Against the backdrop of the picturesque view of River Turret, mystical forests and dramatic hills, Chef Mark Donald unfolds a heartfelt narrative through his culinary craft at The Glenturret Lalique Restaurant.
The Glenturret Distillery, carrying a history dating back to 1763, is Scotland's oldest working distillery. And its fine-dining experience, The Glenturret Lalique Restaurant, is the first Michelin-starred restaurant in a distillery in 2022. It is here that Chef Donald truly connects his culinary craft to his soul and Scottish heritage. Through his menu, the Scottish chef narrates a bildungsroman, recounting the journey of a young lad from Glasgow who embarked on a creative, navigating unexpected paths across four continents, to ultimately rediscover his roots. With an extensive selection of over 400 whiskies, Chef Donald pays homage to the distillery's magical quality.
1. What does cooking mean to you?
That's a huge question. It is everything to me and has been for many years. Cooking can be many things, but if I break it down to brass tacks, the genesis point is that I like to make people happy, laugh and smile.
I was good in school but drawn toward the more creative art studies. I stood in both of my sister's shadows in the artistic department as I was never conventionally good at it. Through cooking, perhaps I've found another way; maybe my medium was just different, and I found my expression on the plate and in how I make a guest feel. Or maybe I'm just lucky to do what I love and good at flipping burgers. Ha! My approach to cooking in the restaurant is more holistic, taking everything into account for the guest and team, ensuring everything is in sync, ticking right for the right reasons, and feeding the whole scenario rather than just my ego.
At home, cooking is very accessible and straightforward and accompanied by music(always).
2. How would you describe your culinary journey so far?
Unplanned, with the exception of a few things I wanted to do. I started cooking as a result of a job washing dishes, and I would jump on the line every chance I could when the chefs were outside smoking. I kept cooking because I, like a lot of cooks, found chaos and peace in the same place. It's an addictive environment.
I started in busy pubs and moved into more and more refined venues. I learned to cook properly before entering the starred kitchens. The discipline that comes with those places came later and was a skill I lacked at the time. Would I change that journey? No. I have worked alongside plenty of chefs who can execute so many intricate technical dishes on someone's repertoire. Still, they couldn't roast a chicken properly or touch something and know it was ready without a water bath or thermometer. I wouldn't advocate my path, but it has been the right one for me. My journey is more of a marathon and less of a race.
"Cooking can be many things, but if I break it down to brass tacks, the genesis point is that I like to make people happy, laugh and smile."
- Chef Mark Donald
3. How would you define Scottish cuisine?
Scottish cuisine is generally typecast as either heavy or deep-fried. Stereotypically unhealthy. And whilst there's no smoke without fire, there is much more Scotland has to offer on a gastronomic front.
We have a fantastic array of shellfish, most of which is exported to the highest bidder as it's so good. Game, wild mushrooms and berries, in particular, are the best I have tasted the world over. There are a lot more chefs cutting their teeth in the best kitchens in the world and coming back home to head up something serious in the motherland. This wouldn't be an option if the produce couldn't match that of the restaurants they had previously worked.
What is Scottish cuisine? Watch this space….
4. The Glenturret Lalique is the first Michelin-starred restaurant inside a distillery. What do you love the most about The Glenturret Lalique?
Free Whisky. And, of course, the shared desire to pour your heart and soul into what you do. Everyone here has a different role, but our purpose and process are united. But don't underestimate the value of free whisky. : )
Photo: Marc Millar
"Free Whisky. And, of course, the shared desire to pour your heart and soul into what you do."
- Chef Mark Donald
5. What are you inspired by?
Colour, art, travel, weather, surroundings. Determined and headstrong people.
6. How would you describe a dining experience at The Glenturret Lalique?
Lunch is quite casual, and we can organise it for distillery visitors to be before or after a whisky tour. It's a three-course lunch but designed for snacking with a glass of wine if you wish.
Dinner is more intimate, immersive and engaging, with some dishes finished tableside.
We serve a tasting menu at dinner with optional beverage matches. The restaurant is small, so guests enjoy their table for the evening. It is quite a special experience with plenty of space for guests to forget about everything else for a night and enjoy the moment. Just sit back, enjoy and roll into the lounge by the fire afterwards for a wee dram.
Photo: Marc Millar
All imagery is provided by Lotus International.