Cool as a cucumber
It was a good day for the Ednam House kitchen brigade when Ally Bell joined as Sous Chef in January 2017. Already a proven chef operating at a senior level, he brought to the team not only his cooking skills but also a flair for coaching and developing others. Five years on, and Ally has just been promoted to Head Chef and he’s still just as passionate about seeing others progress as he is about cooking.
Talk to Ally for five minutes and you’ll be drawn in by an infectious enthusiasm for the team and for Kelso itself.
And there are a lot of success stories to be proud of. Take Emma, now Ally’s second in command in a Senior Sous Chef role, who joined Ednam five and half years ago as a commis chef. Emma had been working with Ally at another restaurant back in 2017 when he suggested she joined the Ednam team too. With a lot of hard graft and hands on teaching, Emma’s risen through the ranks via a series of internal promotions. Then there’s Jacob who just four years ago was working front of house at Ednam but keen to get into the kitchen. With guidance from Ally, on the job training and a genuine passion for cooking, Jacob is now heading to join Jason Atherton’s flagship Michelin starred restaurant Pollen Street Social as a Demi Chef de Partie. Ally is sad to be losing a valued member of staff, but you can’t stifle talent and he’s delighted that Jacob has seized this opportunity.
Onto the food itself and Ally is equally enthused. Describing Ednam’s food as classical with a lighter edge. For example, he’s taken a Scottish favourite, Chicken Balmoral: chicken stuffed with haggis, wrapped in bacon and dressed in a whisky sauce and refined it with a haggis bon bon, crispy bacon and “neep” fondant. Still rustic and hearty but with a lighter twist. Also new on the menu is the Scottish Salmon & King Prawns – a light autumnal dish served with beetroot from Ally’s own garden at home, mixed with bean risotto and finished with a refreshing salsa verde.
He’s passionate about using ingredients that are local and in season and the Apple Tarte Tatin just added to the dessert menu is a fine example. Made with apples grown less than half a mile from the hotel and accompanied by a homemade cinnamon ice cream and sultana granola it’s proof that sometimes the simple classics are the best.
Asked about how he plans to balance the ever-rising costs of ingredients with the need to produce fine dining menus and Ally is unfazed. In his view, reducing the cost price is largely effort-based.
Which is why he and the five-strong kitchen team at Ednam House added butchery to their already impressive skillsets. Taking on a whole pig or a hind quarter of a locally sourced steer gives the kitchen greater control of the cuts of meat used in the hotel menus but also saves money. Adopting a ‘nose to tail’ philosophy nothing is going to waste, with so called underrated cuts of meat now incorporated into dishes that are creatively executed by Ednam’s crew of chefs. Not only does the team now have full traceability of the meat, but they can achieve even greater diversification in the menus.
And being Ally, he uses this as an opportunity to teach the more junior chefs where the different cuts of meat come from. Using the whole animal as a teaching tool is proving to be an invaluable way to understand where the most tender cuts are located, and to teach the best ways to prepare and cook each cut. After all the less expensive cuts very often have the most flavour but take more time to prepare and cook.
One of the favourite bar starters at Ednam is the Lorne Sausage with a homemade “broon” sauce, the sausage recipe being one that Ally stole from his butcher uncle. It’s a great way to use up the mince from trimming down the beef, lamb and pork.
The greenhouses in the Ednam gardens are his next target having built up a permaculture hobby at home. He plans to start with lettuces and herbs and no doubt this will be executed with the usual quiet efficiency with which he approaches everything. Growing greens and growing teams.