Chef’s special : Neil McGown

Neil McGown, Executive chef and proprietor, East Haugh House, Pitlochry

Neil and his wife Lesley owned Trumps restaurant in Sussex for six years before buying East Haugh House in Pitlochry in 1989 and converting it into a 13-bedroom hotel. Built originally as part of the Atholl Estate some 350 years ago, East Haugh House is set in two acres of garden and has access to the estates and rivers of Perthshire.

How long have you been in the catering business?
45 years. I started out at the catering school in Strathpeffer aged 15.

What’s your career highlight so far?
Flying to New York and cooking for VisitScotland at Grand Central Station with my daughter as my side-kick.

How would you describe your food?
Eclectic Scottish traditional with an emphasis on game and seafood.

What’s the price of a typical three-course meal (without wine)?
About £30.

Why should someone visit your restaurant?
We value quality of food as much as customer service – one without the other is no good.

Describe your staff.
Personal service has been our driving force the past 22 years and our wonderful daughter Sophie, trained by her mum of course, flies the flag for EHH front of house and meticulously trains her staff.

What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?
Probably Christmas lunch as it’s always accompanied by a big family get-together. There are usually about 30 of us at Christmas but with four professional chefs in the family, it’s the boys that do the hard graft and we never have to wash up!

Is there any food you dislike?
Pasta and casseroles.

What’s your favourite wine?
New Zealand Pinot Noir – we were lucky enough to go trout fishing in New Zealand in 2006 and visited Craggy Range Vineyard.

Which is your favourite Scottish restaurant?
Tom Kitchin’s The Kitchin in Leith. That man has some talent!

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?
I’m torn between the outstanding shellfish and the game. Being a sporting hotel we have access to some of the best game around; fillet of white hare is my favourite.

What makes a good chef?
Even at the tender age of 60 I am still learning. Maybe that’s the secret: always looking for new ideas.

What’s a tip every chef should know?
Keep your eyes and ears open to new ideas.

Who do you admire in the industry and why?
Tom Kitchin. He has prospered in difficult times, which is not easy, and I love his approach to cooking.

How do you relax outside of work?
Salmon fishing. We are fortunate enough to have a superb beat on the Tay and, when I can steal away, it is the most relaxing pass time I know.