Executive Head Chef of Chez Roux, Cromlix, Darin Campbell, has the home-grown talent any award-winning restaurant could ever want or need to win the hearts of their fine diners. Having previously worked as head chef for 1 Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow and alongside Michelin star culinary legends such as Éric Chavot and the late Andrew Fairlie, Campbell’s passion for cooking has been pumping through his veins for over 25 years. His philosophy is simple, yet complicated. Campbell sources nothing but the freshest ingredients, a mentality he has known since growing up on his family farm in Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland.
How did you first get introduced to cooking?
I grew up on a farm where we had our own lamb and beef and grew our own potatoes and kale. We cooked really simple fare. When you grow up at a young age you think everyone has got this and it is not until years later you realise how lucky you are to experience that fresh produce and level of quality.
What defines your style?
When you look back you have lots of inspiration and you take a lot from each place you go with you, but you have a core that runs through that. Working with Andrew for almost ten years and working for the likes of Éric Chavot you have main people that inspire you that you like. I have always liked the ethos of sourcing the best possible ingredients and keeping it very simple. A lot of people say it but if you really look at that aspect of it, and it really is hard to do because the easy thing is to get something slightly cheaper, but if you really source the best that takes a huge amount of your work away from you because you don’t have to play around with it as much.
What was it like working with the late Andrew Fairlie?
Andrew was the first Head Chef at Euro Disney at the California Grill. He had to go through the whole Disney academy where if you swore once it was instant dismissal. His man management was fantastic. In the ten years I worked with him I may have seen him lose his temper three times. His style truly was that everyone has a voice and that is the best way to get young people to come in and learn.
The chef industry has been characterized time and time again as a high-pressure environment. Does this persist today in your kitchen?
A lot of people deal with pressure in different ways. When the pressure’s on they will shout.
What we have here at Cromlix is an open kitchen. It changes the dynamics of service. I can’t shout and swear and throw pans. I’m not that type of chef anyway. There are many out there like that and I worked with them, but I take from Andrew.
I’ll tell the [young chefs] stories about things that were done to me as a commis chef and they look at me with disbelief. In some ways they don’t know how lucky they are. We have a fantastic owner at Cromlix that is willing to invest in the local community and put something back. ICMI are very good at identifying talent and nurturing it. If they spot good talent they will invest in it.
What is it like for young chefs working at Chez Rouz at Cromlix?
At Cromlix, we are very much ahead of the game. Our pay structure is well above other restaurants elsewhere. We invest in people. We are at the point now where we get the best people and we get them for long term, and we try to give them the best possible conditions to work in. We try to keep the stress levels down and that comes through communication skills.
Every day is a school day. There are so many things in cooking that changes. Styles, fads, fashions. You are always learning. From that point of view, it is a great industry to be in. New people come in where you have years of experience to offer them and they have new perspectives to offer you. We have a really good mentality where we work very closely with the front of the house (FOH). If something goes wrong in the FOH we are there and will come out to help. It brings the whole team closer together.
We’ve got a beautiful location, 23 acres of ground, 14 beds and we buy in very little for the kitchen. We make our own stocks and sauces, sausages, and so on. If you come in as a young person you have a lot to learn here. Fresh herbs, what we grow in that garden, you can see it, you can taste it and pick it. It gives you a much more diverse learning foundation to build on.
High employee turnover has been an issue in the restaurant industry for many years now. Is turn over an issue for you?
We have placed people in 3 Star Michelins in the south of France and into other Roux restaurants and I feel very proud that I have had a small hand in that. Most of our staff has been with us for many years and some have then gone all around the world to go on to great achievements and they still come back and see us which is very telling and nice.
What is like to work with the legendary French chef Albert Roux?
It is fantastic. I have free reign to do the menus here, but I do send them to Mr. Roux and the general manager to get feedback. You really put your heart on your sleeve, and someone would say something off about your first go (even though you’ve read it 100 times but you missed something) and then we can change it before it gets to the guest. We want them to have the best experience possible that they want to come back to.