Introducing . . .
We were delighted to welcome Gillan Kingstree to Hickory as our new head chef in February, leading the kitchen brigade and bringing with him a wealth of experience from around the world. During lockdown Gillan has been doing a fantastic job volunteering as part of our joint initiative with Musselburgh Resilience Team, cooking tasty, nutritious meals for local vulnerable people in our community. We caught up with him on a break for a quick chat:
Tell us where you’re from, originally, and a bit about your background – was cooking an important part of home life?
I grew up in Dumfries & Galloway and food was a really big part of growing up. I used to go out into the woods with my dad to forage for mushrooms, pick berries for jam, catch salmon, plus we prepared and cooked wild game. My mother was a trained chef, so cooking is definitely in my blood.
What’s your earliest memory of cooking something by yourself?
My grandmother was a big influence and I remembering making scones (normal and tattie!) with her in the kitchen when I was very young. I can still taste today.
What kind of training did you have – how did you start out on this journey?
My parents weren’t exactly thrilled by the idea of cooking as a career, so I started an accountancy course at college after Highers but realised after a year that this was definitely not my destiny! I started helping out at a local gastropub and realised professional kitchens were where I wanted to be. My training has included a degree at what was then the Glasgow College of Food Technology where I won two awards: one for Student of the Year and another for Outstanding Achievement.
How has your career has developed over the years?
I moved to Ireland at the age of 19 and worked in a couple of top hotels there. Since then I have lived and worked all over the world, travelling extensively through south east Asia, India, Australia, the US and Canada. I started a restaurant in Vietnam and worked for a number of years in London which is where I really cut my teeth; it was an exciting time – my first stint was at a restaurant called Sam’s in Chiswick which was backed by Rick Stein. I was blown away by the amazing quality of the ingredients – like fresh mozzarella and produce coming straight from Italy. I also worked at Notting Hill Brasserie, previously Leith’s Restaurant and for Oliver Peyton at the National Gallery and the British Library. I then led a big team at the Royal Albert Hall where I experienced cooking on a very big scale, which has been great preparation for event catering with Hickory.
What attracted you to the role of Head Chef at Hickory?
The name! To begin with I liked the sound of it and looking at the website and so on the brand and I seemed like the perfect fit. My ethos of using high quality, ideally locally sourced ingredients and keeping things clean and pure but using interesting flavours and fusions is really reflected in Hickory’s creative philosophy.
Any new food trends you’re keen to introduce to Hickory clients and guests?
I believe very strongly in the healing and holistic power of food. So while I appreciate good quality meat and fish I’m also evangelical about promoting plant-based dishes. I guess in a similar way to Yotam Ottolenghi and also Sam and Sam Clark of Moro, where vegetables can be the stars of a dish just as much as a fine cut of beef.
Who would your dream dinner guests be and what would you cook for them?
I’m fascinated by the 1920s Paris scene when Ernest Hemingway and his pals were hanging out in cafés, drinking, talking and writing. I would make them a Choucroute Alsaçienne – basically a kind of French fermented sauerkraut slow cooked with different kinds of sausage and confit of duck. I am craving that dish at the moment so it would be for purely selfish reasons!
What’s your foodie guilty pleasure?
Very specifically a double cheeseburger with extra onion and BBQ sauce from McDonalds. The ONLY thing to order there.
Right now we need all the help we can get to make decent meals out of what we’ve got in the house – what’s your go-to easy recipe using store cupboard items?
It has to be dal. After spending six months in India trying everything from street food to high level cuisine, I became addicted to it. It’s so versatile: use any kind of lentils, split peas, even chickpeas and add your spices, garlic, onions and throw in whatever veg you have to hand if you like. Incredibly cheap and nutritious, it’s my lockdown go-to.