Chef’s special

Simon McKenzie, Head chef, Isle of Eriska Hotel, by Oban


How long have you been in the catering business?
I went straight to college after leaving school at 16, then at 17 I moved to London to start as a commis chef at the Lanesborough hotel under Paul Gayler. That was some 18 years ago!

How would you describe your food?
I like to describe my food as relatively safe – I’m not one for using obscure ingredients or fusing strange combinations together. My dishes put the guest at ease when reading the menu and making choices, though there are a couple of curve balls on there for the more adventurous diner.

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

Why should someone visit your restaurant?
Isle of Eriska is well worth a detour because of the tranquillity of the private island as well as the stunning views but also to have the opportunity to be able to say “I ate there before it hit the headlines, when Simon had only just arrived on the west coast!” I love the fact that I ate at the Fat Duck just after it had got its first star, it’s impossible to do that now!

Describe your staff
My team is just starting to come together. I arrived just over two months ago and have been working hard to hand pick a team to help me drive forward. The guys I have with me now are motivated, passionate and eager to learn and hungry for success, which is great for me as it ensures I am on my best game, constantly pushing them forward.

What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?
Roast chicken, mash, creamed peas and smoked bacon with red wine jus.

Is there any food you dislike?
Horseradish should be banned! I cringe when the guys at work give me something to taste which has horseradish in it!

What’s your favourite wine?

Which is your favourite Scottish restaurant?
Isle of Eriska and Martin Wishart.

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?
The langoustines which are landed on our very own pier, a mere five minute walk from the kitchen door.

What makes a good chef?
A good chef is passionate, motivated and driven to succeed. They should love the industry and study what their successful peers and industry champions are doing with an envious eye.

Who do you admire in the industry and why?
I admire Sat Bains; I think his restaurant is fantastic. I ate in the tasting room a couple of years ago with some chef friends and thought it was awesome. The food has a very light touch to it but is highly perfumed with explosive flavours.