Sunday, 22 April 2018

5 Questions - Chef Carlos Ragone, Head Chef at The Four Seasons Hotel, St Fillans, Perthshire

One of the reasons that I first started my 5 Questions posts was in order to tell the story of small producers who attended my local farmers market. Since then, many businesses and individuals have taken time out to answer 5 Questions including producers who have seen their products reach the shelves of the nations supermarkets and even a few Michelin chefs have found time to have their own stories told.
In an odd twist, I now work with a business that has very close links to the hospitality sector and I regularly hear business owners talk about the ‘superstars’ who work within their hotels or restaurants so it now seems even more important to me that I help spread the word of those unsung heroes of the hospitality sector.

Step forward Carlos Ragone, the recently appointed Head Chef at The Four Seasons Hotel in St Fillans, Perthshire. With almost 20 years of culinary experience in some of the UK’s most reputable hotels including The Blythswood Hotel in Glasgow as well as a wealth of experience gained at top restaurants on the French ski slopes, Carlos arrived at the The Four Seasons Hotel as Sous Chef last year before being promoted to Head Chef. In his new  role, he will oversee all food aspects of the hotels 2 AA Rosette restaurant as well as being heavily involved in staff development.
Here’s Carlos’ story;

How did you get started?

I started my professional culinary career at the age of 15 years, whilst attending high school.  It was my second part time job at a petite Trattoria in the heart of the west end of Glasgow, initially as an apprentice commis chef. I had worked previously in the ice cream parlour and pizza shop immediately next door until it closed due to financial difficulty.  
I had domestically trained myself to cook from the age of about 8 years. My father had passed away whilst I was seven years old, climbing in the French alps and as eldest son I felt obliged to support in any way I could my Mother and brother through the difficulty of the tragedy.  
So by the time I was accepted by the Trattoria I had a reasonably solid framework of basic kitchen skill and awareness, a good sense of duty and responsibility, and the desire to be working and earning whilst completing high school and gaining entry to university.  I spent four years on and off with the Trattoria, moving after a few years to a larger nearby competitor and facilitating in new business openings for the parent company as a senior chef de partie.  This paved the way for being offered my first head chef opportunity at the turn of 20 years old.  A pretty reasonably sized unit in Edinburgh, 150 capacity, and my first real taste of the challenges of running a very, very busy operation.

What’s the best piece of advice you would give someone looking to become a chef?

I would have to suggest, don’t.  In all reality it is a tough and gruelling occupation. That being said for the right minded individual, it can become a very rewarding and fulfilling career.  For someone beginning their journey to becoming a talented well rounded chef, I would have to suggest trying out in a part time capacity somewhere local to them, a small delicatessen, takeaway, pizzeria, restaurant, and doing a few shifts per week so that they could see at a steady pace whether it was a profession that they really wanted to proceed with.  

If so, enroll within a few educational food cookery courses to get a taste for the culinary training that might be of particular interest to them that they may not otherwise receive within the type of establishments they might initially find themselves working within.  
Finally, find a place of employment that allows them to develop in their particularl areas of culinary interest. Chefs often find themselves losing their passion for their work for numerous reasons, it’s vital that their interests are nourished in order to find fulfilment in what they do.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years’ time?

The fantasy?  To be semi-retired somewhere in the French Alps, riding big mountain powder, cooking solely for visiting family and friends. As for professional aspirations?  Back to multi-siteoperations, a step or two up the professional ladder, less time hands on day to day within a sole unit, and perhaps weekends spent with the Mrs and daughter, and time with the rest of the family.

If you could only cook one of your recipes, what would it be & why?

Southern fried chicken.  I’m a glutton for the less than healthy option.  It’s soul food, when done beautifully, just fantastic and satisfying.

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?

My invitation would extend to my late father, for the family to share a moment once more, to meet the new generation, so that my mother, brother and I could have something we had long missed.  Family is what counts most in our lives, that stands by ready to lift us up when we’ve fallen, to support us when others don’t. As for what would be on the menu?  A family friendly feast, that satisfied the sensations of all in attendance, simple soul satisfying food.

I would like to thank Chef Carlos for taking time out to answer 5 Questions and wish him all the best in his new role. 

