When asked to help promote local produce for the Crail Food Festival, I instantly thought about Ostlers Close. I’m all about utilizing Fife’s natural larder to create fantastic food and that’s an ethos I knew this restaurant championed too.
Amanda and Jimmy Graham opened this little jewel of an eatery in Cupar in 1981 and are passionate advocates of local Fife produce, which they couple with their love of foraging to invent their menus on a daily basis.
This food philosophy has not only cemented the business’ reputation as one of Fife’s premier restaurants but has also seen them awarded professional accolades in the shape of two AA Rosettes.
Selecting top produce is a must for any restaurant worth its salt and I was keen to find out how important that was to the Grahams.
‘That’s the ethos of the restaurant,' says Amanda. ‘It’s not as easy as it used to be because we used to use the small fish merchant from Pittenween but we have to accept there’s not the produce there anymore.'
‘It’s all local at Ostlers, from our butcher in Ceres who knows the farms he buys from are all in a 10 mile radius to our fish man, who catches what we need and responsibly puts everything else back (in the sea). OK, when it comes to things like scallops, we have to accept we can’t get them here so source them from Mull – which is still only a few hours away.
‘Everything else goes with the seasons and we use everything up. We literally write the menus on a daily basis.’
If more people thought like this supermarkets wouldn’t force farmers into producing quick, versatile meat and vegetables that are of inferior quality to properly nurtured produce.
‘It’s education. It’s all about money in today’s climate but if we can cut out the middle man and get people directly to the producers and teach them about lesser cuts of meat for example, it would make a difference,' according to Amanda.
‘You would eat more vegetables if you only knew how tasty they could be. Cheaper cuts and home grown veg have become popular due to having all these celebrity chefs promoting them and that’s great – we just have to drip, drip, drip it to people.’
I firmly believe that Scottish ingredients are up there with the world’s best and giving healthy portions cooked simply with elegant presentation is something I strive to achieve in my cooking.
Too many fine dining restaurants are too poncy for my liking but that’s something you definitely wouldn’t relate to with Ostlers Close – this is proud Scottish cooking at it’s finest.
I wondered how such great produce influences the menu.
‘We look at what’s available as that shapes our menu, the standard of the produce and the traditional
ways of cooking it, then apply a modern Scottish twist,' Amanda explains.
‘The French are very arrogant about their produce and I think we need to adapt the same attitude to our produce. We want the money we spend to stay in this country, why go abroad when we have the produce on our doorstep?’
As you enter the intimate and warm dining room of this eponymous restaurant, a wonderful smell wafts from the kitchen giving you the feeling you’ve discovered a magical little food hideaway, tucked unassumingly off the main road.
As I chat away to Amanda, her passion for food and pride in the restaurant’s work shines through and this is mirrored by Jimmy as he shows me around the engine room. He reveals the fruits of a recent foraging trip as he unravels a big piece of ‘chicken in the woods’ mushroom, which proudly features on today’s menu.
Running a restaurant is no easy task. It involves long hours spent slaving over a hot stove, constantly being on your feet and endless stacks of paperwork, so just how do the Grahams find time to forage and grow their own food?
‘That’s our day off, that’s how we relax. It’s difficult as we have a lot of paper work to do but we allow ourselves one day a week. When Jimmy was younger he would finish work and go off two or three times a week but as we’ve grown older, we’ve grown more precise and evolved our food – that’s how we’ve managed to survive.’
Jimmy, who has been working in kitchens since the tender age of 15, spent some time working in Switzerland after completing his chefs training. He had always harboured the ambition to have his own restaurant and when the opportunity came calling, Amanda gave up a promising medical career to partner her husband in realising his dream.
Like Jimmy, Amanda has always been around food and foraged from a young age, something that gives the couple a great belief in the food the restaurant produces.
‘It gives us confidence and pride in our product because we know the providence of it and that’s always been the building blocks of the restaurant. We believe we have the produce on our doorstep and get to know our suppliers well by visiting farms regularly. That way we can see the husbandry of the animals and that makes the difference.’
The Graham’s food philosophy should be an inspiration to all us Fifers to get out and use our local butchers, fish mongers and farm shops. We’re lucky to have them and should protect these businesses from the threat of inferior supermarket produce; you won’t regret it come dinner time!