Chef’s Special: Jim Cowie Head chef and co-owner, The Captain’s Galley, Scrabster, Caithness

Jim Cowie, head chef and co-owner of The Captain’s Galley and Scrabster Seafood Bar in Scrabster, puts seasonality and sustainability at the heart of his restaurants, which proudly offer a wide range of Scottish seafood dishes.

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

I’ve spent my working life in all the different aspects of the fishing industry, with the last 15+ years in a seafood restaurant.

What’s your career highlight so far?

Not one in particular, having over the years spent many long hours on various coastal roads and harbours throughout the Highlands and islands watching Orcas in the summer and Aurora in the winter still gives me the same buzz as it did when I was a child.

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

I don’t really believe in challenges and overcoming them; I believe if something creeps up and sets you a challenge then you must have taken your eye off the ball. I much prefer forward planning with goals and direction.

How would you describe your restaurant and its food?

We are a seafood restaurant with pride of place in the ‘gateway port’ of Scrabster – a major fishing harbour. The food which makes up our dishes is 100% sustainably caught and landed into Scrabster by Scottish fishing boats.

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?

I always feel guilty picking one, as there’s so many I love. But by a country mile it will be seafood caught and landed by Scottish fishermen; to choose one I’d say squid.

What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?

Easy – Paella; it’s such a sociable way of eating. We love its authenticity.

Is there any food you dislike?

The words dislike and food don’t go together in my mind – there are certain foods I prefer but none of which I can say I dislike.

What’s your favourite wine?

When I’m eating something like a rich, local crab, then a Muscadet or something else from the Loire region of France. If Italian, a dry Montepulciano or light Gavi. If Spanish then a red or white Rioja or dry white Verdejo from the Rueda region.

What makes a good chef?

To me a good chef is one who is comfortable in his own skin, knows exactly where all his food has come from and cooks with a healthy mix of respect, love, passion and enthusiasm.

What’s a top tip every chef should know?

Respect your food; it’s the star.

Who do you admire in the industry and why?

My wife Mary. Having crossed over from the fishing industry and created our restaurant, to appearing in seminars and talks at colleges and other groups, I’ve ended up with a bit of a profile. People comment about what I’ve achieved by hard work – but what people don’t realise is for every hour I do, Mary also does. As many of our regular customers will agree, the Captain’s Galley is nothing without Mary’s touch.

How do you relax outside of work?

I don’t recognise a distinction between inside and outside of work.

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

I could never pick an overall winner. Top two is The Perlan restaurant in Iceland; the restaurant rotates 360 degrees, giving stunning views around Reykjavik. The second was a restaurant on Woolloomooloo Wharf, Sydney. A close friend and New Zealand chef Alex Ensor was in charge; we had 11 courses washed down with fine wines from the nearby Hunter Valley; one of my undoubted best lifetime experiences.