In the latest in our series of interviews with a range of Scottish chefs, Catriona Thomson chats to Andy Keir, head chef at Edinburgh'sDamm27-a working-class boy made good, with an unconventional introduction into the catering industry.

This Edinburgh bistro’s menu features contemporary European fare, such as mussel pots, gourmet burgers and taster plates. Andy’s culinary influences are wide-ranging from Sicilian caponata to Russian stroganoff and moussaka.

However, French cuisine remains his primary influence.

Joining the Damm27 start-up team in April 2019, he has thoroughly enjoyed being involved with this project, where he says 99 per cent of the dishes are “made from scratch”.

He adds: “I love it here. It’s the best job I’ve had because the restaurant features my food.

“Being a chef is not as glamorous as people think. It’s hard work- you never see Gordon Ramsay cleaning out a fryer.

After a busy day, you feel a sense of achievement, but you have to do it all again the next morning.”

So what is his favourite Scottish produce?

“I spent a lot of time working in St Andrews so I’d say seafood, I was lucky I got to use the biggest and best East Neuk lobsters.”

Art of cooking?

Andy explains that he didn’t go straight into catering when he finished school.

He said: “I went to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, where I studied fine art painting but I only lasted a couple of years, I was too young.

“I painted mainly cityscapes and townscape-you know, the seedy side of Dundee. I was 17, and I just wanted to be John Lennon.”

When asked if he is too busy cooking to paint, Andy admits that he would “love to get back into it”.

His favourite painters were the Impressionists – Cezanne and Gauguin in particular.

“Now my plate is my canvas, I guess. Attention to detail is important, you really need to take care when you plate classic dishes.”

In the Kitchen Andy Keir

Fine art painting is not the cheapest course to study so when he left in 2000 he got a job as a kitchen porter, in a tiny place in Fife called The St. Michael’s Inn.

It was a bar with steak pies, fish and chips, but he believes there are plenty of opportunities to progress in the industry.

“If you listen and learn and are willing to work hard, you will always be guaranteed a job,” he says.

He has fond memories of these early years.

“I was cheeky as hell, to the head chef. I peeled a lot of potatoes, but the job I hated the most was making coleslaw.”

And he has had quite a varied career, adding that he even worked for a couple of years, as a jeweller in Golders Green in London.

However, after working in a series of kitchens in both St Andrews and the Scottish capital, he gradually worked up to head chef level.

“I learned most skills in Edinburgh, at a Scottish bistro called A Room In The West End on William Street, and Iglu in Stockbridge where I worked with a friend.

“Then I worked at Hotel du Vin in St Andrews as head chef with a team of seven in the kitchen. We did everything there from breakfasts to weddings for up to 120 guests, afternoon teas and french cuisine.”

During this period, Andy also got to work in other Hotel du Vin branches, including Harrogate, Brighton, Newcastle, Cambridge and Winchester. He enjoyed getting to visit traditional English places and learning from other chefs.

What happened next?

“I’d just got back to Scotland from a six month, spur-of-the-moment globetrotting cooking spell in Los Angeles at a British/French restaurant on Sunset Boulevard.

“If I’m honest it was a bit of a shock – they couldn’t understand a word I was saying, but the food was modern French European so very much like here.”

However, he found living in the United States “surreal”, he says: “I used to walk everywhere in Los Angeles-they all drive, but I don’t. I missed friends, family, football – Hearts – Scottish culture and even Scotch pies. I wouldn’t do it again.”

When he returned to Scotland, he was helping out in a mate’s kitchen but Damm27 was recruiting for a permanent head chef, so it was “perfect timing.”

Where did your love of cooking come from?

“I’m not from a family of chefs,” he explains. “When I was about 12 years old, I moved to Leuchars from nearby Guardbridge, known locally as the Honky Tonk Estate.

“My dad couldn’t boil an egg and my mum, well, she does try. But my great grandmother was a machine, making stews and soups for everyone. She used to make us barley broth, and pan-fried breaded haddock with home-pickled beetroot, which was amazing.

“She grew her own vegetables- she had worked in Dundee’s jute Mills.”

He then tells us about his fiancée, Karleen.

“We’ ve been together for nearly 10 years. We met in a kitchen, funnily enough, as she was drafted in from the front of house, to cover for a kitchen porter.”

“She’ s amazing, my best mate,” he says. “But she does most of the cooking at home.”

In the Kitchen Andy Keir

Meat Course

Today Andy is showcasing his classic shin of beef bourguignon,  served with pancetta, wild mushrooms and rustic bread.

“In the restaurant, we serve small plates so I’m showcasing a couple from our menu.

“I try to change things every three or four months, but both these dishes are very popular with the regulars.”

