Chef profile – Philippa Marsden


‘Whilst I was growing up in rural Yorkshire, on a largely self-sufficient small-holding, my parents (when they had time to cook) would usually draw on their preference for Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian cuisine. Both had spent time during the 70’s working in hospitals in West Yorkshire. As such, most of their friends and colleagues were folk whose parents or grandparents had come over to work in the mills that once dominated the area. I grew up addicted to chappatis and naga chilli. But I also had  access to heritage breeds of pig, sheep, cow, poultry and occasionally more exotic animals such as rheas, golden pheasants and whatever eccentric animals had taken my fathers’ fancy at the time.

My Dad built a Greek bread oven and smoker in the garden where many a creature was smoked, cooked, and appreciated. Field to table was a daily, privileged reality, not an advertising slogan.

‘I fell into professional cooking when I moved to Edinburgh, taking a job in a cafe to fill in whilst I pursued an (unsuccessful!) career as a mural artist. I ended up working there with a chef who was on maternity ‘leave’ who had been in the kitchens of Ramsay in London.  From there I just kept looking for places to learn more, working in bakeries, outside caterers, Michelin restaurants, butchers and hunting lodges.

‘My influences come from so many sources. Most importantly those early stages of first mentors in Cat who made me appreciate vegetables and the never ending potential of salads. Then Hubert who patiently walked me through viennoiserie. Later, I sought out more experience from chefs who caught my eye such as Simon Rogan, Esben Holmboe-Bang, Even Ramsvik. Inevitably the shadow of Heston Blumenthal was influencing most people in professional kitchens all over Europe at this time. But it was also the bakers, gardeners, farmers, or home cooks who inspired me. Especially those mums struggling to making ends meet but cooking with a refusal to compromise on their morals.

Foraging on South-east Islay

Since returning to Scotland in 2014 I have had the privilege of working with some amazing individuals striving to improve Scotland’s food scene

Turning to Wild Food

‘The Nordic influence was inevitable I suppose, but happened purely by accident. I moved to Norway having no idea who Rene Redzepi was, landed a job as pastry chef in a hotel, got laughed at with my heavily French – Scottish accented dishes, and was handed a book called ‘Noma’. Spending a wee bit of time at Maaemo, Oslo was a big moment for me. I got so excited to see ingredients I hadn’t before thought of as ingredients but just part of the countryside I spent so much time in, back in northern Scotland, here being celebrated and served in the most delicious and beautiful way. I couldn’t get over how the dishes were so simple, yet so stunning. Very ‘under’ processed compared to what I had previously been used to, natural and beautiful. I spent all my Scandinavian money eating in exciting places from Faviken, Sweden to Nahm, Bangkok.

‘From there, it all got more fascinating, political and academic for a while. I dabbled with edible insects and academia, but the practical side drew me back, and Scotland too pulled me home. It was back in Scotland whilst on a research trip to Ness, Lewis (as part of my Msc in Gastronomy) that I had my most memorable dish of guga. The memorability due mainly due to the company and knowledge of the complex and delicate existance of traditional foods such as this, and their potential for not only preserving diversity in our tastes, but protection of our heritage and environment.

‘Since returning to Scotland in 2014 I have had the privilege of working with some amazing individuals striving to improve Scotland’s food scene, to far greater effect than any empty political initiative. These include two female butchers all with their own businesses based in the Scottish Borders. At the cost of social lives, sleep, pension funds and often local respect, they have forged their businesses to fit with their values of high animal welfare, environmental understanding and high quality meat. Something that in Scotland is often saved for society’s elite and fickle middle class, they strive to continue finding ways to feed people not trends. They are probably my personal heroes.

Islay House Community Garden

We hatched the idea of putting on an all pastry/dessert evening; a tasting menu of desserts

Onion ice-cream

‘I was given an opportunity to host an evening in the Edinburgh Food Studio. We hatched the idea of putting on an all pastry/dessert evening; a tasting menu of desserts. This gave rise to my favourite dish that I have ever made: onion ice-cream, sorrel granite, onion crisp and pork fat. It just worked in exactly the way I wanted; greeted with bemusement, shock and suspicion but on tasting proved totally delicious ticking all the boxes of fresh, acidic, sweet, fatty and finished with a light crunch.The pork fat had all been rendered off the pig we received earlier in the week from a city farm, the sorrel picked from near my home in the Borders but can be found all over Scotland. Wild food in general gives me a kick in so many ways.

‘Going out and finding exciting edible produce starts off some innate addictive endorphin release, learning signs and subtle clues from your environment as to where to look. And the flavours, textures and nutritional value of foraged food is endless! Personally I am addicted to acidic alternatives to add into desserts. Forests of Norway and Scotland give so many, from various spruces to forest floor plants such as wood sorrel, actually called ‘skogsyr’ in Norwegian meaning ‘forest acid’. Also, as we have become more and more dependent on a carefully crafted powerful food system machine, it feels good to claim back some autonomy and control by feeding yourself on things you have found or grown.’

Philippa works with:

Self-taught Hawick butcher Mary Howlett and Rachel Hammond of 

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