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“One of my greatest professional regrets,” he says pausing mid-spoonful, “was actually messing up an interview at Disney in my mid-20s.   

“I only had one child at the time, and after visiting Florida a few times the lifestyle had started to appeal to my wife and me.   

“I wanted to be a superstar chef with Michelin stars and knew that to work in America you had to be an expert in your field.   

“A friend of mine arranged the interview with the only British restaurant they had at Disney, the Rose and Crown, which is essentially a big, fast-food fish and chip shop.   

“The first question they asked me was, ‘So, you want to cook fish and chips?’   

“I said, ‘no’, and that was the interview over.   

“We made sure to take a photo there last week.”  

READ MORE: Brian Donnelly: Michelin star chef toasts first Scottish restaurant launch

The Herald:

Fate does indeed work in mysterious ways, and instead of basking permanently in the Floridian sunshine, Maclean now spends the bulk of his time at City of Glasgow College, albeit at their Riverside Campus rather than the sleek city centre demo kitchens he has arranged to meet in today.   

A touch more passion for fried food may have ensured a permanent tan, but surely can’t compare to a trailblazing career in his home country which has in the past decade alone seen him triumph on MasterChef: The Professionals, secure the title of Scotland’s first National Chef and inspire new generations of talent as a college lecturer.   

Next week, will bring yet another milestone with the launch of his second book: Scottish Celebrations: Treasured traditions and contemporary recipes from Scotland, a triumphant journey through a year’s worth of meals to suit every special occasion.   

Stopping momentarily to make sure he has picked up the correctly colour-coded chopping board, eager to uphold the same standards he would expect from his students, Maclean continues: “When I wrote my first book, [Gary Maclean’s Scottish Kitchen] I had the idea to include a chapter on helping people to pull together big events, but I just couldn’t fit it in.   

“It was all about traditions, the sort of food our grannies or great grannies would recognise, and I wanted to follow that up with another that explored how unique Scotland is when it comes to food celebrations.   

“Historically, even when I was growing up, things were quite tough but there were always occasions like Easter to look forward to.   

“Christmas was huge too, and the memories I have of that as a kid are really, really special to me.   

“The idea with the new book is not to focus too closely into the history of these events, but instead to share the family memories and stories that go with them.”   

The Herald:

The result of ten months’ worth of tireless writing is a deeply personal 60,000-word page-turner, seamlessly tying anecdotes with stunning landscape photography and recipes sourced from every nook and cranny of the country from Orkney Broonies to Ecclefechan Tarts.   

“It took a lot of research and phoning pals from far-off places to find out what they ate as kids,” Maclean admits when asked how he managed to build on the wealth of Scottish recipes that were already included in his first book.   

“It’s not all totally traditional and there’s also a good deal of, dare I say it, poetic licence inspired by my personal experiences.   

“The Hogmanay chapter has probably got the most baked goods in it, and that’s based on the fact that my dad would go to somewhere like Greggs or City Bakers and bring back lots of cream cookies or that sort of thing.   

“There’s also a Highland Games chapter because whether it’s the Royal Highland Show or a Highland Games in Stirling, these events are about communities coming together, fundamentally, through food.   

“I go to a lot of Highland Games all over the world these days, and getting to see other countries’ interpretations of our food is really quite interesting.”   

Although its author is these days a celebrity in his own right, there’s an extra serving of star power to be found within the very first pages of the book, with none other than acclaimed actor, Brian Cox, penning a sincere tribute to the work that Maclean has done in putting Scottish food on the map.   

“I had to try and top my last foreword writer,” he jokes, although it’s surely no mean feat to have found a famous Scot to take over the duties from Outlander’s Sam Heughan.   

“I’ve met Brian a few times and I’m a big fan.   

“He’s a worldwide superstar, but also one of the most Scottish people you could ever meet even though he’s been away and worked really hard to make a name for himself.   

“If you read his foreword, you’ll see that he had a tough start in life, which I think has put him in a position where he really appreciates what he has and spends a lot of time helping others.   

“I managed to pull some strings, asked the question and thankfully he was able to do it.”   

