Interviews/Opinions

In Conversation with Kevin Sutherland, Meeting & Events Head Chef, The Balmoral Hotel

As the Meeting & Events Head Chef at The Balmoral Hotel, one of Edinburgh’s most iconic establishments comes with both prestige and pressure – read on to discover more about Kevin Sutherland’s creative culinary career.

What were your career aspirations when you were young? Did you always have flair in the kitchen?

I started working in the kitchens when I was thirteen and from then on it sparked a passion and I knew that this was the career path for me. It was always a goal of mine to work in Michelin starred kitchens and I feel very lucky to have achieved this goal, working in Number One in 2008 and Galvin La Chappelle in 2012. My passion for cooking was sparked early and comes from my Mum, she is a fantastic cook and baker and even to this day there are some of her recipes I can’t master as well as her, like her stovies and oatcakes. I think some of her culinary genes rubbed off on me.

Please tell us more about your role at The Balmoral Hotel and what a typical day is like (if such a thing exists!)

Working at The Balmoral, every day is so different. I look after Conference and events, staff dining and room service breakfast. One day we could have a conference breakfast for 200 then a fork buffet for lunch for 300, followed by canapés and a sit down dinner for 300. The next we could have smaller more intimate dinners in our castle view room for up to 40. It’s an exciting environment to work in when you can be creative in the kitchen and tailor each menu to suit the event, this really allows us to deliver the world renowned hospitality that The Balmoral is known for. I feel extremely lucky to have a fantastic, enthusiastic and passionate team behind me, we are a tight knit family and it is a great environment to be a part of.

Chefs are known for working in high-pressure environments, is this pressure even more so given that you work at one of the most iconic establishments in Scotland?

It’s so imperative to meet our guest’s expectations and I think with that, there can be a certain type of pressure yes, but it keeps things exciting. Whether our guests are regulars at luxury properties or they are treating themselves for an occasion at a premium hotel as a celebration, everyone deserves the same experience.  Ultimately everyone at the hotel is passionate about exceeding guest expectations so they have an amazing experience of their time here and want to come back, that’s what we are always working for.

Please tell us about the approach you take for the delivery of the food for the meeting and events and how (if at all) it differs from the other restaurants within the hotel?

We are extremely fortunate that we have some of the best produce in the world on our doorstep and we live by the ethos that we only buy the finest ingredients. Using clever cooking techniques we are able to cook for larger parties with minimal wastage. Our dishes never have more than five components on the plate, we keep it clean and uncomplicated but always deliver high-quality, delicious dishes.

You are also responsible for the savouries in The Balmoral’s award-winning Afternoon Tea in Palm Court at The Balmoral – which really is like no other, why do you think this is / how is this experience achieved?

As a team, we have managed to really develop our Afternoon Tea offering over the years to make it truly unique. Every detail is considered, from the recipes of sandwich fillings that we have taken time to perfect, to the warm scones being silver served. Each thought-out detail adds to the overall experience. Our Palm Court team delivers an incredible spectacle when pouring our guests tea of choice and our harpist creates a soft serene environment to accompany the incredible room itself.  It’s almost like a tasting Afternoon Tea, we also include amuse bouche, and a little present for the guest to take away so they can remember their time with us with a momento.

Where do you find inspiration for your menus?

Everywhere really. It’s really a mix of my favourite cookery books, some of my talented colleagues and social media. Eating out is also a great way to get inspiration and Edinburgh has so many great places to go.

And what’s the most exciting event you’ve ever designed a menu for?

I love the challenge of designing a menu for a big event, I was once asked to produce a Scottish game and mushroom seven-course menu for clients in Macau. I flew over to cook the menu and went onto Tokyo to take in the fantastic food culture over there. It was quite an experience.

It’s also great to cater for charities. Each year, myself and my friend and fellow Chef, Craig Sandle auctioned ourselves off to create a memorable dining experience for the highest bidder for Edinburgh’s Children’s Hospital. This is always a fun thing to do and of course a really rewarding experience.

Luxury is highly subjective – what does it mean to you?

For me, if I can master every detail of our guests experience and tailor it to suit them personally then I think they are getting to experience true luxury Scottish hospitality.

Personally, it’s a babysitter for the evening so my wife and I can go out for dinner or a day’s fishing in the lochs of Caithness for wild brown trout.

What is your life motto (if you have one?)

Good question…for me I live by the ethos of ‘treat people as you want to be treated’ in all aspects of life.