Head chef Jordan Clark from The Grandtully Hotel talks to Catriona Thomson about winning awards, lockdown lows, starting his new job and being a dad.

Young chef of the year 2019, Jordan Clark, is only 25 years old yet he has packed a lot into his life to date, “I feel old, I’ve been in kitchens since I was 15 years old. I’m still standing, just,” he said.

He was born and raised near Perth, in Tulloch which he admits is a “pretty standard place” where he lived with mum and dad and younger brother.

Growing up, his mum was a healthcare assistant and his father was a train driver, so with both of them working long hours, a big influence on family life was his granny, Elizabeth Stewart.

Jordan said: “I spent a lot of time with her, she was a bit of a dab hand at macaroni cheese, stews and soups and roasts were always on the menu, lamb, beef and pork. She’d change it up every week with every kind of potatoes you could imagine, croquettes, roast, mashed, boiled.

“I’d walk in the door and help myself to anything, crisps, chocolate biscuits.”

Until having his two daughters Poppy (4) and Gracie (2), he never really understood why that might be a bad thing.

Unfortunately, his dad died a few years ago just a month after Poppy his eldest was born, so the experience of being a father has been bittersweet.

However, Jordan tells us that “it is the best thing in the world, and losing my dad means I now appreciate the time I have with them.”

Jordan in action in the Kitchen

Schools out

As far as traditional education goes, Jordan said ” I didn’t take it too seriously, I was more interested in sport and football. My home economics teachers, Mrs Lauder even said I’d never have a career in hospitality.”

He was advised to leave school and do a course at college, and the only space they had left was on the professional chef courses at Perth College.

To get on the course there was an interview before a trial in the kitchen and Jordan said, “I had to make an omelette. Mine was a disaster, it was absolutely terrible, so I ended up in the lower class.”

Jordan explains, “In the first three days, we went to Gleneagles, and Crieff Hydro and I saw all the places I could go to in the industry. It showed me a completely different world. I’d never been to places like that for a meal growing up.”

On the course, not everyone was 100 per cent committed, as Jordan explains: “a lot of people are there for the sake of it and not really interested but I was inspired, great chefs like Andrew Fairlie and Tom Kitchin, had done the same college course.”

He tells us that at sixteen he and a friend, travelled to have a meal at The Kitchin, “I was impressed by their philosophy, eat every bit of the animal, which is the same as I have now. It showed me how food can be something else, not just something to eat when you are hungry,” he said.

Whilst studying at college, he worked evenings and weekends at The Salutation Hotel in Perth, following an initial period of work experience.

He much preferred the practical side of things rather than in-class learning at college, so after he finished he applied for lots of jobs in places like KFC and McDonalds, but dishearteningly he got rejected.

Lucky white heather

Fortunately, the commis chef at The Salutation Hotel left so Jordan got a full-time position there. With hindsight, Jordan said “it turned out for the best in the end, lots of things have happened like that in my career. ”

He worked there for about a year before moving to the Dunkeld Hilton, to work alongside a friend and for an increase in salary.

Jordan said, “the kitchen was responsible for lunches, dinners, and a lot of weddings, but it was intense.” The two main chefs there were classically trained so Jordan tells us that, “we would have dauphinoise and make proper chips, while all the sauces were our own. Proper cooking to be fair.”

His next job was at the Michelin starred Number One at The Balmoral in Edinburgh with Brian Gregor, where he got the job after a trial and ended up working on the pastry section, producing canapes, petit-fours and helping with functions, “I wanted to live in Edinburgh, and really push myself,” Jordan said.

“The experience was intense but really good, I learned what was expected in a Michelin standard kitchen, standards, attention to detail and organisation. You had to be on top of everything. I enjoyed it, glad I did it.” he said.

Jordan Clark

West Coast

Jordan was keen to leave the city, and luckily a job came up on Gumtree at Loch Melfort Hotel near Oban, working alongside the head chef, Michael Knowles.

Jordan said, “I made the move because I was interested in learning about fish, working with the freshest local produce straight from the boats. I was able to learn quickly and move up fast, running my own section essentially because they were short-staffed.”

