From producer to plate: Nick Nairn's Cook School and Campbells Prime Meat

We talk to Nick Nairn and Iain Brown of Campbells Prime Meats about the importance of a close relationship between chef and supplier and the benefits such a partnership can bring.

Published 20th Sep 2016
Updated 4 th Oct 2016

Celebrity chef Nick Nairn became the youngest Scottish chef to win a Michelin star in the early 1990s and recently set up several Cook Schools, he remains as dedicated as ever to educating the next generation of budding chefs and supporting top quality Scottish produce.

Why is using local produce so important to you?

"It gives my cooking it’s unique distinct flavour, it helps support the local economy and reducing food miles is always at the heart of what I do."

How important is your close relationship with your suppliers? How often are you in contact with them?

"My philosophy of cooking is PTH - produce, technique and harmony - and first and foremost of those are the raw materials that I work with.

"So my supplier relationships are of key importance, we maintain a constant dialogue with our suppliers to make sure that we are getting the best seasonal produce and the best value available."

Has there been a marked increase in the amount of ingredients you use that are now sourced in Scotland?

"Ever since I started cooking professionally in 1986 I have tried to source all of my produce from Scotland and have been a vocal advocate of the Scottish larder and the importance of buying locally.

"I made three network television series between 1994 and 1997 about the importance of local sourcing and the key relationship between suppliers, chefs and end users.

"I hopefully opened peoples eyes to the joys of foraging and growing your own produce. It’s reassuring that 30 years on, this is increasingly becoming the norm, I’d love to think that I contributed in some small way towards that."

What is it about Scotland's produce that you find makes it so special?

"Our unique unspoilt environment provides the perfect climate for so many wonderful ingredients, whether they be from our unpolluted seas, our rolling pasture land, our moors, our hills and glens. Scotland provides the perfect backdrop to the world’s greatest produce of which we should all be very proud."

What dish do you make at the cook school that would highlight this close connection with the producer?

"In the last 5 years we have taught over 10,000 people how to cook the perfect steak and there is huge emphasis on quality, provenance and condition of the beef, and obviously this requires an incredibly close relationship with our butcher."

Do you promote the importance of local produce to participants on your cooking courses?

"For the last 30 years I’ve been telling anyone that wants to listen (and some who don’t) how important it is to appreciate how incredible the Scottish larder is, it’s at the heart of everything I do."

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Iain Brown is sales director at Campbells Prime Meats, an online butcher and fishmonger, that supply fresh meat, fish and deli produce to business customers all over Scotland, including Nick Nairn's cook schools.


How important is your relationship and working with Nick Nairn?

“It’s a very important relationship.

“When we supply Nick, we have to make sure the specifications and the products he requires are correct and exactly what he wants, dependent on whether he’s doing a large or small function.

“Obviously a big part of what we do is providing him with the provenance that he desires, so if he wants beef from Orkney, we can get him beef from Orkney. But if he wants lobsters from Troon, we can get him lobsters from Troon.

“It’s all about communication and being clear on exactly what he’s wanting to do; we like to work hand-in- hand with him that way.

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“The endorsement we get from working with Nick has certainly benefited our business, but if we didn’t provide the quality produce to him, that relationship would falter.”

How often are you in communication with him?

“I work with Nick personally and I also work closely with his executive chef, Colin. If there are several functions coming up, it won’t matter if it’s later in the evening after work is finished because that call needs to happen to ensure that we can supply him with the produce. The closeness of the relationship is key to ensuring that everyone knows what’s going on and is happy.

“In our industry things change very quickly and the stock we were expecting to come in changes at the last minute; for example, Nick might’ve ordered some fresh hake, which was due in, but the boats haven’t got their predicted supplies, so we have to contact Nick to offer an alternative.

"If he didn’t trust us and the quality of the produce we supply him with, then a situation like this could be difficult.”

How rewarding is it for you to know that what you produce is going to be turned into something wonderful by Nick and his chefs?

“It is very rewarding. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy Nick’s cooking and seen what he’s created with our produce. I certainly feel proud of it and the part we’ve played in it.

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“I think the work we do in the fresh meat and fish industries is sometimes undervalued by society at large.

"Some people forget that there are people on boats risking their lives to put fish on tables. So when we are able to see Nick and his team take it to the next level in his wonderful dishes, it’s highly rewarding and honours the sacrifices made by those in the supply chain.”

What do you think makes Scotland’s produce so special?

“With Scottish produce, many say it’s the best in the world; however, I think we still undervalue a great deal of the produce we have available to us across the board, from potatoes to fish to meat.

“A lot has changed in the industry, especially on the retail side, but we’ve been sure to keep very close to our suppliers. We’re the biggest buyer of red meat outwith supermarkets in Scotland and, with our fish, we’ve got a buyer based in Scrabster buying fish straight off the boat, so it couldn’t get any fresher.

“I think it all comes down to people: building relationships, communicating clearly and being reliable is so important in this business; so as long as the farmers, producers and chefs can all work together to make sure we are putting the best product on the plate, we will keep striving to do our bit.”


Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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