After honing his skills in award-winning restaurants, 24-year-old Andy McDonald is back at Murrayshall Country Estate where he started as an apprentice nine years ago.
Aged 15, the chef came out of Perth College and began his apprenticeship in fine dining restaurant Eolas.
Under the wing of head chef Craig Jackson, Andy spent the first four and a half years of his career at Murrayshall.
Next, he headed up to The Meikleour Arms, which has its own in-house butchery.
“That’s very rare. It was on site, but separate from the main kitchen,” says Andy.
“It was definitely a good learning experience, I honed that skill.
“I did three to five fallow deer a week, a whole cow, pig and lamb a month, and dealing with smaller game like poultry and waterfoul as well. That was certainly interesting.”
Head chef’s right hand man at Eolas
As well as spending two days a week in the butchery, Andy and the other chefs made everything from scratch in the kitchen. From mayonnaise to burger buns, all the food on the plate was homemade.
Around two years ago he went even further north, to The Fife Arms in Braemar. There, he learnt to cook over an open fire.
“It took me probably about three, four weeks to get my hands used to the heat,” he says.
“That’s how sore it was. You’re talking probably 700-800 degrees through that pizza oven.”
Being far away from his family and friends in Perth, as well as long days in the kitchen, led Andy to move back home in June. He also came back to Eolas, this time as a sous chef and head chef Craig’s right hand man.
This means that part of his job is to help manage the kitchen, train the team and develop new dishes.
He enjoys seeing the team develop and progress, just like he did in the same kitchen at the start of his career.
“I always say I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am now without the training I had then,” he admits.
“Without Craig showing me how things go and why they go that way, I would be working in Wetherspoons probably.”
Future plans for Murrayshall chef
The 24-year-old highlights punctuality, organisation and cleanliness as the top three skills chefs of his calibre need. Another tip he picked up at The Meikleour Arms is to always carry a pocket notebook and pen.
When training in the butchery, he would write notes and draw pictures to have something to look back on.
He says: “When you come to the end of your working week, when you get up in the morning, make yourself a coffee and open your book.
“Read what you’ve done the last week and you’ll retain that information, or at least more of it than you would have if you went, I’ve seen that so I’ll just do that now.”
It’s also possible Andy found the butchery skills easy to pick up as meat and steak are his favourite things to eat.
“You cannae beat steak and chips, or steak pie and chips. That’s the kind of food I go for, nothing overly fancy,” he says.
While he enjoys eating a good steak or woodfired pizza on his days off, working in a two AA Rosette restaurant “keeps your brain ticking”.
Technical recipes and methods keep him on his toes, and organising and prepping means his work is also mentally engaging.
In the future, he hopes to use his skills to open his own restaurant. Maybe not in Perth, but he’s thinking about Dundee or Stirling.
“I would like a small 20 to 25 seater, something I could cater for myself with a couple of staff,” he says.
“Just good, simple, honest food. Four or five things on a plate done well, that’s where I’d like to be.”