He met and fell in love with Angie, mother of his children, who was working as a housekeeper at Loch Melfort, she is from Ardfern only a few miles away.

He was keen to stay in the west, but moved to The Manor House Hotel, because “the job came with a house so it all made sense” he said.

It was also an establishment with high standards, being awarded one AA Rosette with head chef Sean Squire and chef Gerard McCluskey.

Jordan explains, “Gerard had a child the same age as me so we were in a similar situation.” So when Sean left, Gerard and Jordan managed to ring the changes, and they won a second AA rosette.

He said, ” we were a dynamic duo, we made things more modern. It had been a very classic place, we lightened things up and used lots of local produce. Scottish but with a twist, but it was really good fun and enjoyable.”

Isle of Mull

The next step came with a move to Craignure on Mull, to a former Georgian Manse situated at Craignure, just one minute from the ferry terminal.

Pennygate Lodge is owned by a couple, Fiona Bee and Tony McGill, who have spent years lovingly redeveloping the place, putting in a kitchen, and transforming it into a stunning boutique hotel.

Jordan said when the previous head chef left, “the owners had heard about me, and we discussed things, and I took the job but they had never even seen me cook. Mull is amazing, I have always wanted to live on an island.”

“Pennygate was my dream job, because it was all about me food-wise. I wrote the menu, the owners printed it.”

A fine dining or big occasion restaurant, local produce was the main focus of the menu, including langoustine, scallops and crabs which Jordan tell us “are amongst the best in the world.”

He would only use produce that was readily available from the island, so no chicken or duck. The quality of the local ingredients dictated what he did with the dishes.

So along with the supportive owners, Jordan said, “We were making noise, and our reviews were unbelievable, we made a big splash, and we were full every day in summer.”

“I totally embraced Mull life, and Fiona the owner was an accomplished gardener so we grew things for the kitchen; salads, pea shoots, nasturtium, carrots, leeks” he said.

During his time there Jordan won Young Chef of the Year in Catering Scotland (CIS) Excellence Awards 2019, which was judged by chef Gary Maclean.

Pennygate also gained one AA rosette after only 6 months and two AA rosettes after 18 months. Jordan said, “I was chuffed at what I had achieved.”

The hotel restaurant was also a finalist in both Best Newcomer and the Hotel of the Year category at the Scottish Food and Drink Awards.

“The downside was, I was so focused on my work, ” and as a result his relationship with Angie broke down. Jordan said, “we split, and we made the decision that was best for everybody.”

He explains “the girls are a riot, like chalk and cheese, Poppy is cautious, while Gracie is the wild one. They live in Oban with their mum, and I got to see them last weekend, but it will work out now I have my own flat.”

Jordan Clark

 

Lockdown blues

Jordan said, “initially I didn’t take it too seriously, I was on holiday in Portugal when it happened, then I went and spent some time in Thailand, then it hit me. ”

Pennygate had closed and wasn’t likely to reopen this year. “I thought Jesus,  this is serious. I’m now jobless, homeless. My main concern was, how am I going to get money for the kids, because it is my duty,” he said.

In a short eight months, he’d gone from award-winning highs to not having a house and not having a job and even considering taking a job as a kebab chef.

Jordan said, “usually I can fix anything, but when all your plans for the future have been taken away from you, it was so surreal, the only thing I’ve ever known is the kitchen.”

He moved back to his mum’s house in Perth and after months of not properly working, he admits, “it starts to get you down, I didn’t know if it was ever going to get better. ”

Moving on

Jordan still has the same dream of  “owning a restaurant, serving my own food,” but in the meantime he is delighted to have found his new job as head chef at The Grandtully Hotel, Ballintaggart, and adds, “I’ll be here a good while.”

Looking back at Pennygate, where everything was entirely down to him, he is now thriving in his new role as part of a passionate and supportive team.

Jordan said, “I now have people to say hello to, and I’m excited to work with Perthshire food because that is where I’m from. This is perfect.”

At the Grandtully hotel, they use small local suppliers, and Jordan adds, “although it is not fine dining, it is simple food, done to a very high standard.”

