Head chef at the new Glenturret Lalique, Mark Donald, is excited by the challenge of heading up the kitchen at the Crieff restaurant.
Last week, we featured a first look at the new Glenturret Lalique Restaurant that will open later this month on July 28.
The key appointment in any new eatery is the head chef and the Glenturret Lalique has attracted a top talent in Mark Donald as executive chef.
Glasgow-born Mark built his impeccable culinary credentials through holding positions at some of the world’s best restaurants, including the iconic Noma in Copenhagen, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles (two-star Michelin), Hibiscus (two-star Michelin) and Bentley, Sydney.
His homecoming in 2018 saw him take the reins and retain the Michelin star for Number One at The Balmoral.
Mark says he is thrilled to be at the helm of the kitchen and has assembled a top team.
“I am super excited. I didn’t really have any plans to leave Number One but I came up, had a look around and I was blown away by the resource and the area after everyone having a tough year,” he told me after I enjoyed his tasting menu.
“Being in a suburb isn’t the same as being in the countryside. I’m from the country anyway so it was always the dream to have farms around and that romantic idea of farm to table, but doing it right.”
Quality is key
Mark’s food is all about flavour and while he recognises that provenance has a part to play, quality is key.
“Flavour first, it is always flavour first, it has to be tasty, it has to be delicious otherwise it doesn’t go on the plate,” said Mark.
“Provenance matters but the quality will dictate rather than the provenance.
“It just so happens that we are fortunate enough to have really good quality farms, the barley is amazing, the beef, the fish, the shellfish, I have really, really good relationships with all my suppliers.”
Innovation is also of vital importance with Mark utilising the grains used in the production of the whisky in his sourdough bread, and for many other components of his dishes.
“It would be easy for me to copy and paste what I was doing at Number One, but after doing tours and meeting Bob (whisky maker Bob Dalgarno) and Ian (Ian Renwick, distillery manager), I kind of recalibrated slightly how I cook,” Mark revealed.
“You are mirroring the conversion of the complex carbohydrates into sugars that they do in the whisky making process, but instead of then fermenting that liquid we’re reducing it and essentially making a tasty treacle and we are using that where you would use a syrup or a glucose.
“It’s really exciting for the team as well. We are in the heart of Scotland, with an amazing larder. Some time of the year you will only get turnips growing, but there is a really special time from spring up until winter which we are right bang in the middle of.”
Desserts have to be fun
All pastries are created by pastry chef Kayleigh Turner, who recently won The Patisserie Chef Award at the CIS Excellence Awards in June, and someone who Mark is delighted to have on board.
He continued: “I work really closely with Kayleigh, we do everything together.
“For me, historically, you can go to restaurants and you can have a knockout meal and then the pastry section is just completely different, or vice-versa, so I have my hand in the pastry a lot, but Kayleigh is extremely talented, I’m not going to take that away from her.
“For me, it has to flow, it has to have fluidity and they have to be onside with one another. Having a slight amount of vegetable flavours in the pre-dessert, or your first dessert, is for me a natural flow from savoury to sweet.
“It has to be fun to an extent without being gimmicky. You have to feel a little excited when you get something – everyone likes a sweet.”
And after 2020 being a year when hospitality businesses up and down the country were more closed than open, Mark cannot wait to welcome diners.
“Super excited, after last year with the lockdowns,” he said.
“We are not wary, but you know that feeling you have when you go back to work after a holiday wondering if you can do the job, the fear. It’s totally natural and every day we are cooking, we are gelling more and feeling it more, bouncing ideas off each other.”
Dreaming of a Michelin Star?
Having retained the Michelin Star at Number One at The Balmoral, is this the dream for Mark at Glenturret Lalique?
“The million-dollar question! I would like to get one, but I think it is a dangerous path for chefs to only focus on that,” he replied.
“I think you can lose yourself. I have seen it happen to a lot of people, I have been trapped in that net but it is not going to be the main focus of everything I do.
“I would love to get it, but I am not going to come out and scream it from the rooftops. I think it can be really disheartening for a team if you don’t get it and that is all you have spoken about for a whole year. It can break everyone.
“The madness of Michelin is still very true, but it is like the Oscars for chefs. It is that confirmation of your craft and the standard you work to. We will work towards excellence and if we get a star I will be over the moon.”