A conversation with Tom Lewis is exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. The ebullient chef's mind seems to race at one hundred miles an hour with his words tumbling out faster than you can take them in, rapidly jumping from one idea to another and then off on a tangent, animatedly describing his latest menu, favourite recipe or future business plans. However, his exuberance and enthusiasm is infectious and conveys just how passionate he is, especially when it comes to great quality Scottish ingredients. That passion also extends to Scottish whisky, both as a drink and an ingredient, which he has been able to explore further following his recent collaboration with Glengoyne distillery.
With this latest project adding to Tom’s long list of activities, no wonder he’s so quick-minded. As chef-owner of Monachyle Mhor, Tom already has a lot on his plate.
Along with his brother and sister, Tom transformed his parent’s B&B on the family farm where they grew up into this award-winning hotel and restaurant. Set in the heart of the Trossachs National Park, in a remote spot on the banks of Loch Voil found four miles down a single lane track, the hotel has become a place of pilgrimage for food lovers keen to sample the dishes Tom creates here. Furthermore, the Lewis siblings have also expanded the family business empire under the MHOR label to include a fishmongers and fish and chip shop combination, a bakery and a tea room.
Freshly baked bread from the bakery and seafood from the fishmongers is served in the restaurant, along with beef, lamb, pork, chicken and venison that all comes from the family’s 2,000-acre estate, plus vegetables plucked from the hotel’s kitchen garden. Tom can truly tend to the ingredients from cradle to plate here.To say the food is ‘locally sourced’ really doesn’t do the situation justice.
Although few people are so fortunate to be surrounded by such a bounty of ingredients right on their doorstep,Tom is still keen to encourage this idea of using and celebrating local produce by attending the various local food and drink festivals. It was at one of these events that he first met Stuart Hendry, brand manager at Glengoyne distillery – which is one of the closest distilleries to the Monachyle Mhor estate.
After much animated discussion, both Stuart and Tom realised they were singing from the same hymn sheet in their shared philosophy of quality, provenance and craftsmanship so could see potential for an exciting partnership between Tom’s food and Glengoyne’s range of whiskies. Those initial ideas swiftly transformed into action and just a couple of months later, Glengoyne distillery held its first annual Christmas food fair in December of last year. Free to visitors, the fair featured cookery demonstrations of whisky imbued recipes from Tom as the star attraction as well as a host of other stalls from local food businesses.
The inaugural event proved a great success - although just 500 people were expected, over 5000 visitors attended on the day.With Glengoyne distillery located half-way between Stirling and Glasgow, many had travelled for an outing the whole family could enjoy and were largely people who had not been aware of, or visited, the distillery before. It was clear that highlighting the foodie element and creating a more accessible event had potential to open whisky up to a wider ‘foodie’ audience that appreciates local products and good quality ingredients.
Letting fantastic Scottish ingredients speak for themselves is the main philosophy behind the simple recipes that Tom has developed with Glengoyne. Rather than producing complex and specific dishes matched to a whisky that is drunk alongside the food,Tom uses the whisky as an accent and combines ingredients that help to bring out the character of the malt.
A trip to the distillery helped Tom to get to know Glengoyne’s whiskies better and appreciate the craftsmanship involved. “When I was invited along to a blending of the 12 Years Old, I envisaged a romantic idea of 40 to 50 casks on the table, where we would try them all and then make a whisky and actually, that is still how it happens - It’s wonderful.” Tom exclaims. “Whisky is not something made by computers or by pushing a button. It’s still made by people using their senses.”
The process of developing each recipe was based on sensory appreciation.“It’s no good just lobbing in any old whisky as you need to keep things balanced and make sure it enhances the dish.”
As a lighter aperitif-style whisky, Glengoyne 10 Years Old has a fresh citrusy quality that Tom instantly envisaged working well with seafood so paired juicy Scottish scallops served with an orange butter sauce.
Tom’s a big fan of whisky seafood combinations.“When I run my fish cookery classes, I love making simple dressings by mixing whisky with olive oil,”he explains. “With fish it’s as much about the texture and fattiness as the taste, and whisky works really well to emphasise those textures and cut through the fat.”
The concept of using whisky in accompanying sauces extends with his recipe for an apple and pear chutney, a sweet yet savoury relish to serve with terrines, baked ham or game.
Tom also favours pickling ingredients in whisky, a method used in two recipes with the 12 Years Old.With roast partridge, he added radishes pickled with whisky, the earthy character of the Glengoyne 12 Years Old echoing the earthiness of the game meat.The same idea applies to one of Tom’s most recent recipes,Venison Carpaccio and Balquidder Chanterelles pickled in Glengoyne 12 Years Old, where the venison brushed with the mushroom liquor.
Steeping ingredients in whisky also works for Tom’s version of a traditional Scottish black bun, soaking the dried fruit overnight in the sherry-matured Glengoyne 21 Years Old to create a really moist filling for the spicy fruit cake.
The cake would be the ideal thing to serve at the next Glengoyne Christmas food events although current building work at the distillery sadly means we will have to wait until next year for much anticipated follow up to the first festive fair. However, there’s plenty more food and fun ahead for this fine Scottish pairing of Monachyle Mhor and Glengoyne whisky. The distillery’s participation at other upcoming food events such as ScotFest means visitors can still get a taste of these whisky recipes.Tom is also brought down to Glengoyne to cook dinners for special guests, enjoyed in the reception room overlooking the distillery’s waterfall and loch.The distillery kitchen may be smaller to work in than Tom is used to… but as you will already have guessed, this is a chef who likes a challenge.
- Scallops with Fennel,Peas and Glengoyne 10 Years Old malt Whisky and Orange Butter Sauce
- Apple,Pear,Chutney/Relish with Glengoyne 17 Years Old malt Whisky
- Roast Partridge,Meatloaf,Pickled Radish and Black Pudding Purée with Glengoyne 12 Years Old malt Whisky
- Venison Carpaccio and pickled Balquidder Chanterelles,with Glengoyne 12 Years Old
- Black bun with Glengoyne 21 Years Old
Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Perthshire, FK19 8PQ
Telephone: +44 (0)1877 384622www.mhor.netGlengoyne Distillery
Dumgoyne, Near Killearn, Glasgow, G63 9LB
Telephone: +44 (0)1360 550254www.glengoyne.com