Chef’s Special: Mark Ward, Executive Chef, Macdonald Aviemore Resort

Located in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, Macdonald Aviemore Resort, part of Macdonald Hotels & Resorts, features four different restaurants, each specialising in different styles of cuisine – from the Aspects Restaurant to Giovannis Italian Ristorante


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

I started in 1997 as a dishwasher in my home city of York. It started as a holiday and weekend job to earn some money whilst I was still in school and it moved on from there.  My first boss told me I was a natural talent in the kitchen, and he used to give me some extra jobs to do so that I could try out my skills, and that was the start! I never planned on being a chef and in fact I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I got good grades but didn’t like academic structure. I came very close to joining the Royal Navy before becoming a chef.

What’s your career highlight so far?

I have been very lucky because I’ve worked around the world in amazing locations, such as the Middle East, Canada, the Caribbean and on cruise ships. It was a great way to see the world, meet lots of interesting people and enjoy lots of life experiences. I have worked as an executive chef since 2015 and took up my current role at Macdonald Aviemore Resort in October last year.

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

Relocating back to the UK after ten years was a challenge. Reintegrating back into working culture was tricky too, as was seeing how the industry as a whole is struggling from a staffing point of view. In my opinion, the time I was away was a time when levels of commitment, graft and sacrifice changed, but they are still important for anyone who truly wants to make it in the kitchen. We need to get people looking at this as a career, not a job.

How would you describe your restaurant and its food?

I look after four restaurants and a conference centre at Macdonald Aviemore Resort. Between them, our restaurants cater for almost every kind of customer imaginable. The food we offer varies from location to location and is ever changing.

Describe your staff.

I currently have about 38 staff, so a team of that size isn’t without its challenges. We have about seven different nationalities represented, so keeping everyone together and building a team is always hard – but we are doing it and doing it well. In my kitchen, everyone is equal and there is no hierarchy when it comes to people. We all do what needs to be done and everyone will jump in where needed to achieve the best end result.

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?

I recently had king scallops, which came from the west coast of Scotland, and they were the best I’ve ever had.

What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?

My wife cooks most of the food at home. She’s from Asia, so we eat a lot of dishes from that part of the world – and they are great. I do, however, normally do the Sunday roast whenever possible and, being from Yorkshire, it’s probably my favourite meal. I’m pretty famous for my Yorkshire puddings too!

Is there any food you dislike?

I hate cucumbers.

What’s your favourite wine?

I’ve got a real taste for Beaujolais. I really like red wine and one of my favourite foods is cheese, which works well with it. That said, Beaujolais goes well with most food and is fruity, but it can be full.

What makes a good chef?

I think the best chefs have a few skills you can’t teach, such as commitment, attitude and passion. Those three things are essential if you want to be a good chef and succeed.

What’s a top tip every chef should know?

Quite simply, taste everything. If it doesn’t taste right to you, why should a customer pay for it?

What makes you laugh in the kitchen?

There are still a lot of guys in our kitchen, so I guess there’s a bit of a ‘bromance’ going on, but it makes me laugh how the girls often get one over on the guys in certain ways with their personalities and sharp kitchen banter. We need a good mix of people to keep things balanced – and they all need a good sense of humour!

Who do you admire in the industry and why?

Everyone who chooses to work in this industry because it isn’t an easy one. People work very hard and there are so many people I look up to – from the people who gave me my first opportunity onwards; all are people I admire for different reasons.

How do you relax outside of work?

Apart from spending precious time with my wife and kids, I also like to go to the pub and watch the football – I’m a massive Manchester United fan. And I love to play golf. For me, it’s total relaxation.

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

It was a place called Jaan in Singapore, where I used to work. It’s a Michelin-starred restaurant on the 71st floor of the Swissôtel The Stamford, overlooking the bay. My friend was a sous chef at the time and I had just got married, so the meal was a special wedding gift.

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

I would take my wife to try something brand new to me, like Simon Rogan’s place in Cumbria – L’Enclume – because it is so different and fresh. What he does really interests me because I’ve never cooked or tasted food like that before.