One of Scotland’s top chefs, Derek Johnstone will lead the kitchens and new dining concepts at Rusacks St Andrews.
The hotel, which is has just underdone a major refurbishment of its accommodation and transformation of its food and beverage offering, has launched three new dining concepts including rooftop Scottish restaurant, 18, The Bridge and One Under Bar.
Specialising in seasonal and local produce, 18 will sit on the fourth floor of the hotel’s new extension with a full glass wall offering panoramic views across the Old Course, West Sands and the North Sea.
The Bridge will be based on the ground floor and will boast a more casual all-day dining option and One Under Bar is an underground bar serving pub classics, beers, whiskies and cocktails. It will play host to live music acts once open, too.
The MasterChef: The Professionals 2008 winner, Derek, 38, joins the team from Borthwick Castle and has worked with some of the world’s most renowned chefs including Michel Roux Jr. and the late Albert Roux, and in Michelin-starred kitchens around Europe including Le Gavroche in London, De Karmeliet in Belgium, and DO near Milan.
Congrats on the new gig Derek, tell us a bit about yourself?
I’ve been a chef my whole career and for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be one.
I’ve been very lucky to have worked with some of the best chefs in the world like Michel Roux Jr. and Albert Roux, and whenever I had those opportunities, I soaked up as much knowledge, skill and technique from them as I could.
When I was 24, I won the first series of the BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals in 2008.
Since then I’ve moved between London, Belgium, Italy, and back to Scotland.
Are you from the local area?
I grew up in a town called Erskine, which is about 20 miles from Glasgow, near the airport. I lived there until I was in my 20s while I went to college in Glasgow.
I moved to London when I was 24 and lived and worked there for a few years before moving to the east coast, then Italy and Belgium, but I’m glad to be back in Scotland.
How long did it take you to develop the menus of the three venues?
It took us four and a half months to develop the concepts for One Under Bar, The Bridge and 18.
While they offer something for everyone at every price point, using the best local produce is a theme that runs through the full food and drink offering.
One Under Bar is a very traditional pub with hearty dishes and real flavourful favourites.
The Bridge is more vegetable-based and fresh with a hint of a Mediterranean theme running through the menu. Meanwhile, 18 is a celebration of Scotland, whether it’s seafood, grass-fed beef or game, it will be a showcase of top-of-the-range Scottish produce.
For me, one of the must-try dishes is our Aberdeen Angus chateaubriand, aged for a minimum of 32 days. We’ll be serving it in 18 and it’s the perfect sharing dish.
Tell us more about what to expect in each one?
18 will specialise in the very best seasonal, local produce. Using our state-of-the-art Robata grill, the menu will focus on open flame cooked dishes and contemporary and innovative game and seafood.
The Bridge is a more casual all-day dining option with lighter courses including pastas and salads.
One Under Bar is everything you want from pub food with hearty dishes.
Seasonal and local produce are really at the heart of what we want to do here at Rusacks, so our menus will change throughout the year, but favourites like prime steaks in 18 will be a mainstay, anchoring our menu.
It seems local produce is very important in your menus.
Local suppliers are the heartbeat of everything we do. I always say to my young chefs that we’re only doing 30% of the job and our suppliers are responsible for 70% of the work in growing or rearing the ingredients we finish off.
As far as I’m concerned, our job is to identify suppliers who are doing really great things. Buying the produce, and then really cooking it as simply as we can to let that quality shine through.
We’ve got some great suppliers, from St Andrews Seafood to Henderson’s Butchers, and David Lowrie’s Fish in St Monans to Wild Hearth Bakery near Crieff.
We’re lucky to have so many great suppliers. They’re going to be a big part of our success because without quality suppliers, you can’t create a quality dining experience.
And the team, what does that look like?
When all three dining areas are open, we’ll have a kitchen team of around 45 working across the kitchens, of which around 35 will be chefs.
The venues are now open, how has it been in the kitchen?
It has been a lot of fun in the kitchen with a fair few challenging moments over the last couple of months.
We have been working hard to build and develop our team and have also been spending a lot of time creating new dishes before the launch of the restaurants.
What is your all-time favourite dish to cook at home?
The perfect meal at home for me is a simple Sunday roast with beef, lots of roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and loads of gravy!
What would you say are the five ingredients everyone should have to hand?
Good quality salt, butter, sugar, eggs and flour. If I have these ingredients then I can make something very tasty without or with very few other ingredients.