For food lovers in the UK (and particularly in Scotland), Chef Gary MacLean doesn’t need any introduction. The first to be appointed ‘National Chef of Scotland‘ by the Scottish Government in November 2017, MacLean rose to nation-wide fame in 2016, when he was crowned MasterChef: The Professionals Champion 2016.
But there’s more to MacLean’s story than what meets the eye. Born in Glasgow, the 46-year-old multi-award winning chef is Scottish through and through–especially in the kitchen, where he prefers locally sourced ingredients and signature dishes of the Scottish tradition. Husband, father of five (yes, five!) and senior chef lecturer at the City of Glasgow College for over 17 years, MacLean is not your usual celebrity chef. He is indeed ‘one of a kind’, as reads his personal bio.
We’ve met MacLean at the City of Glasgow College, where he is just as popular as you would expect. We’ve discussed his commitment to promoting Scotland’s rich larder of produce and encourage healthy eating; his love and appreciation of food technology (as opposed to technology in general); and his belief that innovation and tech is a chef’s friend–not a foe.
Love of healthy eating
As the first National Chef of Scotland, MacLean has been tasked with promoting Scottish national produce and teaching communities how to make the most of locally sourced and affordable food. In his role, he is particularly vocal about encouraging a culture of healthy, home-made foods, as opposed to the increasing popularity of processed, ready-made meals.
In doing so, he tries to live by example: “I’ve got five kids–a 22-year-old, all the way down to a 4-year-old. They’re all different and they all like different things (don’t forget I’ve got two moody teenagers!), but myself and my wife have committed to cooking the majority of our meals at home, using healthy ingredients.”
“We do get a burger every now and again, but it’s a guilt-free pleasure. I’m not one for saying you can’t do something, it’s all about moderation.”
His role as the National Chef of Scotland sees MacLean out and about all around Scotland for at least 20 days a year, promoting food education and healthy eating in the early years. “We need to educate our children to good, healthy food, getting them as much involved as possible in all stages of food preparation.”
Says the Chef:
“We must be honest and upfront with our kids and let them know what’s in the food they eat. If I’d told you I’ve hidden stuff in your food, would you eat it? No. Well, why should they then?”
Technology to enhance food safety
From the latest smart ovens and food regeneration systems to the more common programmable brat pans and pressure cookers that can be found in many households and restaurants: these are some of the tools MacLean quotes among the top chef’s techs he uses–both in his personal and professional life–to improve the quality of his dishes and ensure food is well preserved and safe to eat.
“Some of these technologies ensure that, at the very push of a button, even the most unskilled member of the team can deliver the most perfect dish
“Some people are quite reluctant to appreciate change and embrace technology,” says MacLean. “But, if we look at the food industry, in the last ten years only technology has totally transformed the number of things that are out there–making food much, much better.”
Among others, when it comes to food security and software, fridge temperature control is key to improving the safety of food, monitoring the state of our food 24/7 and ‘taking work away from the chef’.
“Investing in food technology can be expensive, but it always pays off in the longer term. For example, at the [City of Glasgow] College, we have invested in deep fryers that filter oil, doubling the life of the product. Such equipment can be quite costly, but investing in an improved filtration system can save up to tens of thousands of pounds–and it delivers healthier, tastier food, too.”
“It’s getting to understand what’s out there,” says MacLean. “And a little bit of investment can save a lot of money in the long term.”
The College is equipped with the latest technologies to improve food safety and tackle unnecessary food waste, making it a model of efficiency for chefs, schools and restaurants country-wide. Among the latest additions to its wide range of tools, an innovative food processing machine is turning food waste into fertilisers that are then re-used to grow vegs within the College, minimising waste and maximising profit.
“When we get chefs visiting from outside the College,” says MacLean, “they’re always impressed by the range of technologies we have here. The equipment we use is pretty advanced and varied, and I like to think we’re a model of excellence, in line with the latest industry developments and standards.”