In cycling terms food means fuel, and most cyclists know that a good ride starts with good eating in the days before, and good recovery is aided with good eating immediately after. Carbohydrates, Carb-loading, Protein, Glycogen etc. are all terms in the lexicon of even the most recreational of modern-day cyclists.
For some, though, food is also a passion and a vocation…
Sean Kelly is Head Chef at The Lovat, a stunning hotel in the beautiful village of Fort Augustus, on the banks of Loch Ness, keen MTB’er and road cyclist, and good friend of the BCR boys.
Part of this website’s purpose is to highlight the creative types drawn in to the world of cycling, and Sean is the very epitome of that, equally at home creating visually stunning, flavourful dishes in the kitchen, as he is hammering down the trails.
Grab a glass of something red and French, and let us introduce you to Sean Kelly, the cycling chef
BCR: What bikes do you currently own and ride?
I have 2 bikes. My most used is a Giant Reign 2016 Enduro MTB, and I also own a Carrera Vanquish for the road.
BCR: How often do you ride and where are your regular haunts?
I’d like to go out every day but my job unfortunately doesn’t allow me to, so I get out as much as I can.
For some off road fun we go to Laggan Wolftrax and Ben Nevis. But more often in the summer I get into the local hills as much as I can, and in the winter most of my riding is done on a turbo trainer.
BCR: Any favourite routes?
I enjoy the Great Glen Way as there is a bit of everything, uphill, downhill some jumps and amazing scenery.
On the turbo (bkool) I really enjoy Central Park NYC as its only 6 miles but still a real workout, and I can fit it in before work.
BCR: As someone who has travelled extensively, where would you most like to cycle in the world?
That’s a tough one as I love travelling. Anywhere with mountains and sunshine!
I’d also like to have a go at doing a stage of the tour before I get too old. I’d also like to do the JOGLE some day. Up here you also have the coast to coast challenge and the Strathpuffer I’d like to have a go at. Too many challenges and not enough time!
BCR: If your cooking skills/style were a bike race what bike race would it be?
Probably the Tour De France. I sometimes feel as though I’m going up hill or doing a time trial in the kitchen. They say the tour is the toughest ride but come and do a few 15 hour shifts in the kitchen with me and you’ll probably wish you were doing the tour!
BCR: Why do you cycle?
I was more into long distance running to keep fit, but due to an injury I had to stop and needed something else to do, so took up mountain biking which I really enjoy. This year I also bought a road bike to give that a go as well. It’s a great way to keep fit and I just love the outdoors.
We still use some of the old techniques, but technology and the fact that people are more knowledgeable about food has allowed us to be a lot more creative
BCR: You’re also no stranger to feats of endurance, with the completion of a double marathon under you’re belt.
In 2008, I did the London marathon with a friend, whose idea it was to run from the finish line, at 3 am, to the start line, and then complete the main marathon. So about 55 miles altogether, as we had to take some slight detours due to some of the tunnels still being open at that time in the morning. It was for the Bobby Moore fund for bowel cancer. Originally I was just going to support my friend either on the first or second marathon, and he was looking for a second person to do the other one, but he couldn’t find anyone so talked me into it. We had another friend who directed us around on a bike, who also carried water, gels and snacks for us, for the first 26 miles. For me the first 32 miles was quite easy but after that I hit a wall and was counting down every mile after that. I started to get cramp and was constantly asking myself what the hell I was doing? The last mile took me about 20 minutes but once I crossed that line I had a big grin on my face as we were the first people to do that!
BCR: During events I quickly get tired of sickly sweet gels and bars, and crave something more natural, which doesn’t play havoc with your digestive system. Do you have a recipe for a tasty snack that you could share with your fellow cyclists, to keep the legs turning?
How about these Oatmeal And Raisin Cookies?
Raisins are a great, cost-effective source of simple carbs, potassium, fibre, iron and other nutrients. Porridge Oats are every runner/cyclists best friend.
150g Unsalted Butter
300g Plain Flour
1/4tsp Bicarbonate Of Soda (mixed in with flour)
250g Porridge Oats
200g Demerara Sugar
2 Large Beaten Eggs
Beat butter and sugar together until soft and pale, slowly add the eggs then mix in every thing else, roll into cylinder approximately 6cm wide then freeze, when firm cut into 1cm thick slices and bake in the oven at 175° for 7/8 minutes until nicely golden. They’ll be soft when they first come out of the oven but will firm up when they are cold.
Flavour comes first.
If it looks bad but tastes amazing, I’d rather have that than something that looks amazing and tastes bad.
BCR: Can you describe how you trained as a Chef, who trained you, and where?
I did 2 years at local college after school, and in those days everything was done in French, and all the dishes we learned were French. I eventually moved to Paris and worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants.
