Chef’s Special: Claire Allan, head chef of The Mercat Grill, East Lothian

Claire Allan, head chef at the Mercat Grill, East Lothian, puts locally-sourced produce at the heart of the restaurant’s menu. Utilising the best of Scotland’s natural larder, as well as ingredients from further afield, the Mercat Grill offers simple, gastropub fayre in a relaxed setting.

How long have you been in the industry and how did you start?

I’ve been in the industry for 25 years. I actually started before I’d even left school, helping my dad, which I loved, who owned Champagne Charlies in Edinburgh.

What’s your career highlight so far?

Nothing compares to what we’ve achieved at the Mercat Grill.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Becoming the head chef of a busy kitchen has been a big challenge, where every day I’m met with many different challenges and obstacles.

How would you describe your restaurant and its food?

Traditional pub food done exceptionally well in a cosy, friendly and relaxed setting.

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?

The incredibly tender beef we buy from our quality, craft butchers based in East Lothian.

What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?

I do like to cook myself a steak.

Is there any food you dislike?

Very spicy food as I have a sensitive tongue!

What’s your favourite wine?

A Zinfandel rosé or a Sauvignon Blanc (the latter was my dad’s favourite too).

What makes a good chef?

Great attention to detail, being superb at multi-tasking, a quick decision-maker, passionate about our industry and customers, and being a good leader for your kitchen team.

What’s a top tip every chef should know?

Keep your cool under pressure.

What makes you laugh in the kitchen?

Listening to Graham (Blaikie), the owner, cracking jokes – he thinks he’s a comedian sometimes!

Who do you admire in the industry and why?

I admired my dad. He was a trailblazer of his day and so well-respected.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had and where was it?

I can’t think of one place that completely stands out, but my local golf club does a great steak pie!

Who would you invite for your ideal meal and where would you go?

I’d really like to dine with Rick Stein and try the White Horse Oyster & Seafood Bar in Edinburgh. After my long hours, I really enjoy going to my mum’s or a friend’s house to have dinner or sometimes a takeaway and relax with a lager or glass of wine!