Food & drink
A culinary journey
ADEEP-ROOTED historical connection exists between France and Scotland. The Scots have been there for the French in their darkest hours since before 1295 when the Auld Alliance, which was built on the two countries’ shared need to subdue English expansion. Initially a military and diplomatic friendship, it was also based on the Scots’ long-standing love of French wine, with stories of wine rolling in into merchant cellars from behind the waterfront on the Wine Quay of Leith.
French cuisine was one first European ones to influence Scottish cooking. Commonplace Scottish food words such as stovies, ashet, gigot, syboe and cannel, are all derived from French and have had a subtle yet important influence on our diet.
So finding a restaurant and guest house tucked away in a scenic Highland village in the Cairngorms National Park, called none other than Auld Alliance, is not entirely unexpected. However, the story of how Lydie Bocquillon, owner and chef, make her journey from Avignon to Kingussie, is extraordinary and inspirational.
For Lydie, food has always been a part of life; France is a country where they live it, breathe it and wake up to it each day – good food is an integral part of life. But it wasn’t food that bought her to Scotland. After her mother died when she was 15, Lydie found herself having to decide what to do with her life, and cooking was something she always loved, leading her to train with Michelinstarred chefs in France. However the need to learn English, let her to Britain.
Moving to Scotland was never on the cards for Lydie Bocquillon, but marrying her now ex-husband – a Scot she met in London while working at the Mayfair hotel as front of house – led her to eventually move here. Her daughter, who had severe asthma, found herself better every time she came to the Highlands, and when she took a turn for the worst, they both made a decision to move up. Here was a French chef, in the middle of the Cairngorms.
Missing home, and the flavours and food of France, meant moving here wasn’t a bed of roses. It was not an easy transition.
Knowing that she wanted to set up a business, Lydie started to search for the perfect location. There’s an interesting story behind the Auld Alliance premises. Hoping to buy a place that would just be work for Lydie’s dream, she walked passed this building. For Sale notices were up but the site was derelict. Yet something spoke to her about the place. She peered into the windows and admits that she “broke in” just so she could get a good look inside. And despite the orange linoleum and 11 different wallpapers, she took on the project. Everyone thought it was crazy. Slowly, however, the Auld Alliance became something Lydie had visualised: a restaurant that celebrates Scottish produce and French-style cooking. One of the first boosts to her business came when the BBC’s Monarch Of The Glen was filmed in the area, and Lydie was also taken on as the food stylist for the series.
Finding the right style and kind of food to cook was the next step. Initially she thought meat and seafood would be cheaper in Scotland, but her first challenge was that it wasn’t cheaper – in those days, local produce was harder to come by than it is today. Lydie now admits that it is much easier to find local produce for her restaurant. She is passionate about Scottish produce and beautifully incorporates it into her French style of cooking.
Running a successful guest house and restaurant, she is passionate about educating younger people about food, produce and the importance for families and friends of cooking and eating good food together. She is setting up training for hospitality as well.
Lydie loves living in Scotland, but still misses home and in particular the rich aromas from bakeries and markets that waft through the streets of France. The one flavour that reminds her of her childhood is a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb, which was popular during get-togethers, and her mother’s almond and lemon tart.
But she shares with us a recipe for a celebration of Scottish produce at its best, and her family style of cooking. Venison done her way.