Featuring Robert Corrigan latterly of Mr C's Pies
How long have you been a chef?
I started cooking in a professional kitchen on 14th February 1969. A Saturday job at a Stakis Steakhouse. I turned 15 the following week. In the June the chef went on holiday and I was the “chef” for university graduation week. Although I went on to train as a hotel manager, I knew that I could always cook if needed.
When training at Glasgow College of Food Technology I attended college full time. I worked 40 hours “part time” at the Burnbrae Hotel in Milngavie.
Why did you become a chef?
I had an inbuilt desire. I played with pots, pans and wooden spoons from the age of one. I made stoves and chip shop pans out of Lego. My aunt taught me how to gut and bone herring using my thumbs before I went to primary school.
My mum was a basic cook and I learnt a lot from her about food quality and shopping. She never baked so I started to bake when I was 14. She made jam, but gave up when I was 11 years old because I made my first jam and it set perfectly.
I love feeding people, it is such a pleasure to see others enjoying your food. It can be anything from a simple breakfast to a seafood banquet. It is the ability to share your skills with others. I can’t stand those who will not share their recipes and techniques with others. We are here to teach and pass on our knowledge to others.
This is a very difficult question. I love meat, fish and vegetables. For me every season is a food adventure, stews and soups in winter, different potato varieties. I love all brassicas, soft summer fruits and berries. I buy from local fruit shops, bakers, fishmongers and butchers.
If I have to choose only one it has to be onions, they are essential in so many dishes.
Favourite or signature dish
I do not really have a “signature dish” as I enjoy cooking so many different foods.
I like good quality ingredients cooked simply: grilled fish, steaks, roast meats and poultry. I love making classic stocks and sauces, but for others not for me. A Dover Sole Colbert is a treat.
A proper, traditional pork pie with hot water pastry and pork stock jelly is also a very special favourite. I also love a steak and kidney casserole, or a bowl of Cullen Skink. Seasonal vegetables and very buttery mashed potatoes. Simple food, cooked well.
If I was pushed to nominate one, then in memory of my mum it would have to be roast duck in orange sauce.
Favourite kitchen tool or equipment (apart from sharp knives)
Well, I have a very large selection of wooden kitchen utensils that I add to when I travel. Useful and a memory too.
Today I would have to say my Bamix blender and grinder. I have had one for 10 years. A wonderful friend in the kitchen.
I am not a great “celebrity chef” lover. But I don’t think of these wonderful chefs as celebrities, more as heroes: Keith Floyd, Gary Rhodes, Andrew Fairlie, Brian Turner and Anton Mosimann. They did so much for our industry by their inspirational teaching and their desire to inspire others to cook and share their knowledge.
Any food you can’t/won’t eat
I won’t eat raw fish/shellfish. I also do not like bitter leaves, porridge and salty anchovies.
I have travelled a little in my life and have tried many different foods and ingredients. With some once was enough. In Nigeria I would buy bush meat from the hunters emerging from the forest, deer, wild boar etc. I have had alligator, guga from Stornoway, camel in Egypt, horse, which I love thanks to Fred of L’Escargot Bleu in Edinburgh. I would say I am not an adventurous eater but I am an adventurous cook.
Comfort food/guilty secret
Many comfort foods, to be honest. When I return from abroad or from working in England I always need a Scottish single fish, often as a sandwich. I love mince and tatties or a bowl of piping hot home made soup. Sorry, Tom, but like many chefs a fish finger sandwich with tomato ketchup.
If I’m going out to eat, and I can’t get a table at your place, where should I go?
I will always recommend Eusebi Deli in Glasgow’s West End. I have never had a bad experience there. The food, staff and ambience for me are five star.
Stupidest customer or kitchen experience
Well, over five decades of professional experiences there are so many to mention. Baked Alaska for 180 for a wedding. Chef sacked, I was sent to the kitchen to take over, the meringue that had been made ran off the salvers so needed removed and replaced with new. I was just 19: memorable.
As Robert has had such a varied career, I asked him to share some more details.
I worked in Israel which was an important part of my life, gaining knowledge of Middle Eastern food and foods from around the world, also using different spices and cooking methods from many countries.
In 1982 I had a job in Israel on a two hotel project in Nigeria, working with the architects. I specified all the operating equipment, uniforms, staff training manuals and the kitchens. I then went to Nigeria where I opened both hotels and worked for the state governments in IMO and River States. I trained the chefs. I planted herb gardens at each hotel as you could not buy herbs. I also transported quarter of a million in cash and carried a gun twice whilst there. Interesting job.
When I travel I try to get into kitchens to learn. Memories include making baklava in Istanbul, joining in a demonstration of making apple strudel at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, fast industrial wok cooking with the executive chef of the Pan Pacific hotel in Singapore and solar bread making and baking in Egypt. I will be cooking and teaching in Egypt this year as well as learning from chefs there.
In 2006 I went as one of the 30 chefs representing the UK at Slow Food’s Terra Madre, where I met Raymond Blanc, Jeremy Lee and Neil Forbes, plus 1000 chefs from around the world.
I did make cold cutting pies under the name of Mr C’s Handcrafted Pies, mainly self taught. We won 52 awards in seven and a half years. By special request, I made a French style decorated veal ham and egg pie for Prince Michael of Kent’s 75th birthday. Sadly, no one wanted to take over the business. I have the knowledge and recipes available and some equipment for sale including tins and a hand pie machine and pastry brake. I have the willingness to teach if anyone is at all interested. Also to cook at parties – for many years I ran a private meetings and conference venue from my flat in Glasgow. We even catered for the Royal Danish Navy.