The Four Seasons Hotel is now full open for the 2018 season and is only 70 miles from both Glasgow and Edinburgh so if you fancy a relaxing trip in the beautiful Perthshire countryside, check out the website for special offers.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Celebrate the Royal Wedding with Jawbox LOVE CLUB cocktail

Whilst celebrating the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on the 19th May you could toast their future happiness with Jawbox Gin’s Love Club Cocktail:

  • 50ml Jawbox Small Batch Gin
  • 10ml Lemon juice
  • 5ml Grenadine
  • 10ml Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 Egg white
  • Redcurrants to garnish

  1. Dry shake all the ingredients for about 30 seconds
  2. Add ice and shake again until cold
  3. Double strain into a coupe glass and garnish with red currants.

 Jawbox is a classic style juniper-led gin that starts on the palate with citrus and juniper developing into pepper and subtle rootiness. It is triple-distilled very slowly in traditional copper pot stills and in small batches using a unique combination of botanicals including local Belfast Black Mountain Heather.

Distilled near Belfast, at the Jawbox Distillery located on a 300-acre 16th-century estate where the grain for the spirit is grown and harvested, Jawbox Gin is perfect for the adventurous, confident and curious gin drinker.

RRP: £30 for a 70cl bottle. ABV: 43%
Available from: Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Amazon.


Nepali chef serves Midlothian a Scottish curry king double

A 53 year old Nepali from Midlothian has been voted Scotland’s Curry Chef of the Year.

Ashok Ram, who commands the kitchen at the 120 cover Indian-Bangladeshi restaurant Radhuni in Loanhead’s Clerk Street, took the title at the Scottish Curry Awards gala dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Glasgow.

Trained by Matin Khan, Chief Executive and Executive Head Chef of Radhuni and its sister restaurant Itihaas in nearby Dalkeith, he was named UK Bangladeshi Chef of the Year in 2012 after live demonstrations by finalists in London. In his latest accolade he is following in the footsteps of Matin Khan who was voted Curry Chef of the Year in Scotland in 2014.

Radhuni and Itihaas were also shortlisted in the Best Restaurant in the Edinburgh area and South East Scotland respectively.

“Cooking can be described as a work of art where spices and flavours are a form of expression,” Ashok commented. “I’m delighted that the work of myself and the Radhuni team has been recognised. We try to make each dish a unique experience for the customer.”

Radhuni, whose name means ‘passionate cook’ in Bengali, opened in 2011 as Loanhead’s first Indian-style restaurant. 

Matin’s son Habibur, who manages Radhuni, said: “Ashok’s success in being named Scotland’s top curry chef is an honour for the restaurant and a tribute to the loyalty and dedication of the entire team.”

Why did he think Radhuni had triumphed? “Indian and Bangladeshi food continues to evolve,” he replied. “Ashok and his colleagues have adapted to trends and kept learning more about spices and modern styles of cooking while using only the best and most authentic ingredients.”

He added that the success had been achieved despite tough UK immigration laws which make it difficult for restaurants to obtain entry visas for chefs from the Indian sub-continent.

“In putting up these barriers, including stipulating an unreasonable minimum starting salary for a chef, the UK Government is shabbily treating an industry worth more than £4 billion to the country’s economy each year.” Habibur said. “At Radhuni and Itihaas we’re unusual in having managed to keep our team intact but around the UK many restaurants are closing or reducing the number of days they open.”

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Hotel Review - DoubleTree by Hilton Edinburgh - Queensferry Crossing, North Queensferry

Towards the end of last year, myself and Nicola were invited to dine at The Shore Grill & Fish House in North Queensferry. The restaurant is housed within the newly refurbished DoubleTree By Hilton Edinburgh - Queensferry Crossing hotel and in order to make the most of our visit, we were offered the chance to stay overnight at the hotel too.
DoubleTree by Hilton Edinburgh – Queensferry Crossing is one of 33 hotels operated by Cairn Hotel Group across the UK and sits on the north bank of the River Forth offering stunning views of the iconic Forth Road Bridge and Queensferry Crossing. 
Located just 15miles from Edinburgh, the hotel makes an ideal base for tourists and business travellers alike and after a busy day in the capital, it was just a short 30 minutes drive to the hotel where we arrived in time to grab a quick rest before dinner.

Upon arrival, we were immediately impressed by the huge reception area which looked very modern in style with marble tiling, floor to ceiling windows complete with  comfy armchairs which offered prime viewing on to the recently completed Queensferry Crossing. The check-in process was quick and efficient and after a few short minutes we were upstairs and unpacking our overnight case.

