Former White House Chef, David Macfarlane says a Yes vote will help boost the brand of Scotland’s cuisine.
There is no doubt that the eyes of the world will be on Scotland in 2014. Not just for the referendum but also the Ryder Cup, Homecoming and the Commonwealth Games as we showcase Scotland’s culture and sporting heritage to the world. I personally want to make sure that Scotland’s cuisine is not left out of the equation as it has been in the past.
Scottish identity has a life of its own but we can choose to consciously shape that identity through the process of independence. It goes beyond the commercial identity that Scots have carved out through the centuries in perhaps most notably invention, medicine, finance, literature, whisky and textiles. Scotland’s identity is our accent. It is our way of thinking. It is in our expression as individuals and as a nation. For me, and hopefully all of us, it is also in our food.
Having travelled the globe as a chef, I can honestly say that every person I have met admires the Scots. Our sense of humour, hard work ethic and quality of education are amongst many beneficial aspects of our identity in a world in which it is important to be distinctive not least for commercial success. Unfortunately we are not as admired for our food as we have the potential to be. Some would say this is more of a British stereotype rather than just plain Scottish, but I’m not sure that is the case.
There is a wide variety to Scottish cuisine, but the cuisine of the regular Scot is often portrayed as something of which we should be ashamed. In my view, this is what happens when we don’t have the independent platform required to directly spread our own message and shape our own brand based on reality not stereotype. I believe after a Yes vote this can and should be one of many areas where our nation regains a positive sense of self worth, purpose and cultural renaissance.
As a child, I only knew Scottish food as the usual meat pies, bridies, fish and chips etc., all of which have their place and some of which can be very good. But they do not represent the true depth of our culinary culture. In a house of eight, it was Scottish thriftiness that ruled the dinner table. Granted, some of what we consumed was probably down to parental ability in the kitchen but at the end of the day it was cost that ruled. Fried, roasted or boiled were the only options. The ingredients were wholesome but it wasn’t until later in life that I would appreciate what else was possible.
Nowadays, Scottish ingredients are actually the premium brands for chefs anywhere in the world seeking out the finest smoked salmon, shellfish, golden turkey or angus beef. It is unfortunate that we tend not to eat them regularly ourselves, have a national awareness of them, or promote them enough as part of our national brand. It is partly connected with the distribution of wealth under the current political system but also a lack of education and the necessary platform in the world to promote our strengths. There is a link between at least the perception of affordability and our family diets, although in actual fact some of the best of Scotland’s culinary culture is very affordable if you know what you’re doing. It is not costly to cook traditional quality Scottish fare at home, or anywhere in the world.
We have great ingredients but it is the putting together of these fine ingredients that Scotland is not known for. I would like to change that, and believe that this could have a dramatic and positive impact on the Scottish food industry as a whole.
I am a chef. It is all I know and all I have ever wanted to do, and it is something that I really enjoy doing. For the past ten years I have focused on new product development as well as writing about food. I have studied all the great cuisines of the world from Italian to Japanese and truly feel that the time has come for the Scottish identity to include its cuisine in a way it has not up till now.
Last October, I visited my old primary school to speak with the students on Health Day. I was excited to visit and enjoyed my leisurely drive from Port Glasgow to East Kilbride. I only wish that my drive home was as enjoyable as the drive there but it wasn’t. I was deeply troubled by the perception that the primary school students had about Scottish food. The fact was that the overwhelming majority were not familiar with any classical Scottish dishes. They knew more about Thai and Indian cuisine than they did about the flavours of home. Most had never heard of Cullen Skink, Arbroath Smokies or even Stovies. I was troubled to say the least. I truly felt our true character of Scotland was being diluted right before me.
The previous day I had a meeting with Alex Salmond to share my thoughts on the future of Scottish cuisine and what I envisioned for our future, and most of all why I wanted to share it with the world. The Scottish Government has done a lot in recent years to support food and drink exports overseas. But I also feel we have an opportunity to reform more at home, which can of course help with our success overseas and vice-versa. After my presentation in East Kilbride, I realised that I needed to start with our children. Educate them first, then the world was my new approach. Because of this, I embarked on a campaign called “Scotland is Delicious”. This campaign focuses on Scottish households preparing and serving at least one traditional Scottish dish a week. I am hoping it catches on.
Next year Scotland has a big opportunity with the eyes of the world upon us. Many international visitors will arrive and I hope they leave with a deeper perspective on our food. Personally I feel we do need to modernise it. By modernising I mean making it trendy. Doing things like making sandwiches using tattie scones instead of bread, and filling it with Scottish cheeses, meats and produce. Utilising skirlie in new ways like wrapping smoked salmon around it similar to sushi and pairing it with pickled shaved onion marmalade or an apple and fennel salad.
I also look at 2014 as a year of celebrating our food. Sharing it with the world and most of all inventing a new product for the world to desire in an effort to support our economy. The invention of modern Scottish cuisine.
I am excited to share this idea and hope you will all support me in promoting the truth about the quality and affordability of our food as part of Scottish culture. Think of how great it would be to put Scottish cuisine in the centre of the gastronomical map for the rest of the world to partake whilst improving the consumption of great Scottish food at home.
For me, this means having the platform of an independent country including the powers of internationalisation but also the way it could reform our culture at home.
A Yes vote will generate a massive boost for Scotland the brand, and generate interest in Scottish culture around the world. We just need to make sure that modernising our food is part of our strategy as an emerging new country. This starts in every school, on every family’s dinner table, on our high streets and expands to the story we tell about ourselves internationally.
I am incredibly excited about next year and the tremendous possibilities for Scotland. Our Scotland. A Scotland that truly is delicious and also truly independent.
Further Reading: White House chef reveals how Bill Clinton emptied the biscuit tin – Daily Record
Sign the Business for Scotland Declaration – Read More