Scott Smith


Scott Smith

Scott Smith’s modern Scottish cooking has made him one of the country's rising culinary stars. Employing preservation techniques like pickling and fermenting to get the most out of every ingredient, he shines a constant light on the incredible quality of Scottish produce.

Aberdeen-born Scott Smith may seem a relative newcomer to the national scene, but he already has a burgeoning reputation in Scotland for honest cooking that showcases Scottish ingredients. Scotland is home to some of the best produce in the world – so much so that it is exported to restaurants all over the world; at Fhior, Scott works with seasonal ingredients that are on his doorstep, and conjures the very best out of them. Though he perhaps didn’t realise it at the time, that appreciation of produce may have started in his childhood; as a young boy, he grew up surrounded by these same ingredients – ‘my mum had her own garden,’ he explains, ‘so I grew up using vegetables that had come out of the ground. My sister and I had a little patch of our own where we’d grow peas and strawberries – little things that we liked.’

Though this upbringing had a profound effect on him in hindsight, that wasn’t what guided him towards the kitchen. ‘I was just fed up of school and learning things I didn’t want to learn,’ he shrugs. Instead, he bunked off school and found himself a job washing dishes in Aberdeen. ‘I used to forge letters to the school from my mum to the school saying that I was ill so I could go and work instead!’

Like many chefs of that generation, Scott had grown up on a steady diet of Anthony Bourdain and Marco Pierre White’s White Heat, and he soon graduated from pot wash to kitchen, allured by the prospect of being a chef. ‘I’d romanticised this rock and roll lifestyle,’ he says. ‘That isn’t really the reality of life in the kitchen, but it was enough to pull me in and then I caught the bug.’ Chefs often refer to catching ‘the bug’, but it manifests as different things to different people. For Scott, it was the gratification of feeding people and bringing happiness to their days.

He soon found himself in Dundee working with Eddie McDonald – Eddie had previously run the highly regarded Marcliffe Hotel in Aberdeen and would become an important mentor to him. ‘Eddie took me under his wing and trained me,' says Scott. 'We’re both from Aberdeen, and both Aberdeen Football Club fans, so we clicked on that.’ Eddie pushed the young chef hard, improved his speed and technique, and furthered his ambitions. ‘He said to me, ‘What are you doing here? Why aren’t you pushing? Why aren’t you working in Michelin star restaurants? Why are you wasting your time here?’ I had always wanted to do that but I didn’t have the confidence to go and do it. Eddie gave me the kick in the ass I needed to pursue that.’

That push sent Scott to The Peat Inn near St Andrews – one of Scotland’s most esteemed restaurants and a landmark for modern Scottish cookery thanks to the work of chef-proprietor Geoffrey Smeddle. ‘He’s the biggest influence on what I do now,’ Scott says of his old mentor. ‘He taught me how to treat people, how to treat staff, how to put the customer first. He’s very calm and respectful, and he understands that people work hard for him because he treats them with respect.’

His two mentors helped him master technique, dedication, ambition and lots more, but flavour is something Scott has always endeavoured to do himself, without outside influence. Part of what makes his food so enthralling today is that it is unique – there are visible elements of other cultures and styles in there, but the composition and style is wholly his own. ‘Having a restaurant isn’t just about cooking good food and having good service,’ he explains. ‘I think the restaurant has to have an identity, and that’s something you have to carve out yourself over time.’ When Scott left The Peat Inn and set up his first restaurant – Norn, in Edinburgh – with his wife Laura, he worked hard to unlearn all the dishes he’d learnt in years previous, and blazed a trail of his own that quickly made him a darling of the city. Marina O’Loughlin – then a food critic at The Guardian – visited shortly after Norn opened in 2016 and waxed lyrical about Scott’s food, citing ‘unrelenting deliciousness’. ‘I want to say a new Scottish star is born,’ she said in closing, ‘but that would be to do Smith a disservice. He’d be a star wherever he landed.’

‘We opened with really clear goals of what we wanted to achieve,’ says Scott. ‘We wanted a slow burner, so we could grow things organically, but then we got some really big reviews early on and that put us in the shit, to be honest! It was amazing, of course, but we just weren’t prepared for that. For starters, I’m good with one on one conversations but I’m really quite shy when it comes to anything beyond that. We went from running this little restaurant, ten tables in on Friday and Saturday nights to national press and every table for the next three months booked out in about two days.’

Just as Norn began to hit its stride, though, Scott and Laura ran into problems with the restaurant’s investors, who didn’t share their long term vision. ‘It became clear to us that this was a short-term investment,’ he shrugs. With a heavy heart, Scott and Laura decided to leave the restaurant they had nurtured and start afresh somewhere new. They scraped money together from friends and family and found a charming little site on Edinburgh’s bohemian Broughton Street – a site that became Fhior. ‘We did the whole thing in about four weeks,’ Scott grins. ‘When we left Norn, we saw this place and ten days later we had the keys. In terms of tradesmen, we just had chefs and front-of-house doing the painting and decorating.’

Fhior, as a result, is certainly minimal, but the stripped-back feel of the restaurant is actually rather sweet given the story behind it. Most importantly, Scott is now free to pursue the long term vision he has always harboured, given that he and Laura are the sole owners of the restaurant. Dishes like halibut, potato, pepper dulse and fennel, chanterelles with leek and truffle and beetroot, malt caramel, milk ice cream all have a clear commonality running through them – they’re designed to highlight a particular bit of Scottish produce and show it at its very best. Scott and his team venture out at all times of year to forage ingredients whilst they’re in season, which they then preserve for use year-round – a system employed to great effect at restaurants like Fäviken, Noma and Frantzén in Scandinavia. The halibut, for example, is served on a bed of fermented fennel – who’s aniseed notes are morphed into something remarkable by lacto-fermentation – and then topped with a potato mousseline and finished with dried, ground pepper dulse from the nearby Scottish coast.

‘Fhior is such a personal thing for Laura and I, we both accept that is isn’t about making lots of money,’ says Scott. ‘We want to create something with longevity that helps chefs progress on their journeys, helps us provide for our young family and brings recognition to Scottish food.’