It’s got a few centuries to go before rivalling the longevity of the “auld” one, but a new alliance between Scottish and French chefs is seeking to defend future generations against the invasion of ready meals.
The Budding Chefs exchange, now bigger and better in its fourth year of operation, will see 12 apprentice French chefs and four trainee waiters from the Lycée Hotelier in Dinard, Brittany, arrive in the Capital next week to embark on a whistle-stop tour of producers and markets showcasing the best of the Scottish larder.
Then they will get hands-on experience feeding the foodies of Edinburgh from a pop-up kitchen run by mentors Craig Sandle of The Pompadour by Galvin at the Waldorf Astoria and Fred Berkmiller, chef-patron of the Escargots Restaurants in Edinburgh and co-founder of the Budding Chefs programme.
Then, in October, a group of Scots apprentice chefs and waiters will travel across the Channel for the second leg of the exchange.
Fred Berkmiller says the introduction of the programme was his contribution to the fight against the effects the growth of ready meals and fast food has had on our diets, culinary skills and our social interactions.
He says: “In the last 20 years there has been a growing disconnect between us and our food.
“People used to sit down together to eat and a meal wasn’t just about the food, it was also a time to connect with your family, to discuss and share your day.
“Now eating is something people seem to be in a rush to do – they put a ready meal in the microwave and eat as quickly as they can.
“It’s a real shame, and it’s something that has started to bleed into the food industry. I’ve been in Scotland for 18 years, and in Edinburgh for 16 of those, and I’m seeing youngsters who are really getting left behind, who are coming into kitchens without knowing some of the most basic things about food, and who are unable to keep up with the pace of work because they just don’t have the experience of preparation that everyone their age used to have.”
But rather than simply shaking his head and muttering about “the youth of today”, Mr Berkmiller decided to do something about it – and he’s calling on everyone in the food industry to do the same.
“The Budding Chefs programme still follows the same idea as it did in 2010, but we’ve expanded it to give those taking part as much of a learning experience as possible. The French students will be visiting Blackford Farms in Perthshire where they will see the Wagyu and Angus cattle and they will meet the fishermen discharging their catch of the night at Peterhead’s Fish Market. Everyone who works in the industry has a duty to help pass on their knowledge and skills to the next generation, and we’re really pleased at the number of people who have gotten involved this year.”
And while the French may have the reputation as the best chefs in the world, Mr Berkmiller says the Scots are also swiftly gaining fans for both their skill set and their enviable natural larder.
“If any of the French students come over with a superior attitude, they lose it by the end of the first day. Some of the Scottish chefs have also been nervous about going over to work in the French kitchens, but the confidence boost it gives them when they see that they can keep up is fantastic to see.”
And he’ll get no arguments from Alex Stewart, 20, of The Pompadour at Galvin, who was one of those who took part in the exchange last year.
Alex, who lives in Leith, says: “It was a great experience, and so different from what I expected.
“I had an impression of French cooking being very ‘refined’ but there are so many real, honest, hearty, almost comfort food style, dishes there.
“And the way they buy their food was a real revelation. People will visit markets every day to pick up fresh fruit and veg that’s so local it’s still got the dirt on it.
“I would recommend it to any young chef and I’m looking forward to meeting the chefs coming over next week.”
And it’s not just the young chefs and waiters who can learn something from the Budding Chefs exchange, which this year will include Talking Food – a series of public talks held next Saturday gathering some of the greatest names of the food industry from France, Great Britain and Scandinavia.
Vincent Guérin, director of the Institut français d’Ecosse and co-founder of the Budding Chefs programme, says: “Ten years ago it was difficult to find one good restaurant in Scotland, but there is a real revolution going on nowadays, with lots of passionate people involved. Practices, habits and tastes regarding food are really changing and I believe this is a great time to contribute to the conversation.
“I am very proud that such fascinating guests have accepted our invitation to take part in this event and I can’t wait to see them before a Scottish audience.”
Speakers include restaurant critic Nicholas Lander, French cheese affineur Hervé Mons, gardener Erica Randall, Tom Kitchin, Craig Sandle, and Norweigan sea urchin diver Roderick Sloan. But Mr Sloan will have to survive what may prove to be a more hostile crowd the day before.
Mr Berkmiller adds: “Roderick will be going to Stockbridge Primary to try and get some of the P1-3 children to try periwinkles, or sea snails. I think it will actually be much easier to get the children to try them than it would be to get a group of adults to do it.
“Children are a lot more open minded, and the great thing is that new tastes can help them build memories, and instil a love of food and cookery that will remain with them throughout their lives.”
If you do want to try some new things, the French chefs will be running a pop-up kitchen at The Hub next Saturday, preparing and cooking a five-course menu designed by Craig Sandle and Fred Berkmiller that “brings French and Scottish cuisines together and introduces some of the little known gems of the Scottish aquatic larder”.
Mr Berkmiller says: “Everyone should come along! As well as some truly wonderful and exciting food, you will also be helping us to continue The Budding Chefs programme, which we do not receive any funding for. The students even pay their own airfare.”
For more information, visit http://buddingchefs.net/