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How to deliver a Michelin-starred Experience

It’s the ultimate accolade in fine dining, coveted by chefs and revered by connoisseurs. A Michelin Star is a badge of honour for restaurants worldwide, but how do you deliver a Michelin-starred experience and maintain it year in, year out? hosted a special panel at ScotHot 2017 where Andrew McIntosh, Sales Director at welcomed Michelin-starred chefs, Paul Leonard, Head Chef at Isle of Eriska Hotel, Brian Grigor, Head Chef at Edinburgh’s Number One, The Balmoral Hotel and his Restaurant Manager, Emma Lonie to a packed Spotlight Stage to discuss this topic.

Andrew began by asking the panel what is it that sets Michelin-starred dining apart from a non-starred experience? Emma Lonie said that it begins with trying to be the best you possibly can, and creating the most memorable experience for all guests. Number One, The Balmoral has held a Michelin Star for 16 years and for Brian Grigor it’s about maintaining that standard. He said, “You can’t get tied down worrying about what you think Michelin would like. It’s about working through the seasons, working with suppliers, trying new techniques, new produce. If you’re constantly doing that, what happens will happen.”

Of course, maintaining standards requires the whole team of a restaurant. Emma Lonie said that this involves constant learning and development. “We’re always training”, she said, “Whether it’s on the floor, briefings with the chefs, learning about what’s new. It’s what maintains standards. It’s getting the team excited and invested in the product and conveying that excitement to the guests.”

There were knowing smiles from the panel when they were asked how they would deal with an emergency, for example, if a key team member walked out on service. Being 10 miles from the nearest town, the team at Eriska are in a unique situation. Paul Leonard explained, “We live together, we’re family and we get on with each other. People are paying a lot of money to eat your food and the team understand that and we support each other.”

“You have to create an environment in the kitchen that you would want to work in,” explained Brian Grigor. “I’ve worked in kitchens where the atmosphere has been quite volatile. At some point you have to break the mould and say ‘when I become head chef, that’s not what I want my kitchen to be like.’” Brian went on to say that he’s proud that his place of work is a calm one. He said, “Everybody gets constantly trained on the job, so they don’t feel the need to leave.”

A fascinating point of conversation, and one that clearly illustrates the differences between the restaurants, was that of consistency. At Eriska, Paul Leonard changes his menu everyday, depending on the ingredients that he and his team can source from the local area. However, as he says, it’s not about reinventing the wheel. “It’s about self-discipline in your cooking and keeping things simple,” he explained. Employee retention is good, again down to an exciting working environment and with a revolving menu, no two days are the same.

Even though the menu at The Balmoral doesn’t change as often as it does at Eriska, Brian Grigor is well aware that a Michelin Star isn’t handed down, its won year by year. “You have to be constantly pushing forward,” he said. “If we do a spring dish one year, we might do something similar this year, but find new ways to improve on it and make it even more special.”

Emma Lonie explained that even though Michelin have stated that service has no bearing on stars being awarded, she’s proud that the guide has made mention of the service at Number One, The Balmoral. “We have to tell the story of what’s happening in the kitchen,” she said. “For instance, game season causes a lot of excitement in the kitchen. If we can’t convey something like that that to guests, we’ve not done the full job. It’s definitely part of the whole experience.”

Scotland is a multi-faceted country and though Eriska and Number One, The Balmoral lie in vastly differing environments, the panel agreed that a Michelin-starred experience is about respect for your ingredients. “You have to start with quality produce,” said Brian Grigor. “Whether it’s carrots, beetroot, salmon or beef, know your supplier, know where it comes from and do as little to it as possible.” Paul Leonard concurred, “We grow a lot of our own food. Once the team knows how it grows, they know how to cook it to get the best from it, to get the best flavour.”

The panellists all said how proud they are to be working in Scotland with the some of the finest produce that the UK has to offer. They continue to maintain a world class standard in cooking and service that puts Scotland on the gastronomic map.

It was a fascinating discussion and we thank our panellists, Emma Lonie, Paul Leonard and Brian Grigor for their time and participation.

You can hear Emma Lonie and Brian Grigor’s thoughts on recruitment challenges faced by the hospitality industry in our exclusive video