Cail Bruich features in various news sites, food blogs and lifestyle magazines. The list below gives you a taste of what people are saying about the Cail Bruich experience.
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Glasgow chef Chris Charalambous on spending a month at the world's best restaurant.
The image of a chef sitting with his head in his hands is an alarming one. But when I meet Chris Charalambous, that's exactly what he's doing.
The 28-year-old chef patron of Cail Bruich in Glasgow's West End has just returned from Copenhagen, where he spent a month in the kitchen of the world's best restaurant, an experience he describes as “the most exciting of my professional life”. To say he's come back to earth with a bump is something of an understatement.
“One of my staff hasn't turned up today and they're not returning my calls,” he wails. “It's just not good enough, as we're fully booked for dinner, but sadly it's typical of the attitude of too many young staff in Glasgow today.
“I feel frustrated being back. Finding good staff is a huge issue. They want the wage but they don't want to put in the hours.”
Contrast this with the culture at Noma, voted the world's best place to eat by Restaurant magazine two years in a row -- an accolade said to mean more than Michelin stars. Noma has 30 full-time chefs who work 17-hour days six days a week, with few absences On top of that, chef and co-owner Rene Redzepi accepts around 25 unpaid “stagiaires” each year who come from all over the world to learn from those at the top of the profession -- chosen from the 60,000 who apply every year.
Charalambous, from Torrance, was one of the lucky ones. “They said ‘yes' straight away. I was extremely lucky. I chose to do only one month with them because I cannot take more time away from my own kitchen or my young family, but I could have done more.”
He adds: “Speaking with Rene, whom I met both in the kitchen and socially, it was clear that he likes the Scots. Yet he doesn't meet many.”
Charalambous, who travelled at his own expense and bunked up for free at a Belgian sous-chef's flat, joined chefs from the world's top kitchens, including El Celler de Can Roca in Gerona, the world's Number Two; the three-star French Laundry in California and Per Se in New York; the two-star Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham; Hotel de Crillon in Paris, and Tom Aikens in London.
“I learned a lot from them in terms of the way they approach their work and organise themselves,” says Charalambous, who has four chefs in his own kitchen. “It's all on a different level, like being in another stratosphere. Their focus and commitment is incredible.”
He thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of being on the Production section for the first week, where he foraged for and prepped wild herb and vegetables, and on the Snacks section for the remainder (Noma doesn't use the Mediterranean term “amuse bouches”).
The name Noma is an acronym of Nordisk (Nordic) and Mad (food) and is at the forefront of the current international trend for “new naturals” and the celebration of local ancient terroirs. Redzepi says he regards using only Nordic produce as “a personal challenge to help bring about a revival of Nordic cuisine”.
He has a team of some 60 dedicated suppliers to bring him local produce such as Greenland musk ox, Icelandic skyr curd and foraged wild herbs and berries. One of them is Scots fisherman Roderick Sloan, who dives for sea urchins and mahogany clams exclusively for Noma. “I have around five suppliers here in Glasgow,” smiles Charalambous wryly.
Although classically trained, Redzepi eschews the classic Mediterranean basics such as olive oil, foie gras, sun-dried tomatoes and black olives and, alongside new cooking techniques, has revitalised age-old skills such as smoking, salting, pickling, drying, grilling and baking on slabs of basalt stone. His 12-course menu, with wine, lasts more than four hours and costs around £250 per person.
“At Noma they do 100 covers every day for lunch and dinner. It was full-on, and even with 30 chefs in the kitchen it required us to work flat out,” says Charalambous.
“The snacks go out first, before the main menu is served, so they need to be done very quickly. It's an extremely busy section with 10 chefs crammed into a tiny space, and we started at 6am and didn't finish until at least 10.30pm. Most days we didn't get to take our 45-minute break. It was very, very intense but fantastic for me as a chef. I liked meeting the customers, and their appreciation of the food made it all worthwhile.
“There would be two staff meetings every day to talk over customers' preferences and to learn their names by heart. That kind of experience is invaluable for what I want to do in Glasgow. I'd say that without any doubt it was the best culinary experience of my life.”
Some 80% of the menu at Noma, including desserts, is vegetable-based, which means a lot of preparation is required.
“When it comes down to it, a carrot's just a carrot, and to make anything of it takes a lot of work.”
Deep-fried reindeer moss dusted with cep powder is one of the snacks. Another is seabuckthorn leather served with pickled rosehip petals. “The seabuckthorn is mixed with pectin and set, then cut into thin squares. I liked it because it but it's a very difficult plant to work with because the fruit bruises as soon as you pick it, so you have to cut off whole branches at a time, and they are very prickly.”
A sandwich of crispy chicken skin and crisp rye bread with a smoked cheese, lumpfish roe and dill filling was typical of the deceptively detailed use of ingredients. “It was very creative and the work that goes into every snack is mind-boggling.”
ut a dish of smoked and pickled quail egg took the biscuit. The tiny egg, pickled in apple vinegar, is served at table inside a ceramic egg packed with lit hay. The diner is instructed to open and eat the egg within ten seconds. A puff of aromatic smoke comes out and the egg is eaten whole. “This gives the egg a smoky flavour while adding theatricality to the start of the evening,” says Charamboulos, who trained at Glasgow Metropolitian College and whose parents Isabella, from Possil, and Demetrious, from Lancarna in Cyprus, used to run Cafe Bella in Port Dundas, Glasgow.
So does he think Glaswegians are ready for this kind of food? “We're quite a young restaurant, but we have a customer base of open-minded foodies who I know will enjoy my Noma-inspired dish of green and white asparagus with pine shoot dust. The pine shoots are taken from trees in the Botanic Gardens, dried out, whizzed with rosemary and sea salt, and sprinkled over the white asparagus and green aparagus puree.
“You can't just steal somebody else's ideas. You have to keep within your means. But I do think our food could be as light and local as Copenhagen's. In Scotland we're still stuck in a culture where people want to be filled up with one or two courses. We want our protein and we want our starch. Yet Copenhagen and Edinburgh/Glasgow are on the same latitude and I see no reason why Glasgow can't get away from its reliance on heavy Mediterranean-influenced pizza, pasta and chips.
“Most top chefs are breaking free of classical methods to try new ideas and use new ingredients. It's time Glasgow woke up to that. Too many restaurants in the city are doing the same things.”
In a bid to spread the word about what he is trying to do, Charalambous will appear at the Taste of Edinburgh food festival for the first time this weekend. He will prepare three tasting dishes, heavily influenced by his experience at Noma: smoked salmon with wild herbs, lemon puree and pickled elderflowers; beef cheek cooked in hay and brown butter, and his green and white asparagus dish.
But for the moment his big bugbear is not the customers; it's the quality of staff. “Nobody is training chefs properly any more because they are buying in their ingredients pre-prepared,” he says. “Chefs working in chain restaurants can be paid at a rate of £6.50 an hour, which means they can take home £350 a week. Those restaurants can afford to pay that, but they don't make creative chefs because they're just following the menu.
“I believe this creates a culture where they're only in it for the money and not to increase their culinary knowledge. This is a particular problem in Glasgow. I find this culture is very stuck in its ways.
“It some ways it was easier doing 17-hour days at Noma than it is working here,” he adds, only half-joking.