Lorna McNee, junior sous chef, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie

The Staff Canteen

Lorna McNee is junior sous chef at Scotland's only two Michelin-starred Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles. 

It takes a brave woman to tap Andrew Fairlie on the shoulder and ask for a job! Lorna McNee did just that, straight out of college and hasn't looked back since. A keen meat cook, Lorna was the first female chef to win the Game Chef of the Year competition in 2016 and last year, she was crowned Scottish Chef of the Year.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Lorna about her glittering CV, her competition success and recognition for Scottish chefs.

Restaurant Andrew Fairlie
Restaurant Andrew Fairlie

When did your interest in food start?

It probably wasn’t until I was about 18 years old. I was working as a KP in an Italian restaurant, and I wanted to be a photographer. The head chef where I was working kept saying to me: ‘you’re interested in food!’ and when I didn’t get in to photography school, I started going to college and cooking in the restaurant at the same time.

I absolutely fell in love with it and found out that I was actually quite good at it! That was my first kitchen job, as a commis chef, and it all started there.

Where else have you worked?

I worked for that same head chef in three different restaurants and then on my days off, I did a month up at Boath House. But they couldn’t offer me a kitchen job, they only offered me a waitressing role but I decided that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be cooking so I left. Once I finished college, I came straight to Restaurant Andrew Fairlie.

How did you get the job at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie?

My lecturer at college recommended that I go to work somewhere with Michelin stars. I didn’t even know what Michelin was at the time! I did a two-week placement at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s (now closed), which college sponsored me to do. I threw myself in at the deep end a bit there. It was good, I learnt loads but I decided that London wasn’t for me – it’s too busy. 

Then me and my lecturer went for dinner at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie and I thought that it was the best meal that I had ever eaten. So, after a three-day stage, one of the boys said to me: ‘If you want a job, you should just ask!’. I tapped chef Andrew on the shoulder when he was eating his dinner (which probably wasn’t the best time!) and I asked him if I could have a job.

Spiced Roast Loin of roe deer, crispy polenta and a damson gel by Lorna McNee, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie

Spiced Roast Loin of roe deer,

crispy polenta and a damson gel

He told me how hard it would be and I don’t think he had much faith that I could do it, to be honest. He asked me to go away and think about it for a week, which I did. I came back and I was determined that I was coming here, so I managed to get myself the job.

What is Andrew like to work for?

The restaurant is a very family-orientated – it’s very calm and relaxed and it’s about teaching people and training them, rather than just being about pushing out a lot of food. You get looked after well and if you put in the time and effort, then you get that back. It’s a great place to learn and there’s so many people there with so much knowledge. Chef Andrew has always got the time to help you with anything you’re interested in, and it's the same with chef Stevie [McLaughlin]

Describe your role and daily responsibilities at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie.

At the minute, I train young chefs that come into the kitchen. If we have someone new starting, I usually go onto the section with them and help them to learn a section. Anything that I’ve been taught that I find valuable, I’ll pass on to them, until they’re strong enough to run a section on their own. If head chef is off, me and one of the other sous chefs will do the pass.

I’m not being big-headed but I started off not knowing anything when I arrived, so I like tell them: don’t think that you’re ever not as good as you want to be. You will get there – look at me as an example. Then I usually tell them a really silly mistake that I’ve made in the past, that’s really embarrassing for me but probably makes them feel a bit better!

Info bar

Dream restaurant -

It would be in Scotland, I don't necessarily know where about I think for me location really depends on what kind of food it is you are going to do to what that public would be after if you know what I mean. It would probably be Central Belt Area.

My food would probably be as I said well-cooked simple food. I wouldn't be going to Michelin or anything like that I just want to have a really nice restaurant that everyone loves to come to and everyone enjoys themselves and enjoys the food.

Dream brigade -

GeGe on pastry who is our pastry chef at Andrew Fairlie just now, Gerrard. My sous cook on the meat and fish section would probably be Orry Shand and then on garnish would be Lewis Vimpany and then a guy called Chris McFadyen on larder.