I started at a place called La Table Du Baltimore in the 16th arrondissement, where we gained a Michelin star. My last job was a place called Le Drouant which already had a star, and which is in the 2nd arrondissement. I was second chef in both of these restaurants, the first one was quite a small team of 5 chefs, I was responsible for the running of the kitchen and training of the junior staff. Le Drouant was much more interesting; we were a team of around 23 chefs but we worked a 4 day week so there was never 23 working at the same time. My job changed daily, one day I would be on meat, the next day on fish, the day after I would be working on the starters, and my 4th day I would work on the pass plating the food. It sounds quite easy with so many chefs and only working 4 days but it was pretty intense. Being the second chef I had other responsibilities like ordering the food, and after a few years in France under my belt I had a really good command of the language, but for some bizarre reason one day I ordered 50 kilos of turbot instead of 15. Needless to say I learnt quite a lot of swear words from the chef the following day!
BCR: How does the techniques, methods and styles in which you were trained relate to the type of food you create now?
Things are so different today, and for the better!
We still use some of the old techniques, but technology and the fact that people are more knowledgeable about food has allowed us to be a lot more creative, as opposed to the restraints that come with classic French cuisine.
BCR: How would you describe the type of food you create now?
I like to think of it as creative with a touch of humour, but what really interests me is trying to achieve zero waste – a philosophy which permeates every aspect of the hotel.
By that I mean being able to use every part of an ingredient. As an example, most potato peelings end up in the bin but I want to use them in our cooking, and that’s where you need to get creative to be able to turn them into something interesting and enjoyable.
BCR: I understand you do a lot of foraging for ingredients. How did you get in to this, where did you get the knowledge of what to look for, and what do you use in the restaurant?
I’ve always had an interest in fresh fruit and vegetables; my grandfather was a keen gardener. Just picking and cooking something you have grown yourself is an amazing feeling knowing that it doesn’t get any fresher than that, so collecting something that grows wild for me is even better! When I worked down south a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go on a foraging course so I jumped at the chance, we have all collected brambles with our parents so to find out all the other things you can collect was a great opportunity, so it kinda stayed with me. I worked in Tuscany for a while, where we collected wild herbs and asparagus, but in Paris I never had much opportunity. Here in the Highlands there is an abundance of stuff just a walk away from the hotel so we collect different types of sorrel which grow on the lawn, and we get wild garlic at the bottom of the hotel. From early summer until November there is an abundance of mushrooms; we get ceps, chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms, winter chanterelles, amethyst deceivers which have a beautiful purple colour, and the list goes on! We get raspberries, blackcurrants, brambles, strawberries, flowers and herbs. 99.9% of what we pick gets used in the restaurant in sorbets, soups and everything in between, the .1% thats left we have for our dinner!
BCR: How do you strike a balance between delivering visually striking, flavourful, and sustenant food?
Flavour comes first.
If it looks bad but tastes amazing, I’d rather have that than something that looks amazing and tastes bad. Of course, if it looks and tastes amazing, then even better.
BCR: Have you ever thought of going for some type of Michelin guide accreditation – a star, bib gourmand etc. – both in terms of the recognition and achievement that would bring you and your staff, and also the advertisement and customer attraction an industry award like that would also bring?
Not sure how you ‘go’ for a Michelin star. We had 3 rosettes in the AA guide but decided to come out of it this year.
I’m not a big fan of the guides; I’ve been to starred restaurants that were truly horrendous and I’ve also been to restaurants without stars that have been amazing. Having said that I have also had some amazing meals in starred restaurants as well.
I think it’s the inconsistency in the guides that puts me off, but if the Michelin guide awarded us a bib gourmand or star I certainly wouldn’t refuse it!
BCR: What, where or whom is your biggest inspiration for your dishes?
Inspiration comes from everywhere; books, people, other chefs, social media.
BCR: What has been the best mistake you have made?
Probably turning down a good job in France to come to the Lovat where I met Caroline who became my wife and business partner.
BCR: Who has been the biggest influence in your life, professionally or personally?
I couldn’t name one person. I think everyone I have ever met has had some kind of influence, from my grandparents, parents, employers, and everyone in between, but Caroline, although she probably doesn’t know it, drives me to keep striving to be a better chef and person.
BCR: What dish or meal has given you the greatest satisfaction in creating it?
This really splits opinion with customers, but I love cooking and serving pigs trotters.
It sums up how I feel about food, and using all the parts of an animal.
My grandparents used to eat trotters and other ‘second class’ cuts because that’s what they could afford, but cooked with care they can be amazing!
BCR: What has been the best restaurant you have visited, and why?
I’ve been lucky enough to eat in incredible restaurants around the world so it’s difficult to choose just one. I could probably write a book about all the great restaurants I have been to.
In the last few years my favourites have been L’enclume in Cumbria and Pure C in the Netherlands, close to the Belgian border, which has one star but should definitely have 2 in my humble opinion. My favourite Scottish restaurant is a toss-up between Castle Terrace, Timberyard and 21212 closely followed by The Gannet and Cail Bruich
BCR: ..and finally. One book, one drink and one fridge raid midnight snack.
Book: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, who sadly recently commited suicide. For telling it how it really is in a kitchen. Drink: Champagne. Midnight snack: Proper cheese.
You can follow Sean on Instagram – @stationroadlochness or @thelovatlochness
or on Twitter – @stationroadfood or @thelovat
Booking a stay at The Lovat hotel, or a fantastic meal at The Brasserie restaurant where Sean practices his craft, can be done through their website or on +44 (0)1456 490000
Daz & Craig