In Conversation with Executive Chef Gary Robinson
Food & Drink
13 October 2020
Executive Chef Gary Robinson arrived at The Balmoral in June 2019, returning to his Scottish homeland after travelling the world and gaining over 25 years of global culinary experience. We sat down with Gary to discuss the hotel’s reopening and the exciting new culinary experiences guests can now expect at Edinburgh’s most prestigious address.
How have things been for you and your team since the hotel reopened?
It’s been pretty wild to be perfectly honest with you. We reopened The Balmoral under very unusual circumstances and it feels as though we’ve come back to a brand new hotel.
We’ve got the right attitude and incredible suppliers so now our focus is finding new and exciting ways of working that showcase all of our chef's talent and creatively, whilst complying with all guidelines. It's all about being reactive and agile at the moment.
What can guests now expect when they stay at The Balmoral?
Well, many things are the same - we are still cooking delicious, tasty food and welcoming our guests in a very safe environment, which is what we do best.
However, guests will certainly see some changes when they visit us over the coming months. A great example of this is the new initiative we are launching right now - The Curfew Club.
We see this new concept as the perfect antidote to the nationwide curfew. If you’re staying at The Balmoral, you’ll see a new in-room menu which allows you to spend your evening in the safety of your room or suite. Alongside virtual whisky tastings and in-room cocktail creations, you can also enjoy a complimentary movie night accompanied by a collection of show-stopping dishes.
The new menu features classic movie snacks with a decadent Balmoral twist. For example, there’s a club sandwich on every 5 star hotel in-room dining menu across the world. But for our Curfew Club menu, we’re doing a club sandwich with brioche, heritage tomatoes, butter poached lobster from East Lothian, pork belly which we’ve cooked Char Siu style and mayonnaise flavoured with wasabi.
We’re also offering a macaron “burger”. It’s a sweet treat with macaron shells which we’ve made to look like the bun of a burger (even topped with sesame seeds) accompanied by a chocolate parfait which sits in the middle of the macaron shells to represent the burger patty itself. We then top that with a sheet of ‘cheese’, which is made from mirabelle plums so that it drapes over the top and we also add a touch of raspberry gel to represent the ketchup. We’ve even poached little slices of pear to represent the gherkins! It’s luxury but it’s also different, topical and - dare I say it - Instagrammable.
We’re offering a culinary service in your room (which we should be doing) but we’re adding a bit of humour into the food and we’re having fun making it. If you’re here on holiday or for a treat, then why wouldn’t you want to have a bit of fun?
What was your inspiration behind the new Curfew Club dishes?
We wanted to create food that would capture people’s attention. It also has to be the type of snack you can enjoy while being comfortable in your room, relaxing and watching a movie. As a result, there’s nothing on the menu that requires extensive cutlery set ups or accompaniments; all you need is the dish itself and there you go. Prop yourself up on the bed and watch your favourite movie while tucking into a pizza - that was the inspiration.
Talking about pizza, the one we have developed is a pizza like no other. We take a beautiful base and we top this with mascarpone which has been blended with a little bit of truffle oil. We then bake the base through the oven until it is crispy at the edges and top it with our own Balmoral cure smoked salmon, a touch of crème fraîche, chopped chives and caviar. It’s a real head-turner but, at the end of the day, it’s a pizza that you can put on your lap while watching the television in the comfort of your bed.
What is your favourite comfort food to cook for yourself at home and why?
My favourite comfort food to cook at home has to be a roast chicken. It might not be suitable as a snack in bed, but a properly roasted chicken would be my personal go to choice. At home, we cook a roast chicken at the weekend and whatever is leftover will become a chicken noodle broth on the Monday and possibly even a chicken risotto on the Tuesday. That for me is comfort, because you’re being smart about your meal planning. It’s also the perfect meal for bringing the family together around the table at the end of a long week.
Having now been at The Balmoral for over a year, what makes this hotel such a special place for you?
I’ve been at the hotel for a year and a half now and it’s been a fantastic journey. When I initially joined the team, I had some very big shoes to fill. Jeff Bland, my predecessor, had been here for over 22 years and was an absolute legend in the industry. He had obviously run this hotel incredibly well for so many years so it was daunting for me at first. The Balmoral was always a place I had admired and I always thought I would work here one day, but I never chased it down - it was simply a fortuitous series of events that brought me here. Joining such an established business with such a loyal following was quite tough and still is quite tough because the standards we need to uphold each day are massively demanding.
That being said, I am incredibly fortunate that I joined an established institution with such great people across the business. The chefs that I have the pleasure of working alongside are so varied in their talent and character but collectively it’s just a great bunch of human beings who are devoted, loyal and incredibly creative and talented.
It’s incredibly easy to develop exciting new initiatives such as The Curfew Club when you are surrounded by really good people. I was always taught by a wonderful old colleague of mine: ‘Never be afraid to surround yourself with talent. Never be afraid to hire someone who’s better at something than you are.’ Evidently, I have those people around me and it makes my job truly enjoyable.
What are you most looking forward to as we come into Autumn?
Autumn in Scotland is an amazing time of the year and is probably my favourite season. We’re still at the tail end of the mushroom season and we’ve still got some great berries in the hedgerows. Blackberries and brambles are at their absolute best, pears & apples have started to come in and we’re seeing some brilliant winter vegetables coming through. We’re so fortunate to have this amazing seasonal produce and we’re thick in the game season at the moment too.
Now that the temperatures have dropped in the oceans, rivers and lochs, we’re seeing fish and shellfish in particular becoming great again. We probably have a little while to go until they are at their absolute best, as shellfish like really cold water - that’s why they thrive so much in Scotland.
Traditionally, we’re at the end of the festival season and we have this slight lull before we kick into Autumn and look ahead to the festive season. We didn’t have the luxury of the festival in Edinburgh but there is an energy and optimism in the air. We know there are good times ahead and we are able to use this period of time to be more creative than ever before.