Food of home inspired award-winning young chef
The richness of the Hebridean larder has inspired a young Uist man on a culinary journey which recently saw him lift a prestigious industry award.
David Macdonald, 26, is sous chef at the Macdonald Drumossie Hotel on the outskirts of Inverness and was recently named Young Highland Chef of the Year, beating off stiff competition from up-and-coming culinary stars representing top venues across the Highlands and islands.
The annual competition is organised by North Highland College UHI (part of the University of the Highlands and Islands) and the Albert Roux Consultancy. It is judged by a panel of leading lights from the culinary world, led by chef Albert Roux OBE KFO.
David’s professional journey began on the family croft on South Uist where his interest was originally piqued by watching his mother and grandmother cook at home. At 14, he had a part-time job and later a trainee chef position at the nearby Orasay Inn, and spent time with chef William MacKay where he started to learn the ropes and set his sights on a career in the kitchen.
“Originally I was supposed to be washing dishes but I was always more interested in what the chefs were doing,” David said.
“I found it really interesting to see how they took fresh, raw produce and turned it into a great dish and that it is still one of the most exciting parts of the job for me.”
Soon David was ready to expand his professional horizons and a move to Inverness gave him the opportunity to further his culinary knowledge and ability.
David arrived at the Macdonald Drumossie Hotel as commis chef, starting in the banqueting kitchen where 400-cover, high-profile events are a regular feature of hotel life. David learned to balance the complex workload of a banqueting kitchen and helped out in other areas including baking the fresh bread which is served in the hotel every day, honing his butchery skills and learning how to create food to be served in the two AA rosette Grill Room restaurant.
During that time, he progressed from commis chef to chef de partie and has been in the role of sous chef for the past two and a half years.
David said: “Although the kitchen at the Macdonald Drumossie took a bit of getting used to because it was much bigger and faster paced, I was surrounded by people who have a passion for what they do – and for sharing their knowledge.
“My colleagues Kenny McMillan and Euan Walker have been crucial in teaching me, and Stuart MacPherson in particular has devoted a lot of time to mentoring me as well as helping me to sustain the focus and drive needed to get me where I am. I am hugely grateful to all of them for their support.
“Being at work in the kitchen has definitely been the best way to learn and having good people around you is really important because you can tap into their experience and ask lots of questions to build up your knowledge.
“Now, I sometimes find myself in the position of the one answering the questions and it often takes someone asking you a question to make you stop and realise how much you have learned on the journey.”
Central to that ongoing learning process has been north region executive chef Kenny McMillan, himself an award-winning member of the Macdonald Hotels & Resorts team having picked up the title of executive chef of the year at the 2015 Scottish Hotel Awards.
Kenny said: “David’s career to date has been a long journey and he has learned a lot. As well as learning about his own job, he has been educated in our company-wide commitment to using the best ingredients, sourced locally wherever possible. We have ensured David learns about the hotel as a whole to see how our food offering fits in to other aspects of the business and that is important in maximising cohesion between different areas.
“The latest addition to his learning is David’s involvement in kitchen management and he is doing really, really well at this. With his level of hard work and dedication, David will go far and I am confident that he will be ready to take charge of his own kitchen very soon.”
Reflecting on his recent award success, David added: “Winning the Young Highland Chef of the Year award was brilliant, not least because there were a few of my peers who doubted I would ever achieve my ambition of being a chef – and I’ve proved them all wrong.”