Always be Surprising
With his latest opening, Fhior, causing waves in the Edinburgh restaurant scene, Scott Smith chats about bringing clarity and identity to his cooking
Article by Catherine Ferguson
Scott Smith is a veritable whirlwind in the Scottish Restaurant scene. His latest venture, Fhior, is already causing a stir in Edinburgh, promising locally-sourced “food and hospitality delivered with passion and skill, without pretension.” As former chef patron of Edinburgh’s Norn, Scott’s impressive reputation precedes him, since achieving a Michelin listing, a Caterer Acorn Award and a coveted place in Restaurant Magazine’s Top 100, in just two short years.
You recently told your Twitter followers that you want eating at Fhior to, “always be surprising.” How do you consistently achieve that?
We have a formula of three things that we apply to all our dishes: identity, clarity and interest – each dish has to tick all three boxes. Does the dish represent us and reflect the seasons? Does it have a clarity of flavour and is it interesting enough to surprise people? Also, there is no menu for dinner, just four or seven courses so that is naturally going to be a surprise as the guests have no idea what will be coming out of the kitchen.
What’s the biggest surprise that your guests have encountered to date?
Just now we have a pretty unusual dessert which features a carbonated yoghurt whey; it looks like foam, but the eating sensation is like sherbet. Guests either laugh out loud or look really confused when they taste it for the first time.
You run Fhior with your wife, Laura, and produce from your Mother’s garden seems to feature on the menu quite frequently. It sounds like a real family affair… Has that had a big impact on the direction that your new restaurant has taken?
Yes, running a restaurant is a career that you have to love so it makes sense for it to become part of my lifestyle. When Laura and I come in to the restaurant it is just as an extension of our life, rather than us coming into work. It’s very personal to us, we don’t treat it like a job.
You’ve won a host of titles and accolades in the past – is there any one in particular that means the most to you?
Probably The Caterer’s Acorn Award. That was a big one and meant a lot as it was a personal award for me rather than the restaurant. It gave me the opportunity to meet some great people, my peers from up and down the country, not just Edinburgh.
We know that local sourcing and seasonal ingredients are really important to you. How do you go about hunting out your suppliers?
It is about building up a good network over the years. It’s certainly not about just sitting down at a computer and picking a list of suppliers. You build up relationships via word of mouth and recommendations and you have to trust them to supply you the best local, seasonal ingredients. Asparagus season finished recently and that’s an example of where I believe we are using the best in Scotland; we have it delivered straight out of the ground by hand from the grower, Sandy Patullo who is only 45 minutes away in Forfar at Eassie Farm and who I have worked with now for four or five years. He’s been growing it for 30 years and every year the quality just seems to get better, and then in January he grows sea kale.
As some may already know, ‘Fhior’ means true. What made you choose that name?
We wanted to create a dining experience that wasn’t gimmicky and didn’t hide behind anything. And that goes for the sourcing, the cooking, the wine and the service as well.
Do you think it’s a particularly exciting time for food and drink in Edinburgh and Scotland in general?
Yes definitely and one of the things I really want is to see Scottish food on the international culinary map – that’s a goal that we have always had. We want Scottish food to be recognised internationally and not what it’s currently seen as, stereotypically. With regards to Edinburgh, however, we are at risk of the restaurant market becoming saturated. There has been a huge growth in the number of fantastic independent restaurants opening which has turned it into a real foodie destination. The only problem is that the big London chains see the buzz and want a share of it, which means that now the independents are having to compete with big restaurant groups and their big budgets… It is a big city but is it big enough to sustain this many covers?
Is there anyone who’s been a special influence or mentor along your journey as a chef so far?
The first was Eddie McDonald who told me, when I worked for him, “you are much better than this place and I want you to leave here and get a job in a Michelin star place and really push your career, as you have the ability to do this.” He was the first one that showed confidence in my abilities and really made me push myself out of my comfort zone. He is definitely a huge influence.
The second was the chef of the Michelin star place that I went to, Geoffrey Smeddle, who taught me not just about cooking but how to conduct yourself in the kitchen.
Do you have a ‘desert island dish’ that you just couldn’t live without making?
Girolles on toast, simple but really showcases the what you can do simply with amazing ingredients