Scottish Menu Awards’ Chef of the Year, Paul Newman is chef patron at the two AA Rosette Thyme at Errichel Restaurant above Aberfeldy in Perthshire.
THYME at Errichel is the focal point of Paul and his wife Rebecca’s luxury hospitality business. Errichel is a working, native breeds farm that turns its top quality fresh produce into fine dining. They also offer four star bedrooms, holiday cottages and events catering.
Q. Tell us more about your celebrated field-to-fork approach?
We are passionate about great food, great hospitality and conservation – of the environment and of native rare breeds. Being based on Errichel Farm meant we had the opportunity to combine all these things to create a hospitality business based on strong ethical, sustainable foundations.
By breeding and producing our own livestock we know what has gone into our animals, we know they have lived a truly free-range life, and generally a longer life than many animals in a commercial set up are allowed. In turn the livestock helps us to look after the hill, carrying out conservation grazing to encourage wild flowers and biodiversity, and fertilisation of the pasture.
What we don’t produce ourselves we will do our best to source from local producers, our menu changes weekly to reflect the seasonality of produce, we believe in obtaining the freshest produce and supporting local businesses.
Of course, there are some things that simply don’t grow in Scotland, let alone the UK, and our cooking style uses flavours and influences from around the world, so you will see all sorts of exotic things on the menu too. We couldn’t be without things like dates, figs, avocados and a vast array of wonderful herbs and spices.
Q. So you run a native breed farm. Do you come from a background of farmers?
We are not from farming families. I was born and brought up in London and Becky was born in Hong Kong. When Becky’s family returned to the UK after over 20 years in HK they must have felt the desire to have some space around them after years of high-rise living! We are lucky to live on their hill farm in stunning Highland Perthshire.
Q. Why native breeds?
We had been living in working in London for a few years, but our children were reaching school age and we wanted to start to put down roots. In 2010 an opportunity to rent a property on Errichel farm came up and we relocated. We had always known we would want to embark on our own enterprise, we had the hospitality and Chef skills between us, we both love animals.
“Provenance is important to me, I wanted to influence the supply chain from the very beginning to ensure the best produce. Paradoxically Becky was raised as a vegetarian and was always aware that there are some issues within farming that are not easily avoided simply by opting not to eat meat.”
At least if we bred and raised our own animals we could give them the best life possible. We selected rare native breeds for many reasons: their hardiness, their ability to live on rough grazing, best suited to our climate, easy birthing, temperament, all meant that they would thrive on our farm. They mature slowly, they are not commercial meat or milk machines, but their genetics and their traits are worth preserving for future generations. Whilst they live on the hill they are doing valuable work for the farm’s ecology and biodiversity.
Q. What type of animals and produce do you have on the farm?
Shetland Cattle, Shetland Sheep, Large Black Pigs, hens, ducks and geese. We grow hardy herbs, forage for things like wild garlic, wood sorrel, hazelnuts and sloes. In the season, we shoot wild deer on our hill.
Q. Challenges of running a farm?
Running a farm is challenging, without the complication of running a hospitality business! We emphasise that we don’t consider ourselves to be farmers – that would be an insult to farmers with generations of knowledge, skill and experience. We are learning and we do the best we can. We ask our farming neighbours and the vet for help and advice, we read, we speak to other breeders. We have chosen a farming model best suited to our own environment, with animals which require relatively low input.
However, hard winters like 2017-18, with snow lying on the ground between November and April, present issues ranging from huge feed bills, access to fresh running water, time spent out in the tractor and general anxiety over the wellbeing of our livestock. Add to that the fact that guests and animals all require feeding, rooms and sheds need cleaning, fences need repairing – there is always something to be done whatever the weather.
Q. Have you always wanted to be a chef?
Yes! As a young boy I would watch my grandma in the kitchen, then I started Domestic Science in school and I knew that I loved cooking. By my early teens I was making wedding cakes for family, friends and neighbours. I went on to apply for a Chef apprenticeship and never looked back.
Q. What advice would you give to budding chefs?
It’s a labour of love. Very few chefs make it to the echelons of TV and Celebrity Chefs and the job is no where near as glamorous as it looks in the media. The hours are long and anti-social. When everyone else is playing, you will be working, so you really do have to absolutely love working with food. Keep your dishes simple and use the best ingredients you can. Travel and try foods from all over the world. Learn the classics as they are a great foundation on which you can then explore your own style. Work clean and tidy, read recipes carefully and wash your hands often.
