Edinburgh restauranteurs set out on new culinary adventure
AWARD-WINNING restaurateurs Scott and Laura Smith are up against the clock. Surrounded by workmen, the married couple, who until recently ran the acclaimed restaurant Norn on Henderson Street, survey the premises.
In just two weeks, this ‘building site’ will be transformed into Fhior, a hotly anticipated addition to the Capital’s fine dining scene.
It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind for the pair who dramatically revealed they were moving on from Norn just a few hours before it won Best Restaurant, at the Edinburgh Restaurant Awards.
Consequently, the last three weeks have proved difficult for Scott and Laura.
Leaving Norn, which together they built up from scratch over two years, has been more of a wrench than they expected.
Chef Scott is obviously emotional as he declares how proud he is of what they achieved.
“That award meant a huge amount, in fact, I’m going to struggle to talk about it...” he says, as Laura steps in.
“It took us by surprise, but to be able to accept it on behalf of, not just Scott’s work, our work, but on behalf of the team as a recognition of what the last two years had been was a great way to round it all off.”
Composed, Scott adds, “It was two years of really hard work to get Norn to that position and a testament to the whole team.
“A really lovely way to cap off my time there.”
The concept of Scott’s cooking is one that stems from his upbringing in Ellon, a small town just outside Aberdeen.
It was there he honed his passion for using fresh produce.
“I don’t have strong memories of cooking as a kid but I know I did because my mum keeps telling the story of how, when I was three, I climbed onto the kitchen cabinet to help her.
“But instead of adding gravy granules to the pot, I used hot chocolate instead,” he laughs.
Despite that early mishap, by the age of 18, Scott had realised cooking was what he loved.
“In terms of cooking as a career, I don’t really know where it came from, but my mum and my Gran always had their own gardens, so I was brought up using fresh produce,” he reflects.
Laura chips in, “Food is very central to your family...”
“Yes, holidays when we were younger would be planned around our meals, where we would have lunch and then have dinner, it was all about the produce.
“Laura’s laughing because I still do that now,” adds the 29-year-old.
Having been brought up with that appreciation of good food, Scott got a job in a small Aberdeen bistro as a dish washer when he was 15.
“Doing that, experiencing the excitement of the kitchen and watching the way the chefs operated, gave me the bug,” he says, explaining, “As a kitchen porter you get involved in some of the preparation, a lot find that monotonous but I really enjoyed it.”
It was in those early day that he was given sound advice.
“I was told that if you want to cook creatively, don’t work for anyone for too long because you become institutionalised into their way of cooking.
“When you leave, all you are doing is cooking their food with a little twist of your own.
“So I have always been really careful not to allow that to happen.”
Scott started developing his own style of cooking long before opening Norn.
“The concept was built four or five years before, so we knew what we were going to do when we opened Norn,” affirms Laura.
That concept includes taking advantage of nature’s larder, and while Scott and Laura are currently watching as Fhior takes shape around them, their kitchen team are already out foraging “somewhere in East Lothian.”
“Without giving away specific locations there are some pretty good foraging spots in South Edinburgh too,” says the chef.
“It’s about connecting with what is out there and there is so much.
“Right now, wild garlic is abundant, as are wild leeks and garlic mustard, which is also known as Jack by the Hedge.
“Then you have Wood Avens, which taste a bit like cloves but have some spice to them, seaweed, which is fantastic at this time of year, you just have to get the tides right, and we are also going into elder flower season...”
“And mushrooms,” reminds Laura.
“Yes, mushrooms are kicking off everywhere,” Scott agrees.
Cooking is not about following recipes, he insists, but about working with what is available.
“I’ve always had an issue with following process and my style of cooking is ingredient led,” he admits.
“I don’t look at an ingredient and think about a repertoire of recipes I’ve learned, I look at it and at what is around right now that will compliment it.”
Is it an approach that harks back to that childhood family garden?
“Nobody has ever said that before, but it’s probably spot on, that’s exactly where it comes from,” he agrees.
“From working with my mum and with the produce that was there.
“We didn’t go to the shops to buy what we needed for a recipe from a book, we worked with what we had.
“That probably has a lot to do with where my cooking comes from.”
Scott’s responsibilities, however, won’t be confined to the kitchen when Fhior opens on 1 June.
Laura explains, “The kitchen doesn’t ‘stay in the kitchen’ very well in our concept.
“The chefs bring out the food, which is really nice in terms of creating a team where everyone, front and back of house, work together.
“Scott will be running the kitchen but also overseeing the front of house operation.
“We want guests coming in to ‘meet the family’ and for their visit to be a food experience as opposed to just coming out for dinner.”
The 35-year-old continues, “Going on what we have done before, having the interaction of a chef explaining a dish they have worked on all day, and been thinking about all week is a very different experience to a waiter telling you what in on your plate.
“It’s also important the kitchen see how the guests react to their creation too.”
Put simply, says Scott, “Our focus, in one word, is hospitality, something that gets forgotten in a lot of places.”
Both agree that Fhior (which means truth) is very much a labour of love, and with very good reason, family and friends have rallied to help get it off the ground.
Laura reveals, “Financially, Fhior has taken whatever pocket money we had as well as our parents pensions, for which we are very grateful.”
Scott adds, “And they need that money back, so this has to work.”
If Scott and Laura’s past achievements are anything to go by, they might not have to wait too long.
Fhior, 36 Broughton Street, www.fhior.com