Chef’s Special: Andy Booth-McCabe, Holiday Inn Aberdeen West

Andy Booth-McCabe, head chef at the Holiday Inn Aberdeen West, gives his thoughts on everything from the challenges of the pandemic to what makes him laugh in the kitchen

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

I’ve worked in the industry for 32 years, and it all started with my love of food and a general interest in cooking that was inspired by my home economics teacher. I attended Seven Vale School in Gloucester where the HE teacher was very strict but very fair. She earned my respect by pushing me because she saw what I was capable of, and I’m glad she did.

What’s your career highlight so far?

That has to be when I got my first head chef job at Norwood Hall Hotel, Aberdeen, and my team earned the hotel a rosette. Our journey towards gaining the rosette wasn’t without its challenges but we overcame them all and, 12 years on, I still consider some of my colleagues from that time as good friends and I would happily work with them again.

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

My biggest challenge to date has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Like so many others, we’ve had to evolve and adapt to catering with reduced staffing, processing and packing meals in ways that I’ve never experienced before. Every aspect of the job has changed – before there might have been six chefs and two kitchen assistants creating visually attractive, well-presented dishes and now there are only two chefs serving food direct to rooms in takeaway-style bags to reduce contact. It’s a huge shift.

How would you describe your restaurant and its food?

Our restaurant is a homely, welcoming establishment and I like to think our food is honest, good fare. In every menu, I like to cater for all the family because nothing beats the whole family sitting down and enjoying food together. One thing which is always available is our jumbo haddock. It comes from Peterhead and the regulars really enjoy it so it never comes off the menu.

Describe your staff.

I’m surrounded by some fantastic chefs who’ve been in the industry for years and have worked as team for a long time. I have one chef whose skill for pizza making is outstanding, another chef whose dedication consistently goes above and beyond expectations, a sous chef who gives his all and a CDP who is willing to learn and is a pleasure to teach. It’s a great team and I’m proud to be part of it.

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?

It’s impossible to pick only one because we are blessed to have so many fabulous ingredients from sea to land but Shetland mussels and venison would top my list.  Venison is an underutilised meat which is wonderfully rich, from smoked venison for summer salads to warm, rich autumn dinners. I find Shetland mussels the cleanest and full of flavour and have used them in many of the restaurants I have worked in.

What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?

Our special occasion food is Beef Wellington and Dauphinois Potatoes whilst our everyday favourite is pasta. Pasta is so versatile and making it is a great activity to do with the kids on wet days or during the pandemic. In our house we all have a favourite type of pasta. We do, however, all agree that we love the rich beef ragu I make to go with their pasta of choice!

Is there any food you dislike?

Liver casserole always seems dry and unpalatable to me.

What’s your favourite wine?

I like Malbec or a Sauvignon Blanc, depending on what’s for dinner.

What makes a good chef?

Honesty and the ability to communicate are vital during a busy service and I would always look for these attributes in a team member.

What’s a top tip every chef should know?

Don’t try to catch a falling knife – I have a scar to prove it.

What makes you laugh in the kitchen?

In short, excuses. I once had a kitchen porter who never washed the outside of pans and, when questioned, he said he didn’t need to because the food didn’t touch those bits.

Who do you admire in the industry and why?

I admire Marco Pierre White because he believes in the food he is creating and has a no-nonsense approach. When I was a young chef, he was definitely one of my inspirations.

How do you relax outside of work?

With a wife, three children and a dog, family life is very busy so the apt expression out of the frying pan and into the fire springs to mind…

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

In our industry we are often fortunate enough to experience lots of great food but one particularly memorable meal was at The Witchery in Edinburgh many years ago. It was the first time I had beef cheek.

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

My wife would be my first invitation followed, in no particular order, by Mauricio Pochettino, Marco Pierre White and Harry Rednapp for a lovely dinner at the Shard in London.