Name: Mark Heirs
Current Position: Private Chef
Tell us about your current role
I work with my clients, anything from a one-off dinner to taking care of their culinary needs on a more permanent basis. But that’s only half of my year I’m very proud to be the ambassador for Springboard, the hospitality charity, I work mainly with their Future Chef Programme to educate and enthuse young people about cooking and careers in hospitality. In 2017, I worked with 2,400 youngsters and hopefully that number will be a lot higher in 2018. I’m very passionate about safeguarding the future of our industry
How long have you been cooking professionally?
Although I’ve been around professional kitchens since I was about 8 years old I’ve been doing it as my career since I left School at 16, so 16 years now.
Where did you train to cook?
I trained at catering college in Glasgow what was then Glasgow College of Food Technology but is now City College where Masterchef Champion Gary McLean works. Infact, Gary was one of my Lecturers at College.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
Sometimes I must work to very strict guidelines set by my clients but when I have free reign to cook as I please I like to keep my cooking very simple. I tend to use only 2 or 3 ingredients on a plate but I use each ingredient in a couple of ways and I only use ingredients and techniques if they add something to the dish. I’m not one for being extremely technical just for the sake of it.
Do you have a “signature dish”, or a favourite dish you enjoy cooking?
My signature dish over the past few years is one from the summer; it’s a cured Scottish Salmon. I use a very simple cure with a stunning Scottish gin from Arbikie and then there’s some lightly picked cucumber, a crème fraiche dressing and some caviar. Really simple but really effective.
Do you have a favourite ingredient?
That’s a difficult question. I can get very excited over the simplest of fresh ingredients. In the springtime I love Jersey Royals and Wild Garlic but then being based in Scotland we have amazing game birds in Autumn and Winter.
Do you have a favourite local supplier?
I’m very particular about the produce I buy, not just for my clients but for myself too. There are two suppliers I couldn’t be without, infact I’ve flown their produce across the world many times. My fishmonger, George Campbell in Perth, they source stunning seafood from all over Scotland, I had scallops from North Uist last week that were nearly as big as my hand. Only 4 miles from me is Summer Harvest Rapeseed Oil, I love their oil for cooking and dressings.
Is there another chef you admire?
There’s lots and for many different reasons, but the chefs I admire most are Michael Roux Snr and Alain Roux at the Waterside Inn, I had the most amazing dining experience of my life at the Waterside Inn and for them to work at a 3 star level for so many years is no easy feat.
Who is the best chef you’ve worked with and why?
I’ve worked with a lot of really incredible chefs over the years, but the chef who stands out the most for me was John Webber. He was latterly Nick Nairn’s right hand man and ran Nick’s cook school. John is an incredible chef and I still to this day go back to the notes I took while working with John, his recipes never fail. Apart from being an amazing chef he was always so cheery and never lost his temper (from what I saw anyway). I think he’s retired now which is a huge loss to our industry.
What is the one piece of kitchen equipment you could not live without?
My chef’s knife! It’s the one piece of kit that’s in my hand every single day in life. I have a habit of buying really nice knifes, the two I’m using most often just now are a handmade Japanese ITO knife and a Florentine Chefs knife from Madrid.
What is the best restaurant you have eaten at?
Of all time the Waterside Inn in Bray is the best dining experience I’ve ever had but recently I ate at the Frog by Adam Handling and it comes a pretty close second.
Should customers be made to pay for late cancellations?
Yes. You wouldn’t be able to cancel a hotel room or a flight at the last minute and get a full refund so why should you be able to do the same in a restaurant!
What frustrates you most about customers?
Pretending a dislike is an allergy. You rework 3 or 4 courses last minute to accommodate an allergy then they eat said ingredient in another dish because they like it that way.
What is your most awkward/demanding customer experience?
I’m a private chef and work with a lot of high net worth individuals, I’ve had more demanding clients than I’ve had hot meals, but it’s more than my business is worth to share the stories.
Do you look at TripAdvisor reviews?
Never! I’ll look at reviews from other sites but TripAdvisor reviews are so easily faked they are not worth the paper they are written on.
What career advice would you give to your 15-year old self?
Travel more and experience different cuisines early in your career.
What would be your “last request” dish?
That’s easy! Steak Tartare with Skinny Fries. Nothing else comes close for me.
What is your favourite cook book?
Sat Bains: Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian. It’s a great read and it makes me want to eat at Sat Bains more every time a read it.
How do you use social media to help you in your job?
Social media is great to raise your profile I get a lot of requests for private dinners off the back of my Instagram posts.
You appeared in the first series of Masterchef Professionals. How was the experience and would you recommend it to others?
It was certainly not the show it is today when I did it! I thoroughly enjoyed taking part and still get recognised to this day. Although I put that down to repeats of the show on Sky TV. I think if any chef enjoys the limelight then it’s a great show to be on.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?
For me it’s sourcing produce when I’m away with clients, sometimes in countries where I don’t speak the language sourcing can be quite tricky. I’ve starting sending the essentials by Airmail when I’m working abroad.
What’s the worst kitchen injury you’ve had?
I’m very accident prone, I once slipped with a knife and went right through my hand so had it stitched and dressed next day at work I tripped and put my good hand out to stop me falling, right on top of the solid top. I spend the next week with both hands bandaged.
And finally, what is your career ambition?
I’m really enjoying the variety being a private chef brings but I cant keep up these nomadic ways forever so the plan is to end up with a small 20 cover chefs table style restaurant in a few years.