Posted 16th Sep 2015
Chef to the stars Craig Wilson, nicknamed the Kilted Chef, has had quite the career cooking for Hollywood A-listers, but it's his passion for Scottish produce that truly drives his love of food as he cooks across the world – as we find out in honour of Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight (6th to 21st September)
While some chefs might have wilted under the pressure of an impromptu appearance by Hollywood royalty Sir Sean Connery, Craig Wilson didn’t feel the heat. After all, the award-winning proprietor of popular Udny Green restaurant Eat on the Green has had the opportunity to cook for luminaries from across the globe.
He has spent his career cooking for VIPs in locations all over the world, and even earned his Kilted Chef nickname from Lorraine Kelly after he appeared live alongside the queen of daytime television.
Craig remembers a chance meeting with the iconic movie star Connery as a real career highlight. He says: 'I was catering for Sir Sean’s 80th birthday in Edinburgh Castle, and he took a wrong turn and walked right into the kitchen while I was cooking. It was odd, but felt really comfortable as I was in my own environment – like if I had spoken to him on a film set.
'It was the second time I had cooked for him, and when he looked at me he said, “You must be the famous chef. I still remember those seriously good scallops!” I’m not ashamed to say it made my day, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.'
Craig’s chance meeting with Sir Sean Connery is undoubtedly a special moment, however it's just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout his varied career, Craig has cooked for dozens of the world’s most famous celebrities, including Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Patrick Stewart, and he has many fond memories of his encounters.
Craig explains: 'Earlier this year I was in New York as an ambassador for Scottish food during Tartan Week. I was sharing this recipe mixing Indian spices and coriander with beautiful Aberdeen Angus beef – and Billy Connolly started heckling me from the audience!
'Over the years I have cooked for a number of celebrities, and they have all been really down to earth and appreciative of the effort that goes into cooking a great meal. I cooked for Liam Neeson over a six-week period while he was filming Rob Roy, and his menu varied drastically depending on who he was dining with. While his wife was there everything was pretty healthy, but when he was on his own everything was much more earthy and calorific!'
Cooking has long played an important role in Craig’s life, even before he made it his career. As a child, he regularly visited his grandparents who worked at Westhall House in Oyne, Aberdeenshire. 'I remember walking into the kitchen at Westhall House and seeing this large farmhouse table completely covered with fresh produce. All the food they cooked there was seasonal – my Grandfather, the gardener, would pick the produce in the morning and my Grandmother, the cook, would add it to the menu in the afternoon.'
Craig’s glimpse into the world of professional cooking at Westhall House gave him the taste for a life in the kitchen and from those early inspirations, his career has blossomed into one that is truly enviable. At 16 he became a trainee chef at the Strathburn Hotel in Inverurie, and at 24 found himself one of the youngest head chefs in the country at Cromlix House, now owned by tennis superstar Andy Murray. A career in research and development then followed, first at Grampian Country Foods, then Baxter’s, which allowed Craig to travel the country experimenting with different flavours and ingredients. He opened the critically acclaimed Eat on the Green in 2004, and has never looked back.
Craig’s passion for cooking has led him to become involved in numerous projects promoting the fine produce available in Scotland, becoming an ambassador for New York Tartan Week and hosting events during FoodFest15, a new, year-long celebration of the best food and drink in the north east of Scotland.
Craig says: 'Scotland has brilliant produce that can compete on the world stage. At the restaurant we grow our own vegetables and herbs – a practice inspired by my time at Westhall House. Even the livestock you can see from the window often ends up on the menu. Our whole ethos is about celebrating the world-class ingredients at our fingertips.
'Most people are so busy in life that they just end up getting all their food at the supermarket and they don’t realise what they have on their doorstep. We have it all in Scotland and the local suppliers are the real stars of the show. I would urge everyone to source local ingredients, cook with them and, most importantly, enjoy eating them.'