Q. What did you learn travelling and what was your favourite country experience?
Travelling brings a better understanding of different cultures, cuisine, ingredients and how to use them. The Zanzibar Spice route was a particularly memorable trip for me.
Q. What is your style of cooking?
Seasonality and local produce strongly influences what I cook, combined with flavours from around the world, predominantly from the Middle East and Mediterranean.
Q. Your biggest passion?
Aside from cooking & family, watching youngsters who have trained with me go on to successful international careers is a great source of satisfaction.
Q. Key trends for the hospitality industry in Scotland?
The quality of Scottish Hospitality today is world-class, with a fantastic array of offerings to suit all budgets and interests. It’s an increasingly competitive environment, full of talented, creative people, and that’s a great thing. Standards of service and food are raised each year, and Scotland is becoming recognised as a destination for great food and hospitality, where quality local, seasonal produce is showcased alongside Scotland’s natural larder and where increasing emphasis is placed on sustainability and health.
Less meat generally, but perhaps more game and wild food on menus, more interesting and extensive non-alcholic beverage selections and genuine efforts to reduce waste are going to be increasingly important. Scotland is well positioned to tap into a general shift in the perceptions of luxury and the desire for people to gain experiences, knowledge and fulfilment from their travels. Reconnecting with nature and the wilderness and finding peaceful spaces in an otherwise hectic life. Scotland has such a strong identity and sense of place, which shines through in our hospitality and makes visiting Scotland so special.
Q. What’s your view of the rising Vegan movement?
There is no harm in the rising Vegan movement if it means that Chefs are challenged to make exciting and interesting vegetarian dishes! Is turning Vegan a solution to all of the issues of sustainability, ecology and animal welfare? Probably not, keeping livestock is an essential part of land management. Society loves a food trend – it happens all the time, and each time we can learn something before it is passed over for the next new trend. Getting people to think about what they are eating and ask questions about how it is produced is a good thing and that is part of what the current Vegan Movement is about. Raising awareness of the animal welfare issues involved in industrialised ‘farming’ practices is important, so people can make more informed choices about what they buy and how it is produced.
I do think that, on the whole, we could all do with eating more vegetables, less meat and a lot less over-processed foods. The current trend towards Vegan diets will encourage people to get to grips with vegetables, pulses, grains, nuts, seeds and fruits and broaden their culinary repertoire. The response to Veganism is reported research showing that animal fats from grass-fed animals are no longer considered unhealthy, but are in fact, in moderation, healthy! In the long run I would hope we see people eating a more wide and varied diet, which is better both for our own health and the health of our environment. The message is simple, whether you choose to eat animal produce or not, eat a balanced diet!
Q. Do you cook traditional/historic/regional dishes?
I will cook traditional dishes from a number of different nations, especially from French and Scottish cuisine. Lobster Bisque, Bouillabaisse and Cullen Skink are firm favourites on our menu.
Q. What’s your favourite and do you do a modern take?
Our Cullen Skink showcases the best local produce and incorporates heritage Slow Food Ark of Taste ingredients such as Peasemeal to give a light crispy coating to a piece of fresh trout. We will always keep recipes true to their traditional roots but will revive them to give them the flair that dinner guests will be expecting in the restaurant.
Q. Tell us more about the Slow Food Chef Alliance & Errichel and why you are passionate about it?
The Chef Alliance is a great way for like-minded Chefs to collaborate, share ideas, raise awareness of food issues and promote small producers, artisans and food heritage. Food is so much part of our culture and it’s really important not to lose that. By supporting Ark of Taste producers we are supporting breeds and varieties of produce, recipes and skills which have been put at risk from an over emphasis on hybrid and commercial breeds and mass production. By being a Slow Food Supporter and a member of the Chef Alliance, in some small way I am helping to find the balance between the need for large, intensive and highly productive farms and the need for biodiversity, genetic diversity and space for nature.
What is your….
All types of cheese.
Dewars Signature or 25 yr old Whisky, or 31 yr old Craigellachie
This really depends on my mood and location! I have had memorable food on the West Coast of Scotland, at top of Cape Point South Africa, at The Goring in London and many places in between! All very different but equally memorable.
When I am at home, Aberfeldy Farmers Market, and away, Borough Market, London, Victoria Street Market, KwaZulu Natal (an experience & you have to keep an open mind).