inploi meets Lorna McNee - Winner of Scottish Chef of the Year 2017 inploi Team | 17.03.2017
This year’s competition, sponsored by Brakes, took place at ScotHot 2017 in Glasgow on 16th March, with eight finalists competing to fill the shoes of Adam Handling - last year’s Scottish Chef of the Year champion.
This year’s finalists came from all over Scotland including, Orry Shand (The Chester Hotel, Aberdeen), David Mathieson (Entier Services, Aberdeen), Craig Gibb (The Orde Food Company), Calum Cousins (Loch Lomond Golf Club), Lorna McNee (Restaurant Andrew Fairlie), Darren Seggie (City of Glasgow College), Colin Lyall (Tor Na Coil Banchory) and Jamie Scott (Newport Restaurant).
Each chef was asked to cook a well-balanced four course menu for four covers, including an intermediate fish course offering a modern interpretation of Le Guide Culinaire’s original classical recipe.
We caught up with Lorna the day after the competition - already back in the kitchen and taking some time to let the news fully sink-in. On asking her how it felt hearing her name being announced for first prize she responded, “I can’t really explain - overwhelming. I was very happy, extremely happy. I started crying. I genuinely didn’t think I had won.”
This was the first time that Lorna had competed in the Scottish Chef of the Year, after years of persuasion by Head Chef, Andrew Fairlie. Lorna put in a lot of hours of hard-work and practice to make sure everything was perfect for the finals. Her menu consisted of roast veal sweetbreads with mushroom tart and onion puree to start, followed by turbot meuniere, a main course of roast squab, confit leg and creamed sprouts; and citrus millefeuille for dessert.
Whether the competitors are trained in pastry or not, they are expected to produce desserts of the highest calibre, often requiring extra practice in a field within which they may not be greatly familiar. “I must have done about six desserts. It’s hard to get the right balance of sweetness and sharpness, but also some savoury. But I got to love it - learning new palette skills. My whole menu was quite rich so it really needed that sharpness at the end. It took a lot of time for me to get it to where it was.” In spite of her limited pastry training, Lorna’s determination paid off and she was awarded Dessert of the Day for her citrus millefeuille, in addition to the title of overall champion.
During the competition, each chef is also supported by a Commis Chef from their kitchen, who helps with their immense work load (as well as assisting to calm their nerves)! Throughout the 3 hour 30 minute cooking time allocated to the competitors, the judges move from bench to bench, eager to see what the chefs are cooking and what techniques they are using - sometimes probing into why they may have chosen a particular method or flavour combination over another. The experience is a learning curve for everyone involved, with each chef bringing something different to the table.
“My food’s very simple. There’s no fuss in anything I do. It’s simple food, cooked well”.
Lorna’s love for cooking simple but well-executed food was strongly reflected in the menu she created for the competition; using good produce and cooking it with care, passion and professionalism. Senior Judge Kevin MacGillivray (Regional Executive Chef at MacDonald Hotels) remarked, “She executed her dishes to perfection. The cooking was outstanding, the seasoning was spot on, the four courses all ate so well together. It was great cooking.”
In the competition’s 31-year history, Lorna was the second female chef to win the competition - a point that “feels good”, but is also in many ways unremarkable to Lorna, who commented, “It shouldn’t matter about your gender. There’s so many more female chefs now, which is fantastic. But as long as you’re hardworking and determined in what you do then, there shouldn’t be any divide.” Working as Junior Sous Chef at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Lorna evidently loves her job, utilising every opportunity presented to her to develop her skills and knowledge. With twelve years as a chef under her belt, and now two competition titles to her name (having previously won Game Chef of the Year 2016), we are excited to see where her passion, talent and creativity leads her in the future.
Interested in more chef competition news? Check out this article: National Chef of the Year and Young National Chef of the Year 2017: Winners Announced
About the author: Victoria Bushnell is Head of Marketing/PR at inploi.