Modern Scottish Cuisine
Take the best local ingredients; add the talents of your best chefs, a decent sprinkling of innovation and you have a perfect recipe for achieving 16 Michelin-starred restaurants.
Compared to 6 in Ireland and 4 in Wales, Scotland has leapt ahead in the Michelin star stakes and is continuing to assert its place in the world of fine dining. Chefs in Scotland are producing menus oozing with worldly ambition. They are taking seriously the issue of provenance and sourcing.
Many of the world's leading chefs are endorsing Scottish produce, Eric Lipert at Le Bernadin in New York has oak-smoked organic Scottish salmon on his menu and Jean-Christophe Novelli rates Shetland Mussels to be the best in the world. We've never had it so good.
Today's chefs are taking an interdisciplinary approach, blending their craft with science and art to extract the flavours and textures of native ingredients. Fusion cuisine has provided an innovative way to blend the best of Scottish ingredients with other culinary traditions and it has certainly enjoyed great favour on the cosmopolitan menus of the capital's restaurants. Dishes such as Ravioli of Bowmont Valley partridge with seared foie gras, red cabbage, marjoram and partridge consommé from Dominic Jack at Castle Terrace, Shetland Mussels Masala from Roy Brett at Ondine, Home Smoked Scottish Lobster, Warm Lime and Herb Butter from Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles and Sound of Kilbrannan Scallop Waldorf from Ralph Porciani at Turnberry highlight the commitment to creativity, sustainability and seasonality.
Scotland's restaurant menus are becoming more imaginative and resourceful in the Highlands too. Dr Chris Duckham is creating inventive combinations at his award-winning bijou restaurant at Kirtomy House near Bettyhill. He adds seawater to his caramel sauce to create a salty edge while celeriac is cooked in heather for a distinctive taste and homemade ice cream is infused with seaweed. Dr Duckham is also a forager and among the wild treats in his store cupboard may be found a range of seaweeds, wood sorrel, sea lettuce, ceps, chanterelles, spruce needles, nettles, dock leaves and sea parsley.
For the non-foragers, the success of farmers' markets shows that consumers are also concerned with provenance and quality. It is interesting to note that the American-based Whole Foods Market have opened their first Scottish store with 400 Scottish items in its new 20,000 sq ft Glasgow store. Over 30 Scottish cheeses including Bonnet, Ailsa Craig goat cheese and traditional Dunlop sit alongside 50 European artisan cheeses. Whole organic chickens from Sascha and Hugh Grierson's farm in Perth keep company with Brackla Farm free-range pork from Cawdor and Beef from Klondyke Farms in Dumfriesshire
Another taste of success for Scotland is the boom in food and drink exports. France is now our biggest export market, valued at £275.7m, while the total value of exports to Ireland, Spain, Germany and Italy is £326.5m. Salmon exports to China and the Far East, increased from £3.1m between January and September 2010 to more than £20m for the same period in 2011. Scotch whisky exports to Asia for the period January to September 2011 were worth £659.6m - up from £514.7m during the same period last year.
Food and drink plays a major part in the visitor experience with
£1 in every £5 spent by visitors to Scotland being spent on food and drink-related activity which now generates over £500 million from UK visitors alone.
What about traditional fare? Fish and chips helped feed the masses during the First World War and were one of only a few foods not rationed in the Second. It appears in some form on most menus from Fish Supper with Mushy Peas in the local pub to Scottish Haddock with potatoe fondant and Minted Pea Puree at a fine dining restaurant. With too many Scots just one lamb chop away from a heart attack the Scottish Government is challenging the Scots love affair with saturated fat as part of its Food and Drink Policy. A small step in the right direction has been the new purpose-built Masterchefs and Maestros kitchen facility at a Perthshire school that aims to promote healthy eating amongst young people.
If our chefs can continue to serve up the finest and freshest seasonal Scottish ingredients, promote our bounty of artisan and indigenous foods, add a dash of gourmet spin with ample quantities of flair and passion then we can leave the last word to Robert Burns:
O thou, in whom we live and move-
Who made the sea and shore;
Thy goodness constantly we prove,
And grateful would adore;
And, if it please Thee, Power above!
Still grant us, with such store,
The friend we trust, the fair we love-
And we desire no more. Amen!