As you would expect from a recently refurbished hotel, the rooms were fresh and modern.
Our room was a good size with a queen size bed dominating the floor space while one corner was occupied by a desk area that could be used by business people to catch up on work while the other corner had a wall mounted TV and armchair. There was no shortage of wardrobe space, even taking into consideration the space taken up by the minibar and electronic safe. One of my pet hates when staying at some large hotels is having to call down to reception to request an iron & ironing board, thankfully there were no such concerns here and as Nicola enjoyed her nap, I was able to iron our clothes for dinner. 

The room was clean and comfortable however due to the minimalistic décor, we both felt that the room was more suited to traveling business people or those looking to use the hotel as a base for the nearby transport links to Edinburgh or the surrounding coastal area. 

The same can’t be said for the bathroom! If I was redecorating at home, this is exactly how I would do my bathroom. Grey slate floor and wall tiles were used to great effect to create a bathroom that would fit in any home. A huge marble sink and massive illuminated mirror screamed for attention whilst a wooden slatted area underneath provided plenty of storage space. The monsoon shower packed a huge pressure punch, which was perfect to blast the cobwebs away the morning after the night before.
Oh, one other thing that wrangles me when visiting hotels is when little or no toiletries are left in the bathroom but that wasn’t the case here as an ample range of Crabtree & Evelyn products sat pride of place by the sink. 

After a cracking sleep in a very comfy bed, we woke early to be treated to a beautiful view of the two road bridges over The Forth from our bedroom window.
Our stay included breakfast so after a quick blast from the aforementioned power shower, we made our way downstairs to the restaurant. Breakfast included a huge selection of cereals, breads, meats, cheeses and jams as well as a hot buffet breakfast selection too. 
On this particular Sunday, it’s fair to say that the kitchen and restaurant teams were taking a hammering and the waiting time for some of the hot breakfast items was perhaps a little longer than most would have expected. That said, myself and Nicola weren’t in any particular hurry so took our time, soaked up the view and managed to eat enough to keep us going though the day.

Feeling suitable fed and watered, we made our way back to the room to finishing packing then it was back downstairs for a speedy checkout. The hotel is just a short drive to the quiet town of North Queensferry so as we had never been in this part of the world before, we drove into the town before parking up for a quick photo opportunity. (I may have photoshopped my original image just a little)

Being able to look out of the hotel window and enjoy the panoramic views of the road bridges over The Forth is very pleasant but standing under the Forth Rail Bridge on a cold winters morning was quite special. Our stay at DoubleTree by Hilton Edinburgh – Queensferry Crossing was very enjoyable. The fact that it gave us the chance to see three iconic bridges spanning three centuries (and The Forth) was an added bonus.

We stayed as guests of the hotel however my review above is an honest account of our visit. I would have no hesitation in recommending DoubleTree by Hilton Edinburgh- Queensferry Crossing to anyone looking for a hotel near the capital. With easy transport links to the capital and only an short drive to nearby Edinburgh Airport, the hotel is perfectly located. Throw in the adjoining Shore Grill & Fish House restaurant and you’ve got the perfect destination for a weekend trip.

We would like to thank the staff and management for their hospitality and generosity and wish them all the best for the season ahead.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Milk Sommelier X Dear Green

Graham’s the Family Dairy & Dear Green whip up milk and coffee pairings


For UK Coffee Week (16 – 22 April 2018), Graham’s is on a mission to help coffee-lovers get a latte more from their pour - as the UK’s first and only Milk Sommelier paired up with top coffee roaster Dear Green to match their award-winning milk with coffee from various countries around the world.


Last year, Graham’s Milk Sommelier Doug Wood, turned his expert nose to everyone’s favourite House White to identify the notes and flavours present in some of Graham’s creamiest milks, from white chocolate and vanilla to almond and grassy tones.


Like coffee, milk has its own distinct flavour wheel. The flavours of a brewed espresso can be elevated through frothed milk, highlighting the tasting notes of the coffee’s origin and taking your flat white to another level.  Accompanied by champion barista Danny Ormonde, the two have bean busy sniffing and slurping their way through Dear Green’s coffees and have carefully chosen milks from the Graham’s range to complement their flavour profiles and maximise those macchiatos.