Scottish produce is where Jordan’s passion lies. He said “I love Scotland, and it’s amazing produce. It is a natural thing for me to want to support small businesses, who have the same passion I have for their products. It makes complete sense to me.”

The kitchen also uses foraged ingredients such as wild mushrooms, sweet cicely, and lovage, and the bonus of a kitchen garden, so Jordan said, “really all you could want. The three owners are so supportive and I believe I’m here for a reason.

Under the grill Q&A

 

Describe your cooking style? and why are you passionate about it? Traditional, French-inspired fusion etc.

“My cooking style will always focus on local produce and supporting small suppliers, but I also like to use lots of acidic and pickled vegetables throughout a menu but most techniques are classical French cookery. I spent time in Thailand at the beginning of the year so I’m starting to use a lot more spices but still focusing on Scotlands natural larder.

What was your first job in the industry? Plus where were you before?

“My first job was at the Salutation Hotel in Perth working there alongside attending Perth college. I went on to work at the number one at Balmoral, Loch Melfort Hotel, Oban Manor House and before coronavirus I was at Pennygate Lodge on the Isle of Mull, but I’m now at the Grandtully Hotel by Ballintaggart.”

Favourite spice? And what dish/recipe would you suggest using it in? 

“I don’t use a huge amount of spices in a restaurant kitchen, but at home on my days off, I’m a big fan of blackened cajun seasoning which goes on pretty much everything.”

Are you sweet or sour? So is it all peace and harmony in your kitchen or do the pots and pans fly? 

“I think now I’m pretty calm, but when you are a young chef starting out and trying to produce your own food its easy to let things get on top of you. When I started out, that was probably the last few years of the aggressive kitchens. The kitchen where I am just now is the complete opposite we have quite a young team so we want everyone to feel comfortable in the working environment.”

Following on from the last question…What little things annoy you in the kitchen?

“Chefs not respecting ingredients. It’s easy to be amazed by Isle of Gigha halibut or hand-dived scallops but all your produce deserves respect, even its something as simple as a piece of broccoli, also not respecting your kitchen equipment.”

What is popular in your kitchen right now? ( So this can be a new dish that is popular,or a new technique you are loving or even a new piece of equipment) 

“I have only been here a few months but this is the first place I have worked that makes sourdough so that’s probably one of our most popular assets. We make 16 loaves a day which sounds an insane amount but it’s used through the hotel on a variety of dishes and also gets sold to our guests.”

 

Tea or Coffee? Is it Darjeeling darling or bitter Colombian? What’s your brew and how you like to drink it? Camomile, Milky brew or builders elaborate, please?

“At the start of the week its tea but by the end of the week I have to have some coffee to keep me going, we use Glen Lyon coffee in the restaurant and it’s probably the nicest coffee I have tried. Latte is my go-to coffee but most Saturday mornings start off with a black coffee. ”

Everyone has one at least one guilty food pleasure, so what do you love but are too embarrassed to admit?

“Turkey dinosaurs. There’s just something about them that takes me back to my childhood.”

Who is your favourite chef? Plus everyone has a food hero/ local supplier, who is yours and why?? 

“Tom Kitchin- it was probably a meal at his restaurant when I was 16 that really made me focus and push on in this industry. He went to the same college as me and grew up not too far away so it is easy to be inspired by everything he has achieved and his philosophy is exactly what I want to get out of food.

I am going to have to go back to the Isle of mull and the Tobermory fish company- without a doubt, the best-smoked trout in Scotland and were so vital in helping me source amazing products. They’re exactly what I want in a supplier a small family run business doing what they love.”

Fantasy dinner party guests? and what would you cook for them?

“After everything that was happened recently, it would probably be my two little girls, a global pandemic makes you realise what is important to you. They are probably my harshest critics, which is not always good.”

I don’t like…or I’d rather not eat……

“Aubergines, don’t have a real reason I just don’t like the taste or texture of them”

The Grandtully Hotel

The Grandtully Hotel, Grandtully, Perthshire 

PH9 0PL

(01887 447000)

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About The Author

Catriona Thomson

Catriona picture edits The Scotsman magazine and Scotland On Sunday, aswell as reviewing restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writing for Scotsman Food and Drink.

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