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Luxury Hospitality Magazine Interview with Executive Chef at The Balmoral: Gary Robinson

1)      Have you always been passionate about becoming a Chef?

Yes, pretty much so. I have always had a fascination with farming and the land, so much so that I do see myself one day with a smallholding somewhere, rearing and growing just enough to put something of good quality back into the supply chain.

2)      How did travelling the world help develop your culinary skills?

Significantly so, and something I would absolutely recommend to anyone in our industry. I don’t believe anyone who cooks for a living could not massively benefit from travel. The world is so accessible yet cultures and in particular the respective nuances in regional foods can be so wildly different. Pretty much every country, even areas within countries, have their own kind of a haggis. The Romanians have their Drob, on the east coast of America there’s Scrapple, there’s Balkenbrij in the Netherlands and there’s the German Saumagen. All quite delicious, but none a patch on our haggis!

3)      Were you introduced to various different flavours and ingredients?

From the moment I stepped foot in my first kitchen, I was pretty lucky to be constantly presented with new and exciting produce. Travelling the world as part of the process has opened my eyes further still, and continuing to learn and discover is what makes my job so enthralling.

4)      What are classical cooking techniques and how do they retain the natural goodness of home-grown ingredients?

The subject of classical cooking techniques is such a massive one, it’s a job to work out where to start this discussion. One thing we are conscious of on a daily basis here at the hotel is doing things properly, and honestly. I am so incredibly fortunate to have a team of very talented chefs around me, and we all hold one another accountable should those standards ever look like wavering. Our supply of ingredients is the backbone of the food we put in front of our guests, so if we honour that and cook with honesty, then the food should speak for itself.

5)      It must have been such an honour holding the role of Executive Chef at the British Embassy in Washington D.C, tell us a bit about your time there.

That role was just one of the many that I have been incredibly lucky to hold. You know the old right place right time adage? Well, with this one, it was absolutely that for me. Washington DC is a wonderful city and I was so fortunate to be able to cook wonderfully British food at the absolute heart of political and diplomatic power in the US. To an ever evolving guest list like no other, I should add.

6)      You have built an impressive portfolio, and held some amazing positions at exquisite venues; would you say this has helped develop your culinary experiences?

I have, and every day I realise how lucky I’ve been. It’s also not necessarily all about the food either, it is about the richness of the experiences in and out of kitchens. I have met some characters along the way that have made a difference, influenced my direction and allowed me to get where I find myself today.

7)      Talk us through your current role at The Balmoral, and the type of cuisine that is explored.

My current role is very wide and incredibly varied, looking after 60 chefs who are cooking their socks off right now. Our cuisine is pretty international across the board, but with Scottish ingredients at its core. We have brilliantly experienced chefs that have gathered up some pretty impressive ideas on their own respective journeys, and many of them Scots like me, who have come home to this beautiful city and historic hotel to put all that experience into practice.

8)      What are your favourite dishes on the menu and why?  

Where do you start?! Well, I’d start the day with a Prince full Scottish breakfast in our Brasserie. It’s the local black pudding that makes that stand out for me. Once that plate has worked itself off, continuing with a scallop kedgeree off the current menu in Number One. An utter masterpiece of cooking, debunking the kedgeree myth of a dish that’s heavy and one dimensional, two adjectives that absolutely cannot be aimed at this version. Our main kitchen do these exceptional crispy shell wagyu steak pies that are topped with the lightest ever Arran mustard mash. I’d definitely finish with a hazelnut choux. Baked with a shortbread crust and filled with liquid hazelnut praline and gianduja cream from our brilliant team in the pastry kitchen. This features on afternoon tea in Palm Court this season, but I’d happily eat one any time of the day.

9)      How important is it in your opinion, to create dishes that are authentic and sustainable?

This is a topic that is very current, however is something I have been pushing on with for a great number of years now. I have worked in environments where seasonality and provenance are front and centre of the food programme, and I aim to ensure that we take this forward at The Balmoral with all the effort we have. Keeping the food we serve real is paramount, doing so while working within the boundaries of availability and our community is equally as important to us.

10)   Is local produce going to be used within the different dishes?

Where possible, yes absolutely. We are blessed in Scotland with one of the most incredible natural larders anywhere, so using this cleverly and respectfully is absolutely the right thing to do. You’d be hard pushed to find better game, soft summer fruit, shellfish and foraged mushrooms all from the same nation.

11)   Tell us in a few words, why people should come visit The Balmoral and what culinary delights await!

Variety, integrity, flavour, ingenuity and honesty. Our culinary delights cover many food styles for as many different occasions throughout the day and the year.