Food & drink

A culi­nary jour­ney

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - FOOD & DRINK - By Su­mayya Us­mani Su­mayya Us­mani co-presents BBC Ra­dio Scot­land’s Kitchen Cafe. Her books, Sum­mers Un­der The Tamarind Tree and Moun­tain Berries And Desert Spice are out now, pub­lished by Frances Lin­coln Visit sumayyaus­ Twit­ter @SumayyaUs­mani

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.

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