Housed within a restored 19th century townhouse in Glasgow’s east end, Bilson Eleven offers a unique dining experience with a modern approach to classic flavours
How long have you been in the industry?
I’ve been rattling pans now for nearly ten years. It all started when I met Liz, my future wife, who lived in Glasgow – I was a builder based down in Birmingham who was travelling to Glasgow for work. I enjoyed cooking and was looking at changing jobs, something that I could throw myself into for the foreseeable future. Liz got me a trial at a Glasgow restaurant, which offered me a permanent position after my first shift.
What’s your career highlight so far?
Opening our own place, Bilson Eleven. Getting my first head chef position was also exciting, though I felt I was doing a similar role as a sous chef. Having your own restaurant comes with a lot more stress and responsibility, but it also gives you that freedom and creativity that good chefs aspire to.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Opening our own place. We took a tenement house that had been used as storage for a dental laboratory and turned it into what is Bilson Eleven today. The headaches we faced along the way were almost enough to make you want to hang up the whites, but we got through it.
Describe your staff.
We’re a very small team, comprised mainly of a couple of good friends and my wife. I’d better leave it at that!
How would you describe your restaurant and its food?
Our food is unique in its own way and focused on the all-important thing – taste. We try to improve what we are putting on plates week in, week out.
What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?
Without sounding like a cliché, so many ingredients spring to mind. Beef, shellfish and lamb, and also fantastic grains such as oats and rye flour. If I have to choose one though, I’d say scallop.
What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?
Pasta’s always a family favourite.
Is there any food you dislike?
No! I’ve yet to come across anything that really rubs against me the wrong way.
What’s your favourite wine?
Chateau Brane Cantenac 2009. I had a glass of it when we went to Sat Bains. When Liz and I go to top restaurants I try to take inspiration from the dishes and not copy the food, but I believe pinching a wine selection is fair game.
What makes a good chef?
Someone who likes to ask a lot of questions but doesn’t mind the graft that comes with finding the answers.
What’s a top tip every chef should know?
Don’t get stuck with the blinkers on cooking and eating your own food every day. Make sure you eat in as many top restaurants as you can. One bit of inspiration can go a long way.
What makes you laugh in the kitchen?
The banter’s brilliant. It’s very rare in such a high-pressured job that the ‘proverbial’ can be taken out of anyone and everyone so freely.
How do you relax outside of work?
Sunday is family day. A wee excursion or a trip to the park reminds us why we do it.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had and where was it?
Osteria Francescana. Liz and I went in August 2015 and it changed our lives. When we came back from Italy I handed in my notice and we began the search for our own place.
Who would you invite for your ideal meal and where would you go?
With my wife, back to Osteria Francescana. It still gives me goosebumps.