Doug and Danny’s Tasting Notes and Coffee Pairings:

  • Brazilian coffee has a full, rich berry sweetness and praline nuttiness which pairs perfectly with the ‘balanced and fresh’ Organic Semi-Skimmed Milk, which is a full palate with a fragrant offering of buttermilk, vanilla and a touch of almond.
  • Guatemalan coffee has excellent cup characteristics with notes of cashew, lime and cacao nibs which has a comparable profile to Semi-Skimmed Milk – a lighter milk that’s full flavoured with grassy notes and a hint of sweetness.
  • Colombian coffee beans offer a juicy mouth-watering flavour offering up notes of tropical fruits which pairs well with Gold Top and its fruity undertones and great clarity of flavour.
  • Rwandan coffee offers notes of honey, nectarine and chocolate which is elevated through ‘rich and sweet’ Organic Semi-Skimmed Milk with Cream on Top, which is oaty with a touch of almond.
  • Kenyan speciality coffee is juicy and complex with flavours of blackberry, honey and citrus blend which is amplified by the bready notes and textured depths of vanilla and toasted nuts of Gold Smooth.
  • Ethiopian coffee beans are naturally processed with a slight spritz in texture, releasing nutty flavours with a hint of complex fruit. Perfectly paired with Organic Whole Milk with Cream on Top, which is smooth and creamy with notes of white chocolate, panna cotta and a hint of grass towards the end.

 Carol Graham, Marketing Director at Graham’s the Family Dairy said: “After discovering the hidden depths of flavour and texture in our milk range, it made sense to partner up with a coffee roaster like Dear Green to see how else the flavours in milk can elevate our daily lives. Dad had great day learning his Jersey Gold Top was the baristas milk of choice for latte art, and as a coffee fan myself, I’ve loved tasting the delicious pairings chosen by Doug and Danny. I would love to hear from people who try our pairings too.”


Doug Wood, Graham’s Milk Sommelier added: Becoming the UK’s first Milk Sommelier has been a whirlwind and working with such a talented barista as Danny has been a great experience. As someone who’s beliefs are rooted in quality and provenance, I am always excited to find like-minded partners who share our passion for discovering new flavours.


“Together, we’ve worked our way through numerous coffee origins, and look forward to hearing from Scotland’s coffee drinkers to see if they enjoy and agree with our pairings.”


Danny Ormonde, Dear Green’s Champion Barista said: “As a barista, milk plays an incredibly important role in serving up the perfect cup for our customers. I always knew fat content played a part in balancing out flavour and acidity in coffee but working with the Milk Sommelier has opened my eyes to complementary tasting notes in milk. We’ve had a great time learning from each other and look forward to collaborating more in the future.”


If you would like to create your own coffee milk pairings, Graham’s milk is available to purchase across all supermarkets and you can pick up a bag of Dear Green coffee Share your pairings with us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagramusing the hashtag #MilkSommelier.


Sunday, 8 April 2018

Park Lane Hotel’s Bennett joins The Full Range

Andrew Bennett, former Director of Food and Beverage at London’s Park Lane Hotel, has been appointed Brand Ambassador for culinary, purchasing and support business The Full Range.
Honoured with an MBE in 2009 for services to the hospitality industry and skills training, 61-year-old Bennett spent 23 years with the Park Lane (Later re-named the Sheraton Grand Hotel) before stepping down at the end of 2016.

The Full Range, established 10 years ago by George McIvor, Chairman of The Masterchefs of Great Britain, advises chefs and managers on buying the best quality and value-for-money food and beverage, and also provides a range of other culinary services. Unlike other similar organisations it is 100% supplier-funded and takes no commission from hotels or restaurants. 

“I didn’t take the decision to back The Full Range lightly and hope I can add even further to its fast growing credibility,” said Bennett, a former Banqueting Chef of the Year whose other achievements included raising £150,000 for Keech Hospice in Luton last year. “Its service and quality are high, and it’s flexible. There are no contracts or hidden fees, and it provides an excellent route for chefs to cut their F & B costs, no matter what their turnover.”

He also chairs various chefs’ judging panels in the UK and overseas and runs courses, including those at Sheffield University. 

Bennett said he would be helping promote The Full Range’s services in his daily contacts with chefs and others in the industry. “My background is very much in the five star market, but The Full Range can help and support a wide variety of food service operators across the hospitality sector,” he commented.

George McIvor, former Head Chef at Dunkeld House Hotel in Perthshire who now lives in Auchterarder, added: “Andrew commands an outstanding reputation in the UK hospitality industry, not only for his own skills and personality but for his abilities in assessing and nurturing young talent. His experience of the entire food chain, his business ethos and unswerving devotion to quality are a perfect match for The Full Range.”

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