Positive profile: Mark Greenaway, the chef changing perceptions of Scots cuisine

Edinburgh-based chef Mark Greenaway is a busy man: running Restaurant Mark Greenaway (awarded three AA Rosettes and this year  No.13 in Square Meal’s UK top 100), making TV appearances on the likes of Great British Menu, doing demonstrations at foodie festivals, or proudly showing off his new book, Perceptions, Recipes from Restaurant Mark Greenaway.

Are you a naturally positive and cheerful person?

Yes, I am.

How do you stay positive when you are dealing with the daily demands of running your own restaurant?

I think there are so many positives of running a restaurant that it’s easy to stay positive. No matter what happens – pre-service, between service, after service – we’ve still got service, which is why we are here. People are here for what we create and the service we provide, so that, for us, is a huge pat on the back. People want what we are doing. If you can’t be positive about that then you’ve no chance (laughs)!

Chefs are stereotypically quite fiery. What kind of working atmosphere do you like to create here?

It’s a very involved atmosphere here, so when we create a new dish, we involve all the chefs. I might have the initial idea and then say, “Come on guys, I’ve been thinking about this rabbit dish”, and then we will plate it up, and everyone will chip in and help. It then gives them ownership of that dish because there is elements of it that they thought of. So then they take far more pride and care in what they are doing.

Is it a calm atmosphere?

It’s calm until it’s fully booked at 8 o’clock on a Saturday night (laughs)! But shouting and screaming and swearing doesn’t achieve anything, it doesn’t get the food looking any better or tasting any better.

How do you maintain your motivation and drive when you are working long, busy hours?

I’m always “on”. I think it’s because I’ve always been competitive – even when I was a commis chef and just starting out, I always wanted to be better than the chef standing next to me, and over the years, that has always stuck with me. I think the restaurant and the kitchen environment is the perfect place for someone who is competitive because you can turn up early, finish late, do extra tasks, and you can do your job better than everyone else, you can even clean your fridge better than everyone else. I think that drive, determination and enthusiasm has just sort of stayed with me.

How do you switch off and relax?

I’m lucky because I don’t look at myself as a restaurateur or a chef, this is just how I spend my days. I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t a chef. I think if you do what you love then it’s not a job, and that’s such a cliched thing to say but it’s how you fill your day and I fill my day by coming in here every single day. If you do what you love or at least what you have a passion for, it just becomes so easy.

Do you take days off?

Not this week I don’t (laughs).  I just relax how anyone else relaxes, I don’t go hillwalking or rock climbing or anything, just because I work 14-15 hours a day. Time off is when I just crash and do as little as possible really.

You went to Australia for five years. Why?

I went to work there. I travelled for three weeks, I went up the east coast as far as Cairns and then I flew back to Sydney. Living out of a rucksack and sharing dorm rooms just wasn’t for me.

Was that a positive experience for you, moving away and living on the other side of the world?

Massively, because I had to grow up. I went when I was about 22, and I left when I was 27. Between 22 and 27, as a chef, is a really important time, as it is I think in any career, because that is when you learn if you are actually good at it or not.

And that’s the time I spent in Australia. The food  over there was so far ahead of what we were doing over here. I went in 1999 and they were all about local, seasonal – they had to be because back then, in Sydney, they couldn’t just fly figs in from Italy for example, as the cost would have been so prohibitive. They were all about local, seasonal, but Scotland had fallen away from that then – although we are coming back to it now.

My trip was a huge influence for my career, because I had to survive over there. I couldn’t just phone mummy and say, “can you pay my rent”, because you are on the other side of the world.

I was there to learn as much as I could and it was a hugely positive experience.

markbookYour book Perceptions took over a year to make. Were there any moments when you were overwhelmed?

I think with the whole process of writing a book, you go through every emotion, because at first you think, “Oh my god that’s a huge amount of recipes”, then when you actually start pulling them together you think, “Well, that’s not as much as I thought”, then  when you are half way through the photoshoot you think, “This is looking amazing”, and then you do another couple of photoshoots and another couple of recipes and you think, “Oh have I done enough? Is it going to be good enough?” You doubt yourself.

What kept pushing you forward?

Deadlines (laughs). We had committed to doing it. We never ever thought about giving up, definitely not.

It’s all about Scottish produce and how to cook it, which is something you are very passionate about… did this come from your time in Australia?

I think I had to leave Scotland to appreciate what we’ve got here. Because the whole ethos in Australia is local, seasonal – they are very proud of Australian-owned, Australian-made – when I came back I was looking at what we’ve got and I was thinking, “Wait a minute, these products are being shipped all over the world and they are amazing. Why are we not doing more with them, why are we not using them?”. So yeah, it had a huge effect.

Most people abroad think all of our food is deep fried…

Well, the name of the book is Perceptions, and it’s because in my own little way, and my own little restaurant, we want to change the perception of Scottish food. We don’t want to change Scottish food – we think Scottish food is amazing. We do an amazing job all around the world of promoting Scottish produce but we don’t do a great job of promoting what we do with it. So it means when we send all our langoustines to France and Spain, people think that they cook them far better than we ever could, because we live on a diet of deep fried mars bars and macaroni pies. But we don’t, that’s not what we eat – we eat all of this produce! So we want to try, in our own little way, to change the perception of Scottish food, to say, “This is not only the amazing produce that we have, but this is how we cook with it.”

Which place or favourite spot in Scotland would you go to to relax if you had a few days off?

I would probably get a lodge on Loch Lomond or somewhere like the Highlands where there is no internet signal or phone signal and amazing food. I haven’t done it recently though. Life takes over.

What meal would you cook yourself if you were feeling rubbish, to make yourself feel better?

Something simple and quick, like a roast chicken dinner – it’s really easy and simple. Growing up, it is something we had every Sunday – put everything in a tray and roast it all together, no effort but a great end result.

You are renowned for your out-of-this-world fancy desserts. What’s your ultimate comfort-food dessert?

Trifle. It has every food group you could ever want (laughs) – sponge, cream, jelly, fruit, it has everything.

Do you put alcohol in your trifles?

Nah, doesn’t need it!

Who would be your top famous people at a dinner party?

Einstein, Steve Jobs, Spiderman, Jackson Pollock and Banksy.

What three things outside the kitchen matter the most to you in the world?

My fiancée Nicola, my dog Max, and my family and extended family.

Do you have any top tips for maintaining a happy, healthy mindframe?

Stop stressing on the negatives too much. My thing is, you never ever make mistakes in life, you only ever make decisions, because if you hadn’t made the decision you wouldn’t be where you are now.

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