Peter McKenna – Chef and Co-Owner of The Gannet, Glasgow
Peter McKenna has over 20 years experience in professional kitchens. Chef Peter started his career in rural Ireland in the mid-1990s, but should see a lot more of the world soon. He has been working as a Chef in the Hague, London, Sydney. As the personal chef of a Saudi prince, Chef Peter has spent four years learning about the most beautiful food cultures in the world, such as Sardinia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the French Alps.
Today he is Chef and Co-Owner of The Gannet, Glasgow, and he knows about the importance of seasonal cooking.
Peter McKenna – Chef’s Portrait
Chef Peter, you have completed training as a Chef at Killybegs Tourism College in Ireland. How is Irish cuisine different from Scottish?
I trained in Killybegs, Ireland. Back in 1997 the whole catering industry was a different world to the one we now know.
From my experience Irish kitchens and their UK counterparts are very similar in many retrospect’s both being mainly derived from the old brigade system.
The current wave of vogue food styles and trends are the same with accessibility to recipes and images via the internet, a restaurant in remote Cork can have the same influences as one is the outer Hebrides.
As a young Chef de Partie, you have worked in Australia for more than a year. How has this time influenced your culinary style?
I was fortunate to have worked for Liam Tomlin at Banc restaurant in Sydney the year they won Australian restaurant of the year.
I was exposed to world class standards, were second best was not acceptable, needless to say it wasn’t easy but nothing worthwhile is.
I was sponsored by the restaurant and really embraced by the whole team, I was 21 / 22 / 23 at the time and the experience really shaped me into the chef I am today.
Later, you worked as a Head Chef on Coral Island. What were your culinary specialties there?
On Coral I joined as joint chef, supporting a good friend in a world I previously didn’t realise existed (up until this I was totally focused on my cooking in restaurants)
The super yacht was owned by a Saudi Prince and only used for private use.
Being quite a modern Prince, he wanted a Mediterranean diet, Fresh fish, artisan cheese and pasta dishes where always available.
Vongole, whole snapper or bass salt baked, simple vine riped cherry tomato pasta and dessert of flourless chocolate cake or delice would be a regular menu, evenings we served elaborate buffets to the good and the great.
During your time as a sous chef at Abode, the restaurant was named the Scottish Restaurant of the Year by the CIS Excellence Awards, and has been winning several other Scottish hotel awards. What has made it so successful?
The two Michelin stared chef Michael Cains had his name over the door but our head chef Craig Dunn controlled what was put on the menu and I was able to collaborate with him with ease.
Using the best ingredients we could find in Scotland at the time and looking inward rather than following trends proved to be a wise move one we still do at the Gannet today.
We had a very close nit team that worked every service (we only opened 5 days) and everyone really cared about the product we were serving.
Glasgow, the Scottish port city where you work today: What are the culinary specialties here?
This depends on who you ask, some might say fish and chips others haggis, Glasgow is such a multicultural city its culinary footprint goes from brilliant Indian (north to south) Italian, traditional and now modern Scottish.
For me specialities change with the seasons: in the summer we have incredible silver darlings (more widely known as herring), late summer/autumn grouse (for me a true taste of Scotland), winter hand dived scallops (always at the best in cold waters ) and spring wild garlic/leeks, mushrooms and locally grown asparagus.
Today you work as Managing Director and Chef of The Gannet in Glasgow – a small independent restaurant with high quality food and specialties: modern Scottish. How do you define modern Scottish food?
For me Scottish food is defined by the ever-changing ingredients available to us throughout the year, whether wild, cultivated of artisanal.
The modern aspect comes with the techniques and presentation we use.
Do you work with local producers/food suppliers? (market place on Cook Concern)
Our whole menu is comprised of a collection of relationships that we developed with our suppliers, we regularly visit and have an open conversation with the farmers, foragers and artisan producers that are an integral part of our team.
Seasonal cooking often limits the variety in the winter months. How do you overcome these months?
We embrace it, during the winter months the menu is peppered with root vegetables, they are abundant and the variety in flavours and textures are incredible. Game is plentiful and our many different types of shellfish and seaweeds are at their prime condition.
Which spice best describes the Scottish and your kitchen?
It would have to be juniper, we have a steady supply of fresh juniper coming from our foragers, branches we use to smoke over and the berries dried.
Traditionally the staple Scottish dish of haggis would be flavoured with juniper and of course the every popular spirit gin uses it amongst other botanicals.
How would you describe your own culinary style today?
We have stripped back our dishes over the years, really pulling apart each ingredient to its core.
We are product driven and don’t follow trends, for us flavour and texture is key.
We have one foot in the past and one in the present in regards to technique.
Can you share some of your latest creations with us? (recipes of top chefs)
On the menu at the moment we have hand dived scallops from the Isle of Skye, we open then brine them, they are dressed with elderflower and served with horseradish creme fraiche, apple & radish. This is a simple dish but has a major flavour and visual impact.
Jerusalem artichokes are incredible at this time of year, we grow these locally. They are turned into a terrine, confit, purée and make crisps out of the skins, a thyme emulsion dresses this dish.
Game is incredible at this time of year at we have a great supply of Scottish truffles (yes Scottish) we have a partridge dish on with parsley root, scorched sweetheart cabbage, heather honey Caramelised onions, Scottish truffle.
If you would have the resources to come up with a culinary book – what would it be about?
Scottish food through the seasons, we have really defined seasonal changes and these could be reflected really well in book form, saying that I don’t think the world needs another cookbook. (laughs)
Is there any place in the world you would like to work as a chef one day? (international job offers on Cook Concern)
I have been lucky in my career to date, I experienced working in restaurants in the Hague, London, Sydney, Dublin in my early career.
I went on to work as the personal chef for a Saudi Prince for four years, spending time on his yacht and villas in Sardinia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and French Alps.
I also worked for a Russian oligarch spending time in the Maldives, Adriatic coastline and Mediterranean.
Having cooked at the devour festival in Nova Scotia last year I would love to explore Canada more, no better way to discover a country than through its food!
That’s right! There is much to discover in the food culture of countries around the world! Thank you, Chef Peter!
The culinary journey of Chef Peter is impressive. Where do you want to go? Where have you been already?
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