Interview with a Michelin starred chef: Michael Smith

25th May 2018

Michael Smith, Head Chef and Owner of Loch Bay Restaurant, took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his road to success, his love of Scotland, and share insider tips on the best way to experience the Highlands

Michael Smith became head chef of the Three Chimneys achieving considerable critical acclaim. His style of gastronomy inspired by Scottish tradition and classical techniques received many accolades. Among them, The Three Chimneys was named by New York Times food critic, Franck Bruni, as one of his top 5 destinations in the world. Michael earned a Michelin star in 2014 as Chef Director of The Three Chimneys. In early 2016, Michael opened his own restaurant, Loch Bay. Situated in Stein in the Waternish peninsula of Skye, the small restaurant is described as serving “Contemporary Scottish with classic French influences”.

Aeneas O’Hara (AOH): Before we start, I have to say that I have eaten at the Three Chimneys various times when you were head chef and I ate at Loch Bay just after you opened. All the meals were sumptuous and some of the dishes still stand out in my mind.

Michael Smith (MS): Thanks, that’s very kind of you to say.

AOH: So Michael can you start by telling us who you are, how you became a chef and about your early career?

MS: Sure. I’m from Inverness the capital of the Highlands and it was there that I first started working in the kitchen of a local restaurant aged 15. From then on I quickly decided to pursue a career as a chef and this decision was reinforced in 1988 when I started working in the kitchens of Arisaig House on the west coast of Scotland and where I stayed for 3 years.

After that I moved to London, initially working at Le Gavroche before moving to Le Pont De La Tour and most significantly I spent 4 years as Senior Sous Chef with Jeremy Lee at Blue Print Café. I then decided to move back to Scotland, working in and opening up some of Glasgow’s best restaurants in conjunction with Stefan King owner of G1 Group.

AOH: How did you end up on Skye?

MS: While I was working in Glasgow I had a chance meeting with Shirley Spear, who as you know was Chef/Patron at the Three Chimneys restaurant. We got talking and Shirley asked me about the possibility of taking over from her in the kitchen. So my wife Laurence and I went to Skye to check the island out and we loved it, we felt it was both a fantastic professional opportunity and lifestyle choice for our young family.

It worked out fantastically well and I stayed at the Three Chimneys for 11 years. I like to think that I continued to maintain and enhance the reputation of the Three Chimneys, creating and evolving dishes that reflected the restaurant’s surroundings, specifically utilising as much of the superb Skye and Scottish natural larder as possible.

AOH: What made you move on to set up your own restaurant?

MS: Since I first started to work in local restaurants at the age of 15 it was my dream to have my own place and I accomplished that in early 2016 with Loch Bay. While I wanted to set up my own restaurant we also wanted to stay on Skye as we have been very happy here and my kids have grown up here.

AOH: For those who are yet to visit, how would you describe Loch Bay?

MS: It’s situated in Stein on the beautiful Waternish peninsula of Skye, the restaurant is small, welcoming and full of charm. We offer a 5-course seafood degustation and a set 3-course meal. It is contemporary Scottish cuisine, combining local, seasonal ingredients, perfect cooking and beautiful but simple presentation.

AOH: It’s a fantastic achievement to get a Michelin star after only 18 months of opening. How did it feel?

MS: Well, I suppose it is a good achievement. In reality, it is just a very happy by-product of creating great food, from fantastic local produce in a beautiful environment. For a small restaurant, it is a great accolade and I have been at the stoves every day since Loch Bay has been open. We have only just hired someone to help in the kitchen this season. It is still a restaurant where locals go and they’re very happy to have a Michelin starred restaurant on their doorstep that also serves chips.

AOH: What’s your favourite part of the job?

MS: A restaurant is an organic living entity, so there are lots of moving parts and you’re only as good as your last service. If I have time I like to take a moment during service to hear the sound of a lively and happy restaurant.

AOH: So you like to smell the roses while still planting new ones?

MS: Haha yes that’s it. I might have to use that saying.

AOH: Feel free to adopt it. Lastly, what’s your insider tip for anyone visiting the Highlands of Scotland?

MS: In the nicest possible way… get lost! Don’t be afraid to go down a single-track road and go for a wander, you never know what you will discover or what great people you will meet.

AOH: That’s so true, don’t just stick to the guide book’s path. Thanks very much for your time Michael, I’ll let you get ready for the dinner service and I very much look forward to eating at the Loch Bay again.

MS: My pleasure and hope to see you soon.

Michael has appeared in numerous TV shows like the Great British Menu and in 2011 and 2013 was Scotland’s Food Ambassador during Tartan Week in New York and Toronto. To visit his restaurant, click here: http://www.lochbay-restaurant.co.uk

Read about boat trips to uninhabited islands (including two departing from the Isle of Skye)

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