise a small kitchen and herb garden just outside the kitchen next spring. But we are really spoiled by being surrounded by a rich variety of artisan crofts producing an astonishing range of fresh produce all delivered direct to our back door. Bridget Hagman’s Glendale Salads cultivates a delicious range of salad leaf and edible flowers, as just one example.
Q. Where do you source your ingredients and what do you look for in suppliers?
All from Skye where possible with support from a specialist butcher in Kyle and fish merchant in Mallaig. What I want more than anything else is to be in as direct contact as possible with farmers and producers who care deeply about what they are creating. I take a break most afternoons to drive round to Dunvegan Pier to collect my pick of live langoustine, crab and lobster and can have them on a guest’s plate within half an hour if I want to.
Q. Are you a fan of food and alcoholic drink matching?
I am a fan. The right beverage can really enhance the taste experience. Either by providing a final complement to the elements of a dish I have created or sometimes cutting across the richness of a dish with a delicious fresh acidity.
As part of our new Nordic Scottish approach, our Sommelier, Petri Pentikäinen who comes from Finland, not only has a classical wine training but is working with me on beer, whisky and cocktail combinations using original syrups from locally foraged ingredients.
Q. How do you promote Scottish food on St Andrews Day?
There is no better way of celebrating St. Andrews Day than in St Andrews. I held a special St Andrews Food and Drink Festival Dinner at the Fairmont Hotel, featuring the very best of local Fife produce. I am hoping to bring people together and create a similar event in Skye in the future to celebrate St. Andrews in true Hebridean style.
Q. You were a finalist in BBC’s Masterchef, The Professionals in 2013? What was that experience like?
A brilliant experience! An absolute eye-opener for what kind of drive is required to make it as a professional chef. The competition process forced me to decide what my personal food ethos is all about, and then gave me the confidence to deliver this under extreme pressure. I feel it played a crucial part in leading me to the role of Head Chef at The Three Chimneys.
Q. What are your thoughts on celebrity chefs today?
Celebrity Chefs have done a great service for the hospitality industry by bringing much more knowledgeable and enthusiastic guests into our restaurants, and a lot more young people into the profession. But this is also a double edge sword because many new recruits do not realise the sheer hard work a professional kitchen demands. Often thinking they will waltz out of college and into fame, fortune and a TV show in no time at all. This is an unrealistic expectation.
The balance has also shifted a bit too far in favour of chefs over the restaurateurs and front of house staff. Our plan is to gradually introduce more culinary theatre back into the restaurant rather than just have waiters delivering finished plates. We really want to encourage and promote the excellent career path that is possible through Scotland’s front-of-house job opportunities.
Q. You were born in Wales, is there a Welsh influence in your food creation?
Not especially because all my training as a chef has been during 11 years spent in Scotland and one year in Australia. My career started at college in Dundee, when the family moved back to Carnoustie.
However, as a child growing up in Wales I was very involved with the family rituals of baking and jam making, and often took responsibility for cooking the Sunday roast. My mum is Scottish and I always cooked with her when I was a youngster.
Q. What is your signature dish?
The dish I am most excited about at any given moment. Right now it’s a new Venison dish. Loin of Roe Deer rolled in a burnt ash of Onions, heather and juniper, served with chestnut purée, salt baked celeriac, Blewit mushroom, wild bramble sauce, beetroot and heather smoked potato mousse. Garnished with a dehydrated lichen filigree of reindeer moss.
A wine match for this would be a rich Italian Massolino Barolo 2011. Piedmont, Italy. Grape: 100% Nebbiolo.
Q. Foodie highlights on the Isle of Skye?
Atmospheric Bistro: Lochbay Seafood Restaurant, 1 Macleods Terrace, Stein, Waternish.
Hidden Gem: The intimate Scorrybreac Restaurant, 7 Bosville Terrace, Portree, run by local lad but French trained chef, Calum Munro.
The Oyster Shed is a farm shop and seafood takeaway, just one mile from Talisker Distillery, Carbost, Isle of Skye, IV47 8SE, run by Paul McGlynn.
Q. And finally…Your guilty pleasures….
Snow Boarding, Fishing, Enough said…
Make a reservation…
The Three Chimneys and The House Over-By, Colbost, Dunvegan, Isle of Skye
About Scott Davies…
Scott Davies was a finalist in BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals in 2013. Before taking up the position of head chef at the Three Chimney’s in 2015, he launched the Adamson restaurant in St Andrews. Prior to that, he was head chef of the Rusacks hotel in St Andrews, where he won three AA rosettes at the age of 26. Davies trained with Adam Stokes at Glenapp Castle.