Meet the chef: Calum Montgomery at Edinbane Lodge

Chef Calum Montgomery tells us about his life as a chef

Chef Proprietor of Edinbane Lodge on the Isle of Skye, Calum Montgomery crafts menus that showcase the very best of the ingredients found on the island and its surrounding waters to great effect – the restaurant was awarded 3 AA Rosettes in 2020.

We spoke to Montgomery about influences, inspiration and his favourite flavours.

What inspired you to become a chef?

CM: I didn't know I wanted to be a chef until I stopped being one! I started out in kitchens when I was 14 as a way to make some money while I was at school. At 17, I left my job as chef de partie at a 2 AA Rosette restaurant to study business management. It wasn't until I was 10 months into the course that I realised how much I missed and loved cooking. I gave up my business course to return to the hospitality industry and make it a career. It was the best decision I ever made.

What are your plans for the future – which new areas would you like to expand into?

CM: Edinbane Lodge was in a derelict state when we bought it, so maintaining and redeveloping the 475-year-old building constantly keeps us busy. I look forward to us adding on two new luxury suites to the Lodge in early 2022. I'd also love to open a small, sustainable seafood takeaway in my hometown of Portree one day. Somewhere that captures our food ethos – to go!

What are the vital ingredients for a successful kitchen?

CM: The single most important ingredient for me is staff. We have such a reliable, hard-working and dedicated team that I can never thank enough for embracing the vision for the restaurant. A strong team is the key, closely followed by top-quality produce with complete traceability.

What are your favourite ingredients to work with?

CM: I love to work with the super-fresh shellfish available to us in Skye – from hand-dived scallops to creel-caught jumbo langoustines. Many of our suppliers are my friends and relatives, so it means that bit extra to me that we really look after the produce from the moment we get it in the kitchen door. I don't really have a suppliers call sheet – instead I use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and conversations in my local pub for sourcing the best ingredients available locally.

What's your favourite dish on the current menu and why?

CM: Probably our oyster dish. It's super simple but it has to be made with the freshest produce possible to taste as good as it does. It's a complete replica of something I enjoyed on the Bourbon Street, New Orleans a few years ago. When I had it there it was a rock oyster barbecued in its shell, topped with blue crab, drawn butter and breadcrumbs. I remember eating it there and thinking 'wow, this is so good – but it could be even better made with some amazing Scottish shellfish'. We prepare it the same way for the amuse-bouche, but with Cumbrae oysters, brown crab from the closest harbour to Edinbane, and top it with our own fermented black garlic butter.

Who are the chefs you admire most, and who has had the most influence on your cooking style?

CM: I certainly have a few I admire for different reasons. Magnus Nilsson's vision for his restaurant, Fäviken, provided a lot of inspiration and influence for me as to how we would set up Edinbane. A true taste of our local ingredients with minimal food miles required when sourcing. I had the pleasure of dining at Fäviken in 2016. My old sous chef, who dined with me that evening ended up working there until its closure in 2019. Nilsson's food is so minimalistic with nowhere to hide. He lets the ingredients speak for themselves, which is what we always aim to do here.

I've always admired Masterchef: The Professionals winner Gary Maclean, who taught me in college. He saw something in me that not a lot of others did and really helped me progress. It's amazing how much influence someone can have on your mindset and career aspirations when they believe in you as a person. I really admire his approach to the kitchen and his "man management" style to get the best out of his students. He's a real role model for the entire industry.

What are the best places you've eaten in recently?

CM: I'd say one of the top meals I've had in recent memory was cooked by Mark Donald when he was head chef at Number One, Balmoral. Mark has set up on his own since then at Glenturret Distillery's La'Lique Restaurant which, I am sure, will soon establish itself as one of the very best restaurants in the UK. Azurmendi in Bilbao still holds its place as the best restaurant experience I've ever had.

What's your guilty pleasure when away from work?

CM: I'm a sucker for a takeaway from our local Chinese restaurant, The Fat Panda – a name that could fairly sum me up on a Monday night. As far as favourite food goes, I love a good BBQ at my dad's house when the sun's out and he's got the big grill on the go. He was a baker by trade and has always been a fantastic cook. He's always disappointed with what he cooks as he holds his standards so high. I don't usually tell him, but his food is pretty, pretty good.

FInd out more about Edinbane Lodge.

An edited version of this interview first appeared in the AA Restaurant Guide 2022.

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