.lfyou only know the name ofone Scottish chefit is likely to be that of David Wilson ofthe Peat Inn in Fife. who is now almost as famous these days for his ebullient personality as for his marvellous food. He has altogether mastered the art of haute cuisine without picking up any of the Prima Donna personality defects of many a culinary virtuoso elsewhere. But then ChefWilson (the title doesn‘t come easily. although he has now been officially created Chef Laureate by the British Gastronomic Academy). has a far from typical and rather inspiring personal background.

The way he tells it. David Wilson fell in love with real French cooking at the same time as he fell for his wife Patricia. Not coincidentally. by any means. ‘In Glasgow in those days you took your girlfriend to the movies. or out dancing. but I can't dance. so I did my wooing in restaurants‘. He remembers the ‘old‘ Rogano as the best place he ate in at that time. but also that ‘the general standard ofeating out in Scotland was pretty poor then. Maybe we were slightly naive. but we definitely felt there was an opportunity to do something better‘. It got to the stage where ‘we talked about running a restaurant even before we were married‘. but in the event he married the girl and shelved the dream. to pursue an upwardly mobile career in the sales and marketing of engineering parts.

By the age oftwenty-nine. living in England and with a first child on the way. the dream had resurfaced. nurtured by gastronomic holidays in France. and could no longer be ignored. He answered an advert in the Telegraph for a commis chefat a restaurant called the ‘Pheasant Inn‘ in Keystone. Huntingdonshire. and despite being ‘too old‘. and having no qualifications or experience. eventually succeeded in selling himselfto the owner and into the job. His first pay packet of£16 arrived at about the same time as his son.

The year he spent at the Pheasant Inn was ‘the basis of my culinary education. and everything else‘. he says. ‘the owner Somerset Moore sort ofadopted me. He taught me all he knew about cooking. and also explained the business side of running a restaurant.’

It was not long before the Wilsons decided to sell their house in England and put the money towards buying a restaurant in Scotland. Their aim was and still is to try and

Lucy Bailey went to Fife to savour the ‘hautest’ cuisine she had ever sampled in her life.

run ‘a French-style auberge. serving the sort of food we enjoyed eating ourselves in France. where you can go into the country and enjoy comfortable accommodation and lovely food.‘

When asked the inevitable question ‘why here'.". he explains that they initially looked for something in the central belt. but couldn‘t find the right place at the right price. and eventually came upon an advert for ‘The Peat Inn. Peat lnn. Fife. telephone Peat Inn 206‘. He remembers saying at the time: ‘If it‘s nothing else it‘s got a marvellous address‘. It also had a lot ofpotential. and he is now happy to list the advantages of being in the ‘middle of nowhere‘. which include the ease of access to local produce and ‘a better class ofcustomer— people who are really interested in food and wine‘. Even so he admits that. in such a position. ‘without the accolades . . . we would have had to


The Peat Inn. Photo by Campbell Brown.

compromise the operation.‘

The Peat Inn has attracted such high praise because of the entire experience it provides the food, wine, ambience. and now the high standard ofaccommodation: the food is ofcourse where the touch of Wilson genius comes into play. but Chef Wilson is keen to stress the importance of ‘the backroom boys‘ in any restaurant, and particularly thinks the standards of pay and working conditions in some parts of the catering business ‘are a disgrace, and bring a bad name to the industry . . . Ifyou treat your staff badly‘, he says, ‘you end up with no staffor rubbish. It‘s very important that you have a good team for consistency‘.

‘I like to get my staffquite young and mould them they might have picked up bad habits somewhere else‘ he says, but when he does get them. at 17 or 18, he pays them £85 a week live-in, with free meals and laundry, a share of tips, and a five

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day week (the Peat Inn is closed on Sundays and Mondays). all year round. which is pretty good going compared to some of the big hotels. for instance. This fair approach and the conscientious training all staff receive inspires loyalty Angus Blacklaws. the sous-chef. has been at the Peat Inn for twelve years now and is the mainstay of the Wilson team. After two years in the restaurant David Wilson always offers to help with placements ifa staff member wants to move on. ‘phoning up professional friends to find the best place for each person. ()ne ex-staff member recently progressed from the Peat Inn to lnverlochy (‘astle and is now working with Bruce Sangster at Murrayshall.

David Wilson‘s own role in the kitchen is as creative director. ‘Every chef has to be a bit of a dictator‘. he says. and this applies to all the basic decisions as to how a dish is to be cooked and presented ‘there are no committee decisions‘.

I went to dinner at the Peat with a friend and felt spoiled and delighted by the hautest cuisine I had ever tasted. We later discovered we had chosen between us four of David Wilson‘s own professed specialities. A wildy flavoured little flan of Arbroath smokies more of a fish mousse with a citrus vinaigrette and toasted pine-nuts and a wonderful fish soup started us off. Loin of very earliest spring lamb with a charlotte of lamb and breast of pigeon with a morel (flown in from France) and truffle (locally bought. a revelation) sauce. made a middle meal sensation. with rosemary flavoured petit pots de chocolat and some fine local unpasteurised farmhouse cheese rounding off the taste experience. The wine. a white burgundy and red bordeaux. among the cheapest but nevertheless a perfect foil to our food. made us well pleased.

Since 1987. the Peat has also offered B&B in The Residence building with eight luxury suites built in the garden and decorated by Patricia Wilson (a textiles graduate from Glasgow). Freshly baked croissants and brioches and Peat lnn preserves make mornings a delight.

The l’eat Inn. Peat Inn. (‘upar. Fife. 033 484 206. Tue—Sat 12 . 30—]pm. 7pm—last orders 9. 30pm. Set luneh £13.50, dinner £29 (tasting menu). See Food List p. ()2 for details on other restaurants where it may be necessary to loosen your belt along with your wallet.

58 The List 30 June 13 July 1989