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An interview with Simon Mckenzie, Head Chef of the Isle of Eriska, Argyll

Posted on: July 18, 2012     |     0 comments

Speaking with Simon Mckenzie the Head Chef from the luxurious Isle of Eriska hotel its clear to see the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree with his passion for food since his dad was a highly accomplished chef. From winning a Catie award to being assigned by Prince Charles to assist with a programme dedicated to improving the quality of food in hospitals.

Although cooking in different areas of the catering sector, Simon in his own words had a head start, with his dad showing him all the basic at home so by the time he finished school and started his training in college instead of studying the basics like the rest of the students he was studying Marco Pierre White’s White Heat.

After finishing college he took the big step of moving down to London at the age of seventeen where he worked in the Lanesborough hotel under Head Chef Paul Gayler. After staying there for three years he left to go and work with Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine where he started at 5.30am and finishing at 12.30am and if lucky they would get a break at 4pm for 15 minutes, helping to gain the 2nd Michelin Star. Working there gave him the opportunity to go and work under Marco Pierre White at the slender age of 21.

Having worked with in a number of very demanding places he choose to take a break and tried his hand at contract catering for over a year, where in his own words he got lucky cooking at the five nations and also doing the Roux scholar ship at the academy. He then became the sous chef of his friend’s restaurant in Fullam road, where he stayed for 2 years gaining 3 rosettes, and deservedly so with all the effort he put in literally living there for the first two months and even sleeping on eight chairs from the restaurant. However after the events of September 11th the restaurant went from a busy 40 seater place to only pulling in 10 to 15 people a night, so on Christmas Eve they took the decision to close.

Having spent almost 9 years in London he decided to go back up north to Seaham Hall where he was the Sous Chef, and was Acting Head Chef as the previous Head Chef had left. Seahan Hall started the look for a new Head Chef and asked Simon to apply for the role. He was left in charge of running the kitchen, giving him the opportunity to try and prove himself a worthy candidate for the job. In this time he had two AA inspections where they said it was to a high 3 rosette standard and even worked 36 days consecutively but not getting the job left him a bit gutted and decided it was time to move on. Having tasted what its like as the Head Chef he then went looking for the chance to prove himself and made a few wrong choices including being the Head Chef of a restaurant where they were striving for 2 rosette.  They were inspected and the AA Inspectors actually awarded 3 rosettes and as strange as it sounds he was sacked.

Simon then went to Newby Manor where he was promised the dream but nothing came to fruition.  However, every cloud has a silver lining and he met his future wife there. He then took a couple of years out of fine dining and ran a gastro pub with his wife. While it was being refurbished he was in charge of all new acquisitions, putting systems in place and training Managers. This turned out to be good timing as his daughter was born in that time giving him more time at home.

Having spent a number of years out of the kitchen he then took the Head chef role at Hambrough Hotel where he was out to prove himself again, He did gain 2 rosettes while he was there but in his own words he lost his way with his food, making things too complicated and trying to hard. After a stop gap consulting job he then took a job as he wanted to get his career back on track and took a step down to Sous Chef at the Vineyard which had 4 rosettes and 2 Michelin stars. Working under Exec Chef John Campbell and Peter Heaton the Head Chef, he worked his way up to Executive Sous Chef which was a very prestigious role at the time. He then got the great opportunity to be the Head Chef of a new opening at the stunning Limewood Hotel which got 5 star and 3 rosettes, but due to unforeseen circumstances he had to put his career on hold and put his family first.

After trying his hand at a bit of chef recruitment he found himself missing the kitchen and got the chance to be the Head Chef of the 5 star Isle of Eriska where he still is and currently have 3 rosettes. Speaking with Simon it’s clear to see his passion for cooking at the highest level, I asked him what it takes to get to his position, and he told me that you need an unsatisfiable ambition to succeed, knowing that nothing is ever good enough and that you can always do better. I also asked what advice he had for all the young and eager aspiring chef’s.  He told me if they are serious they will need to take a weekend off and go and do a stage’ at a 3 rosette place and find out what it is really like being a chef in those kitchens because its real hard work and if you are dreaming of Michelin and 3 and 4 rosettes you should be careful what you wish for.


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