Top private events chef Barry Bryson speaks to Caroline Lindsay about his love of seasonal food, his hectic lifestyle cooking all over the country, and diversifying to cope amid the pandemic.
It’s fair to say that Barry Bryson likes his grub. As a child, cooking fascinated him but it was the actual eating of the food that sparked a desire to become a chef.
“I grew up mainly in North East Fife, having moved to Scotland when I was 10, and I was always in the kitchen when Mum was cooking,” Barry, who runs Cater Edinburgh, recalls.
“I think leaving for school every morning, I’d ask what was for dinner that night so you could say that eating came first and that led to the cooking!”
Although money was short when he was growing up, Barry clearly remembers some culinary highlights.
“We didn’t have much spare cash as a family so eating out was pretty rare but I remember eating fish in chips in Anstruther sat outside on the wall of the harbour and we all fell totally silent,” he says.
“I sometimes still go to that chippy and sit in the same spot.
“At home it was always hot, nourishing food like mince and tatties – often we would eat the same meal a few nights in a row, so it had to be a crowd-pleaser.”
As a private chef based in Edinburgh but working all over Scotland, the UK and beyond, Barry has always been interested in hospitality.
“I didn’t know if that would mean being based in the kitchen or front of house so in the end I have worked extensively in both, although in recent years it has been entirely kitchen based, apart from doing demos.”
Fuelled by the variety and scope his job brings him, he explains: “I am lucky to be a creative chef allowed to cook creatively.
“I can be working on several projects at once in normal times so menus, concepts and briefs have to reflect that. For example, one day we can be looking after two events for 200 people, and then the next day I could be cooking for two people in Newcastle.
“And the incredible produce I get to handle is another great incentive.
“I have worked carefully with so many small Scottish suppliers on my menus and it’s a big part of what keeps me cooking.
“I’m a little impatient with menus and cooking that rely and focus too much on imported produce – I am still surprised so much of it still exists.
“I can be a little blunt where it’s concerned as, for me, if it’s October you eat what October has to offer.”
Barry reveals that running his own company is not without its challenges. “I work off site, meaning that although I create all my menus at my commercial kitchen in Edinburgh, and we are an entirely self-producing kitchen so my preparation is lengthy for every menu.
“And then I have to travel, set up, greet clients, brief a team and then get ready for service in places I have sometimes never been, the hours are super long and it’s definitely more physical than restaurant kitchen life,” he continues.
“It’s also never the same day twice so your brain is working overtime to stay focused and think ahead.”
Barry was recently invited to run a pop-up restaurant at sculpture park and art gallery Jupiter Artland in Edinburgh, and loved every moment of it.
“It was great and absolutely the right project for the right time,” he smiles.
“Like everyone else at the moment, I feel in limbo, grateful for the work that comes along but also aware I need to diversify and respond quickly.
“It was a real challenge to go back in that style of fast-paced table service but Jupiter Artland is a very special place to myself and Robin – my partner in life and in business – as we began working with them way back in 2009, so have always felt very much a part of its incredible journey to where it is now.”
Cooking ingredient-led dishes, Barry says: “I never want to stray too far from what I am handling. I am conscious of how precious it is so I like it to speak for itself.
“That aside I am very much a texture, flavour and season chef so I often throw in curve balls to achieve that.”
While he reveals that the colourful produce that May to September bring, is his favourite season, he adds: “I do love autumn as you get the perfect mix of delicacy and flavour with the comfort notes we all want after summer.
“Right now it’s heading to winter so I’ll be cooking dishes like a nice medium rare venison loin, celeriac chips and creamed neeps as it’s been a while since I ate those root vegetables and I love venison. And perhaps fish pie for the weekend – oh, and mince and tatties obviously.
“I love cooking with anything from the sea, the river or the loch and I love root vegetables – I am a beetroot addict,” he smiles.
Getting up each morning at 6.30am, Barry walks his dog who, he says, “brings me so much wellbeing.
“Then I drink coffee before heading to the kitchen to receive deliveries and start my preparation.”
“If I have an event on I’ll work until the end of that, normally around 10 or 11pm or, if I am cooking for preparation only, I head home about 6 or 7pm.
“I don’t need much time off, maybe just the odd Sunday but I do really appreciate the nights I get home for dinner.”
Like every small, medium and large hospitality business, the Covid crisis has taken Barry right back to square one.
“I have to plan so carefully now if we are to survive this as a business,” he says. “I had developed a strong cooking brand with a fantastic reputation for events, brands and organisations to collaborate with and I am really very proud of that.
“But that industry is now completely on hold and we have not been given much in the way of support at all. However, I have found ways to keep cooking, to diversify and to collaborate and I am really grateful as, without that, it would have been the end for my business which last month turned 21.
“During lockdown, food was the full focus of my day – I think I have always respected food and hated waste but lockdown has made me more conscious than ever.
“I throw very little away but for me as a kid who remembers tough times, I feel incredibly lucky to eat the way I eat and lockdown definitely gave me a belly I didn’t have before!”
For more information about Barry Bryson and Cater Edinburgh, visitcateredinburgh.com and follow on social media, including instagram.com/chef.caterer.edinburgh, facebook.com/chef.caterer.edinburgh and twitter.com/CaterbyBarryB