Preparation is done in advance to keep the stress levels low in the kitchen, so a large joint of shin of Scottish beef has been braised previously in red wine with root vegetables; carrots, celery and onion, with additional flavours added with garlic, thyme, a bay leaf, some peppercorns and salt.

It is slowly roasted for around three-four hours on a roasting tray- just long enough to render the fat but still maintain meat’s texture. Then is left to rest in its juices in the fridge overnight until it is ready for service.

Next, Andy sautees sliced shallots and chopped garlic in a small shallow pan, before adding a scattering of wild mushrooms.

Then large chunks of pre-roasted unsmoked pancetta are placed into the pan as well as the secret ingredient – drained silverskin pickled onions.

The melt in the mouth, shin of beef is broken into mouth-sized chunks and added to the pan before being submerged in some flavoursome thickened beef stock which is poured over and then bubbles away contentedly.

Finally, its plated served in a cast-iron skillet with sprigs of thyme and fresh herbs scattered on to with toasted rustic bread alongside – ideal for mopping up the juices.

Beef bourguignon,  served with pancetta, wild mushrooms and rustic bread.

 

Vegetarian Option

Cauliflower steak served with blanched kale, toasted sunflower seeds and homemade piccalilli.

First Andy slices a whole cauliflower through the middle to produce a substantial 2cm- – thick steak.

The cauliflower is then seared in a frying pan until golden brown on both sides before being roasted in the oven for a few minutes. A bit of seasoning is all that is required.

While the cauliflower is in the oven, the blanched kale is pan-fried to warm and wilt before being artistically arranged on the plate.

The vegetable steak is precariously balanced on top of a bed of kale with dollops of a tasty turmeric spiced chutney encircling it.

 This was made in advance – again saving time. It is made from shallots, red peppers and cucumber, all sauteed for around an hour with white wine vinegar and honey to sweeten.

The last touch of decoration is a scattering the roasted sunflower seeds to provide additional texture, then gently placing viola flowers and baby salad leaves on top.

Et voila! Pretty as a picture. There’s a ding of the service bell, and it’s off to the table, for me to taste.

The proprietors also own Embargo and the Western Club in Glasgow. Andy would love to see other Damm restaurants spring up as he is confident the brand has great potential for growth and he would love to be further involved.

 

Cauliflower steak served with blanched kale, toasted sunflower seeds and homemade piccalilli.

 

 

 

 

 

The verdict is top flavoursome sensations, all executed well.

Forkfuls of melt- in -the -mouth beef shin morsels smothered in jus, with just the right amount of additional texture provided by the mushrooms and pancetta. And to my mind, the silverskin onions were the real hidden gems.

The cauliflower dish provides a lighter, healthier quick-lunch option, which compliments amazingly well with the sweet chutney and kale. The flowers look great in the photograph but I felt they were too pretty to eat.

 

Under the grill: Quick Q & A with Andy

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

“I’m very old school and like traditional French and British cuisine. As long as it’s simple but well executed. I also love Alsace regional cooking. “

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

“My first job was as a kitchen porter in a small hotel in St Michael’s in Fife, I spent most of my weekends peeling spuds and chopping carrots.

“I recently worked in Los Angeles at a French bistro, a Fifer in charge of a team of Los Angelinos could get a bit hectic sometimes during service! “

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

“Smoked paprika. It’s perfect for roasting or braising meat, or veg. I love to use it in a Caponata stew.”

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

“Most of the time I am pretty calm, but during the busy periods, I have been known to bang a few pans or omit the odd colourful word across the pass! The joke at the weekends at Damm27 is to get a parrot to run the pass.

“I’m a fan of Alex Ferguson management style, alright he might lose the rag but he looked after the young players.”

What is the flavour of the moment in your kitchen right now? 

“I’ve got a lot of winter-style dishes on at the moment, and braised shin of beef bourguignon is very popular.”

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?

“Cappuccino. I’m a bit of a Mod! I’m still into it, I love the music, culture and clothes. I once own a Vespa for about a day before I crashed it into a wall, then it became an expensive piece of art in my living room.”

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

“Curry pot noodle. Don’t tell anyone.”

Who is your favourite chef? 

“My favourite chef has to be Rick Stein, I could watch him read a phone book.”

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

“Elvis Presley, Noel Gallagher, Ritchie and Eddie from Bottom, Eric Cantona and Jamie Lee Curtis. I would probably cook a roast leg of lamb, with all the usual Sunday trimmings, followed by a massive cheeseboard. “

I don’t like…or I’d rather not eat……

“Heinz Salad Cream is not for me!”

Damm 27

27 Causewayside
Edinburgh EH9 1QF

(0131 667 6693)

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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