Why did you enter Game Chef of the Year 2016?

It was the first proper competition that I’d done and it was really good. I’d never done anything like that before and I put myself under immense pressure. I always want to do the business proud, and make myself proud too. Even if I didn’t win, I just wanted to make sure that I put out the best food that I could.

Ballotine of foie gras, Rhubarb carpaccio and almond, served with orange blossom brioche by Lorna McNee, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie

Ballotine of foie gras, rhubarb carpaccio

and almond, served with orange blossom brioche

How did it feel to be the first female chef to win?

It was a real shock because I’m never 100% happy with myself. Even when I’d done the competition, I thought it wasn’t the best I can do. So, when you win with something that’s not the best you can do, you know you’re better than you originally thought.

That was a real accomplishment and it made me feel great. It gives you a little bit of a boost and reassures you that you’re doing well as a chef. It’s nice to say that you’re the first female chef to win it, and it’s good for other young females coming in to the industry to see. But at the same time, I don’t think there should be any difference between a female and male chef in the kitchen. There’s not in our kitchen – whether you’re male or female, you get treated the exact same way.  I don’t see it as an issue; it should be genderless. You’re cooking and that should be what’s taken into account, I think. It used to be such a male-orientated occupation but I don’t feel like that’s the case anymore. 

Seared Hand Dived scallop, sea vegetables, clams and seaweed dashi, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie

Seared Hand Dived scallop, sea vegetables,

clams and seaweed dashi

Do you work quite closely with Stevie on the menu? Do you help with dish development?

Yeah, to be fair anyone in the kitchen is allowed to put forward ideas. I've already changed three new dishes on the menu this month. Quite often, when chef Stevie is creating dishes he'll quite often come to me and ask me to help with a new dish he's created. He might then give me ideas for me to go and work on which is always quite good as well because sometimes you get a mind block and it makes me more excited to go away and research, then go and come back and create something new.

How would you describe your food style? 

I'm not gastronomically trained, I just like really well-cooked food so if you have three simple ingredients, put that on a plate and make it taste amazing, that is the kind of stuff I like - just really well-cooked food.

Do you have a favourite dish on the menu? 

I just recently put on a new foie gras dish with rhubarb and pistachios that I quite like. I thought they compliment each other quite nicely. Main course-wise, it would probably be veal. We’ve got a really nice veal dish on at the moment. 

What was it like winning Scottish Chef of the Year?

That was really good. There was a lot more pressure and at the end of it, I didn't think I had done very well but I ended up winning best main course, best dessert and the whole overall competition! I don't really know if I'll enter any more competitions - the only other one I can think of is National Chef of the Year, because I would have loved to do The Roux Scholarship but unfortunately I am too old now.

Homesmoked Lobster served with a lemon And lime butter sauce, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie

Homesmoked lobster served with a

lemon and lime butter sauce

Do you class yourself as a competition chef?

I don't class myself as a competition chef at all, but I have been at Andrew Fairlie for such a long time and it's nice to challenge yourself and put yourself up against other people to see what else is out there. It keeps you fresh. 

What are your plans for the future?

I don't feel like I need to move around every two years to learn new things because you get the freedom here from chef Andrew and chef Stevie to develop yourself anyway.  If you want to try something or learn something new, they will encourage you. 

Do you think that Scottish chefs get a fair representation on a national level? 

I think Scotland could be a little bit better known for their food. We have got some of the best produce in the country, with regards to meats and fish, so I think there could be a lot more notice on Scottish chefs and Scottish produce. I am very Scottish and proud. I think there are a lot of really good chefs coming through Scotland now, but it would be nice to see more. 

More images from Restaurant Andrew Fairlie:

 Spiced Breast  Confit Leg Anjou Squab,  Restaurant Andrew Fairlie
Spiced Breast, Confit Leg of Anjou Squab

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th April 2018

Lorna McNee, junior sous chef, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie