A Scots chef has recently launched a new range of cured Scottish salmon at the Royal Highland Show and is already courting interest from USA and Dubai.
Mark Heirs is producing luxury Atlantic-farmed Scottish salmon – dry cured to his own secret recipe – in a mission to promote his passion: the finest cured food.
The new venture, Stirling-based Highland Curing Co, pays homage to the ancient methods of curing with a modern twist of flavours, including gin and cucumber, whisky and beetroot and the classic cure – with five more in development.
As well as demand from Scotland and London, the company has also been speaking to a New York restaurateur and a distributer in Dubai about this new addition to Scotland’s larder.
A quarter finalist of the first series of BBC’s Masterchef The Professionals in 2008, Mark cut his culinary teeth in the kitchens of One Devonshire Gardens, Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck before becoming head chef at his family-owned Callendar Arms, Falkirk until 2013.
The lightbulb moment for the business came when he saw the level of interest from customers tasting his cured salmon dishes at cooking demonstrations last year.
Said Mark Heirs, chef director of Highland Curing Co: "I was giving away the recipes before it hit me that what people actually wanted to buy was the cured salmon.
"Seeing the demand made me realise there was an opportunity to open people’s eyes to the wonders of raw food and its incredible taste and texture on a larger scale.
"We have big international aspirations to spread the word about curing so to already have that interest before we’ve officially launched is very satisfying.
"Excellent provenance is key, particularly with cured food. To get those incredible flavours, it has to be the best of the best, which is why we use sustainably sourced salmon from the Outer Hebrides through the Scottish Salmon Company.
Added Mark: "After all, Scotland is an international powerhouse for food and Scottish salmon is its biggest export so we just want to get out there and start making a contribution in Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink."
How did you get started?
I grew up in the hospitality industry so being a chef was the only career path I ever considered. I’ve always been very passionate about food and I’ve been lucky enough to turn that passion into a career.
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
Walk before you run, get to know your market once you do that, then you can start to push boundaries.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
I’m hoping in 5 years I will have grown into an international business and cured salmon will have become as recognisable and popular as its counterpart smoked salmon. Short term I’d like to see Highland Curing Co. products stocked in the likes of Harrods or Fortnum & Mason.
I’ve also very recently purchased a deli, so who knows I may have a small chain of Highland Curing Co. retail outlets of my own.
If you could only cook one of your own recipes, what would it be & why?
My favourite recipe just now is the one which started Highland Curing Co. It's my gin cured salmon with a warm pickled cucumber and wild flower salad. I love the contrast between the hot and cold textures in the dish and its ideal for eating alfresco with something cold, fizzy and french.
If it was my last meal I’d not really want to waste time with small talk, I’d be more concerned about the food. So as long as the person dining with me was a proper foodie that would be good enough for me.
The menu is the easy part, we’d start with something as simple as some of my cured salmon, some beluga and warm blinis. Then it would have to be some Highland Wagyu beef, ideally a nice feather blade cooked long and slow with some nice crispy potatoes cooked in Wagyu fat. I doubt we would have much room left after that for dessert.