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Mark Balarsky, head chef at Glasgow restaurant Ad Lib on his love of chilli, US food and Milky Ways

This chef has headed the kitchen of this diner for over a decade

Published: January 4, 2022

What’s your favourite ingredient?

Chilli, from Serrano to chipotle through ancho, pasilla and Scotch bonnet. The diversity of heat and flavour is fantastic, and each offers something unique and there are so many diverse ways to use them.

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

I have a few and will share that one I’ve recently revisited is Cadbury’s Magic Stars. And if they’re not available, a Milky Way please.

Tell us about your first food memory?

My Dad used to work for a French food supplier in Harrogate and I remember a hot summer day, eating fresh baked baguettes with Bayonne ham and the hottest Dijon ever. Simple and so good and what got me interested in flavours, it was an unforgettable lunch.

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

There’s a lovely little cafe in Whiteinch, Glasgow called Haylynn Canteen. The chef Robbie's smoked salmon smorrebrod is superb and his homemade cakes are out of this world. Seating is limited so get there early.

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What would be your last supper?

A proper Reuben sandwich from the Baby Grand in Glasgow, prepared by head chef David McSherry. He knows how to make great salt beef and serve it with sauerkraut, pickle, Swiss cheese, on soft rye and with Russian dressing. The bread comes from Deanston Bakery in Shawlands, which to me is the best bakery in Glasgow.

Starter or pudding?

Can’t I have both? And everything in between please.

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Do you have any food hates?

Brioche bagels – the texture just doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s a better world if we leave the perfect chewiness of bagels alone and just let the soft sweet brioche as brioche. Supermarkets seem to think that anything with a hole on it is either a bagel or a doughnut.

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

It would have to be soul food and similar to what I cook at Ad Lib. Fried chicken, coconut shrimp, slow smoked brisket, freedom fries, grilled corn and apple pie with ice cream for dessert. And to drink it would be Jimmy’s spiked Jarritos - Mexican grapefruit soda with tequila, lime, and grapefruit bitters. If blues legend Buddy Guy could make it, then I could find out how much he likes my Southern soul food, and I could listen to his brilliant creative blues music for the price of a meal.

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What's your favourite geographical foodie destination?

Easy, the United States. I was in Montgomery, Texas at a barbecue hut called Yo Mama, and asked the girl that was cooking what wood she used to smoke the meat. She looked over at me, squinted and then answered in her slow Texas drawl “whatever my daddy brings me!" It was the perfect barbecue, and the US has so many great foodie haunts I’d like to visit, in practically every state.

111 Hope Street, Glasgow,

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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