All products on this page have been selected by our editorial team, however we may make commission on some products.
The first thing I learned to cook was chicken fricassee. My mother taught me the recipe and I’ve since passed it on – with a few embellishments – in one of my books, The Claire Macdonald Cookbook. Whether you’re making chicken, pheasant or turkey fricassee, its vital to start with the fat the bird has cooked in to fry the very finely diced onions, celery and carrots for at least ten minutes. Then add medium strength curry powder, use a combination of stock and milk as the liquid, and add a good handful of sultanas to the sauce.
The meals from my childhood that will always stay with me are oxtail stew and fish pie. Again, they were something my mother made often, even though she wasn’t a very keen cook – she far preferred gardening! But, if you ask me, she was an excellent cook. In fact, I’d say she really influenced my own style of cooking – seasonally inspired, simple and nutritious. Although I like to incorporate a large amount of dark chocolate on a daily basis – Lindt preferably.
My favourite ingredient to cook with is whatever is in season at the time. For instance, during February my life tends to be dominated by Seville oranges, marmalade making and recipes using these wonderful citrus fruits. What I keenly anticipate as the autumn advances is game, apples and pears and hazelnuts. Autumn is full of inspiring foods – root vegetables especially, given their widely varying textures and flavours, for use in soups, stews, mousses.
Some underrated ingredients people tend to ignore are onions and top-quality bacon – either smoked or unsmoked. Onions and bacon are staple ingredients in a number of recipes. The bacon has to be the best you can get, crisply cooked and crumbled into salads or combined with mashed root veg. Alternatively, stretch the rashers and wrap them around otherwise dry foods to keep them lubricated as they cook – two examples would be scallops and skinless chicken breasts. Onions, meanwhile, enhance just about anything savoury, providing they are cooked through. To me, the taste of raw onion is just repellent.
It's very difficult to narrow in on what my signature dish would be. I really don’t have one as such but, right now, I’m about to poach some salmon and make mayonnaise for people coming to lunch on Sunday, so that’s my signature dish this weekend!
Running a restaurant requires extremely hard work, constantly. A love of eating is also a prerequisite – that’s where you’ll find daily inspiration for menu planning. It’s hard to say what the secret to our success in the dining room at Kinloch is, but it possibly comes down to two things: only buying the very best quality food possible and using foods in their rightful season.
Opening and running a hotel for so many years has involved… patience, tolerance, a sense of humour and a great deal of very hard work. It’s a 24/7 lifestyle. If you can, watch The Hotel Inspector – there are still a surprising number of people who think running a hotel could be rather fun when they are retired. My advice to those people – as it has been on several occasions – is to consult people for whom running a hotel with really good food has been their livelihood. Get honest answers and ask them to flag all the problems. If possible, go and work as an intern, and just get an impression as to what that kind of life entails. Also, always remember your own hotel is just that – yours. Any member of staff working with you, however loved, will not be the individual asking the bank manager for an overdraft. You are the owner, it is you at the sharp end and you’ll be repeatedly in circumstances you might never be able to imagine.
When people think of Kinloch Lodge, I hope they think of peace and calm in an increasingly chaotic world. Amid this comfort and warmth of hospitality, I also hope they enjoy the delicious, seasonally inspired food throughout their stay.
There are so many people I admire in this industry – Jordan Webb, our incredible head-chef at Kinloch, Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis and Michael Smith of LochBay seafood restaurant. I’ve been lucky to meet and know them all – I couldn’t really admire someone I only knew from the TV. I also really admire the late Francis Coulson from the then wonderful Sharrow Bay, near Ullswater.
The restaurants I revisit most often are Palmerston Place in Edinburgh, Café Deco and Quo Vadis in London. What I like about these places is that you eat proper food. By this I mean the food served is seasonal and not ‘fine dining’ – which I am growing to despise, what with the dots of sauces in such minute amounts that you can’t taste them, and little, often tiny, arrangements of foods. I hate pretentiousness in food. I want to eat food that is beautifully presented and contains really interesting flavours and textures.
I have too many memorable meals to list! Over the years, I’ve found this depends as much on who you eat with, as the quality of the food. Possibly my last memorable meal was dinner at Quo Vadis – basil-flavoured ricotta with roasted red pepper and almonds, followed by guinea fowl with spring vegetable, followed by one of the best puddings ever – gooseberry crème brulée and almond tart with strawberries.
