Iain Nicholson’s “No Bad Food Lab” is an innovative website that provides a resource for upcoming chefs whilst showcasing Scotland’s natural larder.
A “No Bad” Scottish chef is using his experience of working in top restaurants and using the best in local produce to help aspiring chefs and enthusiastic home cooks.
Iain Nicholson, who has worked in top restaurants in Switzerland, Texas and London, uses his website “No Bad Food Lab” to promote Scotland’s natural larder through foraging while teaching young chefs how to build their careers.
When the pandemic forced the closure of hospitality businesses across Europe, Iain returned home to Scotland from Switzerland and spent time initially in Fife from where he would share his many foraging finds on Instagram, building up a loyal following of more than 4,000 people.
No Bad Food Lab started when Iain was working at Mingary Castle in the Highlands where he started developing potions, powders and concoctions.
From there the lab developed into a forum for idea sharing with an emphasis on ensuring apprentices and junior chefs are on the right track.
Setting up the lab
Iain explained: “No Bad Food Lab kind of started when I was working in the Highlands. I was working in this place called Mingary Castle which is on this big hunting estate. The castle is a 12th Century castle and at the time had only recently been renovated.
“They had built this shed to hold the materials while the renovation was going on and when that finished and we came on board the shed was lying empty so we stole it for a fermentation room and jokingly it became known as the No Bad Food Lab.
“Eventually I started using that name as a way for me to market my own food.”
Foraging and homegrown or locally-sourced produce is key to Iain’s ethos which is to express purity and freshness in his food, while reflecting the seasons as well as being as sustainable as possible.
Iain added: “Recently, during Covid, all the restaurants have been closed and the restaurant I was working in in Switzerland was closed too, so I came back and I just started foraging, so now I am just using it as a foraging platform while at the same time trying to promote my food as well.”
Helping aspiring chefs is something close to Iain’s heart and he is happy to pass on any tips he can to people who cook at home.
Iain added: “Whenever I am working usually I will approach my employer or if I am on a contract somewhere I will try and get in touch with local colleges and I kind of bring them into the kitchen and give them some experience. And for people who are just wanting to cook at home I will offer advice to them if they are interested in buying more sustainable stuff or how to source better quality ingredients at home.
“Once No Bad Food Lab became a website, the original idea was that it would be a place for commis chefs and apprentices to go to get materials and work out what books to buy or what shows to watch that would help them in their careers.”
Iain, from Livingston, is finding fantastic ingredients to work with until his next opportunity comes along which will be in his homeland.
“At the moment I am foraging. When I was in Switzerland Covid shut down the restaurant I was working in, but the guy who owns the restaurant is looking to buy a restaurant and a hotel in Scotland so I am currently in the process of viewing different hotels and restaurant for him and once that comes through I will go and work there.
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After studying at West Lothian College, Iain worked at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh, as an intern in Texas, with Mark Greenaway and Albert Roux, as well as stints in Turnberry and St Andrews where he worked in The Rav, Iain explained his inspiration.
He explained: “My food is inspired by the new Nordic food movement. Wherever I am working, whether it is Switzerland Texas or the UK, I try to use as much regional produce as possible, as local as possible and as sustainable as I can.
“While I am working my main goal is to continually look for local suppliers, small places that are doing really specialist things and that is reflected in my food. I like to think there is a lot of thought behind it.”