We recently caught up with Head Chef at The Torridon, Paul Green, to discuss and celebrate local produce and its importance and how he is at the forefront of the battle to save and nurture local food and produce!
Seeking inspiration from the land, loch and Munros that surround the hotel, head chef of The Torridon, Paul Green, utilises Scotland’s world-class produce, whether its game, seafood, shellfish, or the organic produce from the hotel’s Torridon Farm and two-acre Kitchen Garden, in both the exquisite 1887 restaurant and the hotel’s casual dining restaurant, Bo & Muc.
Tell us about The Torridon’s local food and drink sourcing and why it’s so important for the hotel and its restaurants.
Since arriving at the Torridon I have begun to source and build relationships with some great local suppliers. For me to show off the Scottish Highlands and Islands and what they produce is very important. So much of our game, fish and shellfish is sent off to Europe where it commands a great price as well as respect. At The Torridon, we take an amazing product and simply present it in its purest and tastiest form. A lot of the fruit and vegetables we use are from our own Kitchen Garden, alongside beef, pork and eggs from the animals that graze on the Torridon Farm. Mushrooms including girolles and occasionally ceps grow in the woodland just behind the hotel and unusual berry varieties come from a lady just over the bay. Shellfish is landed either in the local port just 6 miles away or from Kyle which is just over an hour’s drive and we also use fish landed on the east coast in Peterhead, Scrabster and Buckie and meat from Elgin. The venison is from Brahan estate and when the shooting season begins, pheasant and partridge are delivered to the back door by our in-house shot, Dan. Butter and vinegar is from Orkney and salt is from Skye or Ayr. I see using the whole of the Highlands and Islands as local and we want to show it all off as much as we can in our cooking.
How do you come up with new menus and dishes while still using classic techniques?
The creation of a dish comes from a couple of things. The first is the product. When something such as brown crab comes into the kitchen we cook it and season it with care so as to show off its true terroir, the cold seas of Skye. I want people to taste where it is from. Likewise, a strawberry from the garden may be served with some warm cake and yoghurt produced in the Black Isle, just outside Inverness. The second is the skill of the chefs. We need to know when to hold back and let the produce speak, which comes with experience and something I try to pass onto the next generation. The backbone of the kitchen is French technique and combinations as that is my background, and as they say, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it!
What do you love about Scottish produce and cuisine, and how do you think we can continue to promote it to a wider audience?
Scottish produce is world-class, which the more gastronomic countries such as France and Spain know, and pay a high price for. This is why sometimes we as a country sadly miss out on some amazing products, however, we have to pay the price and support the farmers and fisherman. More and more small scale producers are popping up with innovative products and we are producing some great cheese, some that could rival the French I believe! I think we need to get more Scottish produce into shops and not just that but the consumer needs to buy them which I know is difficult as more often than not small batch items are more expensive. I do think a lot of the change has to come from the public as we are still not as food savvy as our European counterparts. Education would help and I think with more people becoming aware of the climate change effects, this will, in turn, lead them onto food-related issues. The industry needs to look at itself more too. As an example; dredged scallops. The impact on the environment is terrible and then it also affects the restaurant that chooses hand-dived and charges accordingly, as customers then complain that it’s too expensive instead of wondering why the other is so cheap. Scotland is a very proud country but we should also be proud of the food we produce.
If you had to choose one Scottish dish on the menu what would it be and why?
A dish on the menu at the moment the customers enjoy a lot is monkfish. A prime fish from Scrabster which we pair with some crushed potatoes from the garden. The potatoes themselves are seasoned with lemon zest and juice as well as chopped herbs from the garden. Some broccoli, also from the garden, accompanies the dish which we almost char for a BBQ flavour. It’s all rounded off with a hollandaise sauce made from a seaweed vinegar. The dish shows what we are trying to do here at the Torridon; garden vegetables, locally caught fish, all cooked simply and put on a plate for the customers to enjoy.
What is your favourite Scottish ingredient, and why?
My favourite Scottish ingredient is probably fish. We have world-class fish almost outside our door. The grouse season has just started and I also love to use that.
Do you think the pandemic has changed the way people look at food and eating out? Will you be adapting your menus or foodservice accordingly?
I think during lockdown people had more time to reflect on what they were eating but to be honest, I think it’s business as usual for most shoppers. The industry has suffered greatly and continues to do so. Many businesses have changed their style from perhaps fine dining to more informal, cheaper offerings. As a restaurant, we have put the various safety systems in place whilst also decreasing the menu size. This is something we will do long term to prevent waste and also it will allow us to focus on the products and really showcase them.