One quality of Maclean’s work that the Succession star astutely highlights is an innate appreciation for ‘universality’, with even the most extravagant of celebration dishes using methods and ingredients which are attainable for any home chef.   

“Clootie dumplings, Forfar birdies, haggis mince and tatties were meals for all”, Cox writes while recounting an otherwise lean Dundee childhood, “everyone in Scotland could enjoy similar celebratory meals no matter what their economic situation.”   

Staying true to this shared mantra, Scottish Celebrations is packed full of recipes inspired by dishes which have gone down just as well with MasterChef judges as they have at dinner parties for friends and family.   

The Herald:

Cracking open the industrial oven doors to check on his hangover-busting creation of black pudding with kale and baked eggs, Maclean muses on how this reverence for simplicity has proven to be the key to any successful night of hosting at home.   

“A crucial aspect of this book is that there are no fancy ingredients, and everything is totally accessible.   

“The first rule when cooking for big events is not to stress out and remember that your friends and family will be grateful no matter what you serve them.   

“Everyone has this vision in their head of a perfect Christmas dinner, with turkey cooked in the oven that morning and carved at the table.   

“That’s just not realistic.   

“My foremost memory of growing up was my mum stressing out all day while trying to serve a five-course meal that she would never usually make.   

“Even as a young child, you’re aware of that and would rather have your parents enjoying the day with you.   

“I’ve devoted my life to food and have been a chef for 36 years but have learned that on days like New Year or Christmas, it’s the people who are the most important thing.”

READ MORE:  20 festive food and drink gift ideas for 2023

A quick quiz as to what Christmas Day now looks like in the busy Maclean household of seven is an enlightening experience.   

While sprouts are a popular choice amongst his family, he can only hack them with equal quantities of pancetta or coated in panko breadcrumbs and tangy cheddar as a canape – as per the recipe in his new book.   

And although promising that any ‘chef’s brain’ is left at the door, he is adamant that efficient prep work will save the day from turkey tantrums and dessert dramas.   

“I used to do absolutely everything on Christmas Eve,” he says.   

“Then, one of my sons was born on the 24th so that day became his and we always make sure to do something nice with him.   

“Now I prepare it all on the 23rd, which includes cooking, carving and portioning the turkey so that it’s ready to be warmed on a tray with sauce before serving.    

“Anything you can do in advance relieves a bit of pressure and means that you can spend Christmas morning how it should be, watching the kids open presents.”   

The Herald:

As our photographer snaps his last shot of the day, and the molten, ruby-red cranberry layer of a dozen Carnegie brie tartlets slowly cools, Maclean pulls up a chair to sit for the first time since we met more than two hours ago.   

It’s a momentary pause, and soon he’ll be dashing home to the North of Glasgow to prepare for an evening Zoom meeting before the next few weeks follow a similarly hectic schedule.   

The official book launch party, for example, is scheduled to take place at Bonnie & Wild in Edinburgh on Thursday, November 9.   

Shortly after, it will be time for two live cooking demos at the Mary’s Meals Christmas Market at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on Saturday, November 26 and Sunday, November 26 as the festive season gains momentum.   

It’s enough to make you wonder how anyone has any Christmas cheer left at all come December 25.   

But, as he flicks through the pages of his latest work, the chef smiles and reveals that on the big day itself, you won’t catch him going much further than his own front doorstep.   

“I’ve only ever worked one Christmas Day in my whole career, which is quite impressive as a chef.   

“I’ve actually turned down jobs in the past because I knew they would require me to work on the 25th.   

“One thing that I love is that all the emails and phone calls naturally come to a halt in that period between Christmas and New Year.   

“You know, the week when you wonder if you should even bother getting dressed or just binge-watch Still Game again instead?  

“You don’t get many Christmases with young kids, and most of my life is pretty mad, so I firmly believe it’s a time that’s best spent eating good food and playing with Lego on the carpet.”   

Gary Maclean’s Scottish Celebrations: Treasured traditions and contemporary recipes from Scotland will be published on Thursday, November 9 and priced at £26.00 (Hardback, Black & White Publishing Ltd. part of Bonnier Books UK)   


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