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Flavour Profile Q&A: Ghillie Basan, author of new book, A Taste of the Highlands

The food and travel writer shares her food loves and hates with us

Published: November 1, 2021
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What’s your favourite ingredient?

Garlic: fresh, dried, smoked, wild, black, the flowering stems.

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

Oozy Gorgonzola dolce with a glass of red wine.

Tell us about your first food memory

Four years old. Catching termites in a butterfly net with our cook in Kenya. When the rains come, the alates (the princes and princesses of the colony) squeeze out of their mud castles and take flight. The purpose is to pair up with a mate and establish a new colony. In order to accomplish this energetic mission, they have been fattening up for months, so a variety of lizards, badgers, mongooses, anteaters, hyenas and people make the most of these little plump bodies. Our cook liked to fry them in butter and garlic, which meant I had to remove all the wings first but they were delicious – like shrimps.

What’s your favourite Scottish restaurant, deli or cafe?

The Spey Larder in Aberlour, Moray. Owners David and Sheena Catto keep up with trends and they have a wonderful selection of cheesecharcuterie, wine and whisky. David always chucks out-of-date things into my basket. We know they still have lots of mileage.

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What would be your last supper?

Scottish langoustines, crab, scallops and lobster - lightly char-grilled and served with melted garlic butter; spaghetti in a tomato, olive oil, garlic and basil sauce with Parmesan; a crunchy garden and wild green leaf salad; crusty loaf to mop up all the deliciousness and to enjoy with Gorgonzola dolce; a bottle of full-bodied red (Portuguese, Argentinian or Australian); tavuk göğsu kazandibi (Turkish milk pudding made with threads of chicken breast); cherries and a bite of sun-ripened peach.

Starter or pudding? And why?

I love savoury starters as a culinary conversation: mezze, tapas, hors d'oeuvre, the more the merrier.

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Do you have any food hates?

I feel we should be thankful for our food. To even have such a conversation means we are privileged. However, I don’t get any pleasure from food that has had the living daylights boiled or fried out of it.

What starters, main and dessert would be served at your dream dinner party and who would you invite?

It would be outdoors with music, laughter, stories and inspiring moments. My guests would include some who are no longer with us: John Muir, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, David Attenborough, Billy Connolly, Barack Obama, Graham Norton, Meryl Streep, Gerard Butler (I would enjoy flirting although I know I am far too old), Carlos Santana (to play his guitar) and a very special friend, David Campbell (Scotland’s most famous story-teller).

The Neighbourhood bar, kitchen and garden opens in Bruntsfield

We’d start with a platter of Scottish seafood by Michael Smith of Lochbay on Skye, followed by roe deer fillet or loin and wood pigeon breasts with a whisky and juniper cream sauce; seasonal greens; raspberry sorbet; and a selection of Scottish, French and Italian cheeses.

What's your favourite geographical foodie destination?

Istanbul. I lived and worked there and have written roughly eight books and many articles featuring the city and its food. I visit often and still order from the spice merchant I went to when I lived there 30 years ago.

A Taste of the Highlands by Ghillie Basan, Birlinn, £25, out now

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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