Winning MasterChef helped Jamie Scott build his profile in the highly competitive world of elite cooking. However, as Mark Alexander finds out, he owes at least part of his success to golf...
Golf has an uncanny knack of throwing different worlds together and having them land perfectly in unison. Like a juggler’s finale, golf’s unifying power brings together travel and sport effortlessly. It offers a conduit between business and pleasure, and when the very best of gastronomy forges with the best of golf, there is a kind of synchronicity that defies logic or reason.
Jamie Scott, chef and owner of The Newport restaurant, embodies that intersection between the challenge of the links and the heat of the kitchen. “I try to get out once a week,” he admits. “Playing golf used to be very competitive and stressful for me, but now I go out and relax. It’s four hours of fresh air.”
The 28-year-old gastronomic guru loves his golf. A member at Letham Grange near Arbroath, he has a handicap of 2.4 and has played more than 480 courses, including every links along the east coast of Scotland. To top it off, his mum is head chef at the Castle Course just outside St Andrews. “It’s my favourite course in Scotland,” he says. “It’s beautiful. I’ve played it the last four years straight and I’ve noticed it improving every year. I’ve played it on a beautiful sunny day and in a 40-knot wind. That was one of the hardest rounds of golf I have ever played.”
PROFESSIONAL WINNER Make no mistake, Scott is a bonifide golf nut, but that’s not why you might recognise him or be inclined to visit his dapper restaurant in the north of Fife. Scott seeped into the public consciousness when he won MasterChef the Professionals in 2014. The hunt for young chefs who have what it takes to make it in the culinary world is a well-established perennial favourite, and a couple of years ago Scott came out on top.
After seven weeks of cooking and culinary challenges, Scott became the eighth champion after being crowned winner by double Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing, chef Monica Galetti and MasterChef’s seasoned diner Gregg Wallace.
At the time, Wareing described Scott as “a fantastic chef that has a personality and a big, big heart. That goes a long way in food and this is reflected in his plates – you can see it. We’ve found one of the future chefs of the country.”
Since his coronation, Scott has realised his goal of opening his own boutique eatery which has been tailored to his specific vision of what a good restaurant should be. But as Scott explains, winning MasterChef may have hastened his assent, but it didn’t change his life.
“No. I would have had a restaurant like this no matter what,” he says firmly. “I have the belief and the ability. Has it sped up the process and given me a profile and recognition? Yes. It gave me a confidence boost to what I could actually do. It’s OK being told by your wife, your mum, your dad and your best friend that you’re good, but it’s not until you get that peer recognition that you feel that you are actually good. That really helped me.”
In 2014, Scott was working at Rocca St Andrews, the much-applauded restaurant at the Macdonald Rusacks Hotel and one of only 25 restaurants in Scotland with three AA Rosettes. As Scott explains, the Rocca family were instrumental in marking his path to MasterChef glory. “The previous head chef at Rocca had been asked to do MasterChef but he suggested I would be good for it,” he notes. “I was the sous chef at that time, so the owners applied for me but missed the deadline by a day.”
He watched the closing rounds of the 2013 competition with interest, never considering he would be put through his culinary paces in 12 months’ time. Next year, the Roccas reapplied and following two telephone interviews and face-to-face meeting in Edinburgh, he was in.
“It was a big process,” says Scott. “During a couple of rounds, the pressure got to me, especially during the chefs’ table and the critics’ round which was really intense. However, generally I felt quite comfortable.”
Flying down to London to film MasterChef and then flying back to Edinburgh to do his shifts at Rocca meant it was a busy summer in St Andrews. But it was worth it. His triumph had an immediate effect with additional staff, new kit and his MasterChef menu on the tables at Rocca. “It was like returning to a new kitchen,” he says.
POP-UP RESTAURANTS AND FESTIVALS Scott had been at Rocca for nearly four years, starting as a junior sous chef. Before that he had held numerous positions at various restaurants and bars, and perhaps more importantly came from a family immersed in hospitality. His parents purchased their own pub when he was 14 years old, with his mum Winnie being his biggest inspiration. It was an upbringing surrounded by prepping for service and last orders, and it paid off handsomely. Within two and half years of being at Roccas, he had been made head chef.
“A lot of work went into it,” he says. “A lot of 100 hundred hour weeks. A lot of friends lost. That’s what our careers are. The real friends are still friends now. But those four years were the hardest of my life.”
He continues: “It was the grind. I did seven days for three and half months and six days for eight and a half months just because we were short-staffed. There was a lot of staff coming in and out – they just weren’t up to the standard we were looking for. It was hard.”
He has shown just as much commitment to his own restaurant, The Newport, which is perched on the southern banks of the river Tay. “It was always my intention to open my first restaurant in the Fife and Dundee area. This is where I grew up and drew all my inspiration from. The Newport gives me everything I wanted in my first venture.”
EXCEPTIONAL FOOD And what a venture it is. While some MasterChef winners have been content to open conventional 40-cover restaurants, Scott wasn’t one of them. The Newport is a creative space that has been moulded by Scott and his wife Kelly to accommodate and showcase their many talents. The restaurant itself is fitted with bespoke furniture, cutlery and crockery. Every detail has been considered. Every angle covered.
There is a warm welcome from the staff and the views across the Firth of Tay are nothing short of spell-binding. The main restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows that accentuate the vista and provide a remarkable frame through which to enjoy the flowing waters of Scotland’s longest river. Upstairs is a smaller, more intimate dining room, next to which is a private tasting facility and a classroom. There is also a bar and art gallery configured within the deceptively large building, as well as four bespoke bedrooms, making The Newport a perfect foodie destination.
But a clever layout and breath-taking views do not make an exceptional restaurant. What counts beyond all else is the food, and with dishes like St Monans crab draped in avocado, apple and sea herbs, and Isle of Mull scallops served with green strawberries, mirin (a rice wine) and fennel, The Newport does not disappoint. The food is simply exquisite.
Scott cooks cerebral food that delights your taste buds and engages your palette. His presentation is carefully thought out and all the ingredients can be traced to local producers. It is pretty on the plate, but better in the mouth.
Marcus Wareing was right. Scott will surely become one the UK’s leading chefs with his devotion to experimentation and unswerving commitment to hard work. On his way there, he will however happily acknowledge the golfing clientele that have helped him build his understanding of the restaurant trade.
“During peak season at Rocca, 75 per cent of our customers were golfers,” he recalls. “It was a nice mix of people. They had come to play golf so not all of them were foodies, but they appreciated the food from the local area. Knowing that the beef came from Anstruther or the fish was sourced from Pittenweem was important. They appreciated that.”
He continues: “We get a few golfers at The Newport. We’ve had a lot of interest from golf parties from Perthshire and Aberdeen who want to come down, especially now we have the tasting room upstairs. We’ve got four golfing parties booked in who are having whisky and gin dinners. Ultimately, we want a business that produces really good food, has very good service and happy staff.”
Judging from the eight-course tasting menu I was lucky enough to enjoy, Scott is well on the way to achieving just that.
Winning MasterChef helped Jamie Scott build his profile in the highly competitive world of elite cooking. However, as Mark Alexander finds out, he owes at least part of his success to golf