The best pub in Britain is the Craster Arms in Beadnell for its delicious crab sandwiches. As for Sunday lunch, my favourite would have to be slow roasted shoulder of local lamb, with fennel, cherry tomatoes, shallots and cannellini beans. Midweek, I tend to eat lots of vegetables, fish and cheese. In my fridge you’ll always find whole milk, good butter, real natural yogurt and blueberries – all good for gut health.
Death Row meals are a myth as far as I’m concerned. If I were confronted with what to eat because it would be my last meal, I can’t believe I’d feel like eating anything whatsoever! All I’d care about is having my favourite dining companion – Godfrey, my beloved husband. He makes me laugh, which is saying something seeing we’ve been married for 53 years.
My favourite cookbook is The Constance Spry Cookbook – the recipes, despite being slightly archaic, are so inspired. These days, my copy is filled with handwritten recipes in its blank pages! The Four Seasons by Margaret Costa was also my bible during our early years at Kinloch – and remains so to this day. Finally, Polpo by Russell Norman takes me back to Venice and it is filled with food and travel inspiration.
Writing a cookbook is very hard work. The minute I sign the contract, the clock starts ticking and the delivery date is always in my mind. I must be a publisher’s dream because I have a tendency to deliver a month early! I work my way steadily through the planned content – it starts with a synopsis that’s given to my editor for approval and that will guide me throughout the writing process. It’s funny, despite the slog, I always feel a sense of loss when I hand over the manuscript. Illogical – it should be a relief – but I miss not having the work.
My dream dinner party guests would be Lorenzo de Medici, a fearless man who lived his life to the fullest. And Lady Margaret Macdonald, wife of the 14th clan chief. Margaret was one of eight sisters, and she was a Jacobite and great friend of Flora Macdonald. Margaret was widowed young, her two sons were only five and three at the time, and she gave birth posthumously to her third son, Archibald, who became Attorney General and then Chancellor at Westminster. She was witty, musical and, best of all, she was loved by all who knew her. My third guest would be Daniel Finkelstein, a journalist I greatly admire. If there’s room for a fourth and fifth, it would be Archbishop Leo Cushley, an interesting man with a keen sense of humour and compassion, and Euan Macdonald, who is almost a neighbour and, again, so interesting.
The dish I’d like to master in the future is îles flottantes. It’s pretty straightforward, yet I haven’t ever made them to my satisfaction. I need someone to show me how to poach the quenelles of meringue properly – mine just weep…
Finally, my best home-cooking tip is to buy some really sharp knives. You get what you pay for with a knife. But also buy a good knife sharpener for that particular brand of knife – I can never sharpen with a stone. Also, store your knives carefully, so as not to slice yourself as you search for them in a drawer. And only ever put knives sharp point down in your dishwasher, handle up. I read somewhere of a woman who slipped and fell on the upward point of a sharp knife in her dishwasher, pierced her throat and bled to death. There’s a lesson if ever one was needed!
Inspired? Here are three recipes from Claire’s forthcoming book ‘50 Years, Kinloch Lodge’ to try at home…
Kohlrabi Salad, Walnuts, Lemon & Cardamom Emulsion
A lovely fresh salad. It’s great alone or to complement a little seafood starter.
Hake, Lobster Dumplings, Pickled Kohlrabi, Lobster Broth
This dish uses one of my favourite Asian flavours, miso, to bring Eastern flair to great Scottish seafood. This will make a lot of dumplings. They can be made in advance and stored and any extras will freeze well and make a lovely snack or canapé. I use our pasta dough for the wrapper and the filling can also be made using prawn or crab meat as a substitute for lobster.
Strawberries, Amaretto, Cookie Dough Crumb
From late July running into early September our polytunnel produces beautiful strawberries and also wild strawberries that I took from Kinloch hill and replanted in our tunnel. This is simply a celebration of their flavour. These desserts are set into mousse rings or a glass to give a lovely, layered look to the dessert.
DISCLAIMER: We endeavour to always credit the correct original source of every image we use. If you think a credit may be incorrect, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.