Lorna McNee

Lorna McNee

Lorna McNee

A protégé of the late Andrew Fairlie and now one of the chefs at the forefront of Scotland’s fine dining scene, Lorna McNee’s refined style of cookery is all about celebrating her country’s incredible natural larder through carefully constructed dishes. This has seen her become the only female chef in Scotland to currently hold a Michelin star.

Sometimes a single moment of bravery can prove pivotal in a chef’s career, whether that be entering a prestigious competition, taking up a new position or opening their first restaurant. For Lorna McNee, a defining moment came when she was just twenty years old and tapped legendary Scottish chef Andrew Fairlie on the shoulder to ask him for a job. Fast forward fifteen years and, with a lengthy career at Gleneagles behind her, Lorna has a Michelin star of her own, a Great British Menu title to her name and is now widely recognised as one of Scotland’s most talented chefs.

As a teenager growing up in the northern Scottish town of Forres, Lorna didn’t have her heart set on a career in the kitchen but rather favoured the idea of becoming a photographer. Earning money by washing pots in the local Italian restaurant, her aspirations took a knock when she didn’t get into photography school, but instead she was convinced by the head chef to take up a job in the kitchen. At the same time, she enrolled on a cookery course at Moray College in nearby Elgin and began to realise that she’d found her calling. ‘It felt like the first time that I had been encouraged and told I was good at something,’ Lorna explains. ‘It made me want to be better and I started to absolutely love it.’

Lorna had grown up watching Gordon Ramsay on TV and was inspired by his determination to be the best, so when the opportunity arose for her to spend two weeks in his kitchen at Claridge’s, she didn’t have to think twice. However, although two weeks may not sound like long, her stint at Claridge’s was enough for her to realise that working in London didn’t actually appeal (‘I was offered a job at the end but I just found being there too intense and busy’) and she returned to the home counties.

Then came the moment that would truly begin Lorna’s rise to the top of the industry. Having returned to Scotland, she found herself having dinner at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, and was blown away by the quality. ‘It was the best meal I’d ever eaten in my life,’ she laughs. ‘I didn’t know food could taste that good!’ Weeks later, Lorna returned to undertake a stage, and on her last day, Fairlie happened to be eating in the restaurant. Spurred on by the kitchen team, she decided to ask the legendary Scottish chef for a job. ‘I just tapped him on the shoulder whilst he was having dinner,’ she laughs. ‘I was like, ‘any chance I could get a job?’ He sort of looked me up and down, and said, ‘are you sure? It’s not easy. Go away and think about it, speak to your friends and your family, think about everything you’ve seen, come back in a week and tell me if it’s still what you want to do.’ I came back a week later and told him I still wanted to work there, and he gave me the job.’

Starting off as an apprentice, Lorna went on to spend twelve years at Gleneagles, working with Andrew Fairlie until he passed away in 2019. And it was his mentorship and desire to push Lorna to be better that ultimately saw her rise through the ranks and stay at the two-Michelin-starred restaurant for so long. ‘Andrew was an extremely generous teacher,’ says Lorna. ‘He was incredibly passionate about Scotland and everything it has to offer; he’d guide you through any little mistakes or worries, and was just a very humble person too. It always felt like he was encouraging you to be a better person as well as a better chef, and that just made it such a rewarding place to work.’ Lorna also admits with a smile that Fairlie would always notice if she was starting to become restless and task her with a new challenge – whether that was developing a new dish for the menu or entering a competition– to ensure she remained engaged.

By the end of her time in the kitchen at Gleneagles, Lorna had a fair amount of responsibility as sous chef and was already beginning to develop a style of cookery of her own. All she needed was something to give her the confidence to make her next move, and that ended up coming in the form of a winning run on BBC’s Great British Menu in 2019. Her banquet-winning dessert saw her also named Champion of Champions and also noticeably upped her profile within the industry. It was time for Lorna to leave Gleneagles - a decision she describes as one of the toughest she’s ever had to make - and begin a legacy of her own.

After initially turning down the offer to become head chef of already established Glasgow restaurant Cail Bruich, she eventually took up the opportunity in late 2019 on the condition that she would have total control of the kitchen and menu, and could bring in her own team. Lorna also had a very clear idea of the kind of food she wanted to serve. ‘The key things for me were to use the best Scottish produce around and to showcase all the skills I’d learnt during my time at Gleneagles,’ she explains. ‘I also wanted to make things a little less French in style, bringing a bit of modern flair and perhaps a touch more femininity.’

Lorna eventually took the reins at Cail Bruich in mid-2020. It was a first year of service decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic but that didn’t stop her food making an impact during the limited months when the restaurant remained open, and at the start of 2022 she was awarded her first Michelin star. ‘It was honestly such a surprise, as we’d only really been properly open for three months,’ she says with a smile. ‘I’d always said to myself that I wanted to be the first woman in Scotland to win a star, so it felt amazing when they told me on the phone.’ Since it reopened fully post-pandemic, Cail Bruich has continued to flourish with Lorna at the helm and still holds the honour of being Glasgow’s only Michelin-starred restaurant.

You could say that for Lorna, cooking found her at the start of her career rather than the other way round, but there’s no question now in her mind – or that of anyone lucky enough to try her food – that it’s what she was born to do. ‘I can’t imagine myself ever wanting to do anything not to do with food now,’ Lorna laughs, ‘I just can’t get enough of it!’