Autumn is the BEST season to enjoy Scotland on a plate
Introducing a talented new chef inspired by seasonal ingredients and traditional Scottish recipes
GRAEME Taylor rummages around in his freezer and emerges, triumphant, with a Tupperware box. ‘You have to try this,’ he says, opening it up and proffering a spoon. ‘It’s lemon thyme ice cream.’ Like everything he makes, it is both exquisite and simple, full of strong flavours and undeniably delicious.
Taylor, 43, is a food writer with a difference. From his tenement kitchen in Glasgow’s South Side he conjures up fabulous dishes which he shares on his wildly popular food blog, A Scots Larder. It bulges with recipes showcasing the very best Scottish produce, such as beef, venison, pork and game.
With everything from skirlie to stews, stovies to, well lemon thyme ice cream, it is the sort of hearty, simply cooked, no-fuss food that makes autumn worth waiting for.
Starting in the Scottish Daily Mail on Monday, Taylor will be presenting his very own autumn larder, offering five days of sumptuous recipes for the season.
You’ll find dishes such as wild venison with port and whole spice, brisket and pot roast hogget, soups including Cullen skink and lentil, easy fish dishes such as kedgeree and smoked cod risotto with Lillet, tasty desserts like bramble and cassis cheesecake and barley pudding, plus a lavish selection of pies including venison bridie, shepherd’s pie and game pudding.
A self-taught cook, by day Taylor works as a senior process engineer for Chivas, spending his nights and weekends dreaming up recipes in the kitchen. His philosophy on food is simple.
‘I don’t think you need a lot of ingredients, I think you just need good produce,’ he says.
‘Simple food cooked well is what it’s all about. It’s about adding flavour, not adding ingredients.
‘Most of my dishes won’t have any more than about five ingredients. The more you can strip out, the more you let the main flavour stand out rather than hiding it.
‘I like to throw a few ingredients in the pot, stick it in the oven and out it comes.’
Taylor developed an interest in food as a child growing up in Paisley. His parents were keen cooks and gardeners, and his father would take him to the Chinese supermarket for authentic ingredients.
‘It was probably during that time that I started to realise what food was all about,’ he says. ‘A lot of people I went to school with weren’t having stir-fries. Their Dad wasn’t growing rocket and trying to grow melons in the greenhouse.
‘I was introduced to flavours when I was still relatively young.’
TRIPS to the countryside with the Scouts also played a part. ‘When I was about nine or ten I went to cub camp and the Scouts made roast chicken on a fire over coals,’ he recalls. ‘I remember tasting it and thinking, “Wow, that’s proper flavour”. I realised that flavour was about simple ingredients.’
The ice cream – a perfect example of Taylor’s philosophy on simplicity and flavour – is a remnant from a supper club he held for friends the previous week, pairing Scotch malt whiskies with autumn dishes.
The seven-course menu had dishes such as pork belly paired with Scapa, Granspeck-wrapped pigeon with a ten-year-old Aberlour, and a venison haunch with skirlie, potatoes and kale paired with a 12-year-old Strathisla.
‘I love to cook for others,’ Taylor says. ‘I realised as a young man that cooking and feeding people is a great way to meet people because they’re always happy to be fed. But they only want to be fed if it’s good.’
Autumn is his favourite season, not least for the cooking opportunities.
‘The kitchen is probably the warmest room in the house and at this time of year you want that heat and warmth of being in the kitchen cooking with the oven on all afternoon,’ he says. ‘I like going out for a walk on a cold day – getting hats and scarves and going for a walk for a couple of hours – and a stew being ready when you get in the door. That is what autumn is all about.’
Taylor has a 24-year-old son and two girls, aged nine and ten, and loves nothing more than an afternoon outside picking blackberries with the girls, or staying warm in the kitchen, while teaching them to whip up simple dishes.
‘We normally make bread once a week as it’s something that they can get into and we can all take a turn kneading it and measuring things out, as well as things like cakes and pancakes,’ he says. ‘They help me with risottos as well, and the older one can make a good omelette.
‘Simple things that they can understand and things they can learn to cook by themselves.’
He worries that while today’s children may have access to more ingredients than his generation, they are often one step removed from where food comes from and how it ends up on the kitchen table.
‘When I was younger we went to the butcher, the greengrocer, even the farm, whereas this generation sees everything come from the supermarket,’ he says. ‘They might
ALL NEXT WEEK: FABULOUS RECIPE PULLOUTS CELEBRATING THE BEST OF SCOTLAND’S AUTUMN LARDER
not even go into the supermarket, they might just see it being delivered. I know one school where they teach the kids about food by taking them to Tesco.
‘I’ve made a point of taking the girls out to a friend’s farm a few times so they can see the animals and have an understanding of where their food comes from.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when it comes to his own cooking he is keen on meat, particularly game, a staple of the autumn larder.
‘I really like strong flavour – venison, pigeon, beef,’ he says. ‘I generally cook red meat or seafood when I’m at home.’
Taylor has always cooked ‘on instinct’, devising his own recipes and adding flavours as he goes.
In his 20s, working on his PhD while studying in Belfast, he briefly considered becoming a chef. ‘I did think about it,’ he says. ‘But I look at these guys in the kitchen and think, “how do you do that day after day?”. I love to cook but I can’t see being a chef, working in a restaurant, as my career. It’s a different world from being a cook in your own kitchen.’
He began writing A Scots Larder in 2011 to share his dishes.
‘I remember when Jamie Oliver first appeared in the late 1990s and he seemed to strip everything back to a few flavours. I realised you didn’t need thousands of complex ingredients, you could simplify food,’ he says. ‘From then on I cooked for myself constantly.
‘I go to the farmer’s market or a friend’s farm shop and see something there and in my mind I’ll know what I want to cook with it, then I’ll write down the recipe and test it. I don’t tend to formulate things in my head beforehand.’
In his upcoming Autumn Larder series, this method is evident in his pies, stews and winter warmer recipes. Spiced lamb shoulder, pig cheeks with apple and cider, smoky chilli macaroni cheese – classic dishes with a twist, food for the family that won’t break the bank or use every utensil in the kitchen, but taste delicious.
HE has little time for the clean-eating brigade who now dominate the food writing scene. ‘I just don’t like the word clean,’ he says. ‘You think, “Well, what’s everything else, dirty?”. I will always cook with butter, oil, dripping, and I’ll buy cuts of meat that are fatty. As long as you’re having good, proper food then surely that is clean.
‘If you’re talking about taking a piece of an animal and then cooking it, what’s not clean about that? I’ve never really gone in for fads. I just like real food. Put it this way – I don’t have a spiraliser.’
Instead, Taylor says, we should embrace food Scotland produces, and eat it in a sustainable way.
‘I don’t eat meat every single day and I try to eat seasonally. That’s one of the reasons I like autumn so much. There is so much fresh produce around and so many things we can do with it.’
Pick of the season: Blackberries are both delicious and nutritious
Scots Larder: Graeme Taylor’s blog shares his finest recipes