Politicians and their plates
Members of the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Food share their ideas of food heaven and food hell
Collette Stevenson, SNP MSP
Describe your favourite plate of food My fave would be monkfish wrapped in Parma ham with scallops and a saffron and cream sauce.
Why is it so special? I love the texture and flavours of the seafood and the creamy sauce. Heaven on a plate! Any kind of seafood is a winner with me.
More generally, what’s your most memorable meal and why? My most memorable meal has to be The Three Chimneys on Skye in 2001. We had to book it three weeks in advance and I’ll tell you, it was worth the wait. I can still close my eyes and remember it like it was yesterday. The food was all locally sourced and the surroundings were just perfect. The Three Chimneys’ lobster bisque was exquisite! I met Shirley Spears, the owner and chef, that night and I got her to sign my book, Scotland on a Plate. The whole experience and holiday was unforgettable.
Have you ever had any culinary disasters? Yes! Christmas turkey not cooked properly as I misjudged the timings. Luckily my wee granny was there to entertain everyone and regale all the family with her stories so waiting an extra hour or so wasn’t actually too bad.
Is there one ingredient in your kitchen that you couldn’t do without? Yes, butter.
Food Heaven/food hell? Food heaven is probably slow cooked beef with creamy mashed potatoes and Savoy cabbage. Food Hell is Heinz Ravioli. I remember my mum trying to force me to eat it when I was a wee girl and I still have nightmares about it.
What’s your guilty comfort food? Crackers, cheeses and a good chutney. I particularly like pineapple and chilli chutney with any cheese.
Fantasy dinner party guests and what is on the menu? Dalai Lama, Billy Connolly, Michael Caine, Judy Dench, George Michael, Hilary Clinton, Jim Morrison, Jennifer Aniston, David Bowie, Steve Coogan Rob Bryden. Sorry I know that’s a lot but it is a fantasy. Menu - langoustines in a garlic butter, châteaubriand, scallops, and a big cheese board with all the accoutrements.
What is your favourite thing on the parliament menu? Mac ‘n’ cheese.
How would you describe you approach to food? Oh my, I absolutely love food. I love cooking and trying new recipes. I actually make it my mission to get all the correct ingredients and where possible all sourced locally. I get annoyed that we don’t eat more seafood as a nation given that we are an island and we are surrounded by the best seafood/shellfish in the world. When you try langoustines abroad and they’re from Scotland yet we can very rarely source them here, that’s frustrating.
I also love going somewhere special for a meal, especially if someone has recommended it. I recently tried Cail Bruich in Glasgow and that was very special. I highly recommend the chef’s taster menu. I grew up in poverty and there were times we had to get a food parcel from my granny until it came round to getting our benefits again so that stigma never really leaves you. I think I learned then a deep appreciation of food. I also remember the smells of my granny cooking and it was the best feeling, especially the jelly cooling on the window ledge.
Colin Smyth, Scottish Labour MSP
Describe your favourite plate of food A selection of my favourite authentic Asian cuisine. Maybe dim sum from China, goi cuon (fresh spring rolls) and pho from Vietnam, rendang from Malaysia, Japanese sushi and soft shell crabs, with some street food from a hawker centre in Hong Kong or Singapore thrown in.
Why is it so special? My wife Victoria is a far superior cook to me, although I try. Her mum is from Malaysia and her dad is from Dennistoun. I like that she gets her culinary skills from her mum! Our two daughters have Chinese middle names. Hannah’s is Soon-Yi, meaning glorious, and Evie’s is Mei Lai, meaning double beauty. Those links with family in Asia are special and family gatherings over food are such an important part of it.
More generally, what’s your most memorable meal and why? We got married in our home town of Dumfries, where we have always lived, but also had a big wedding banquet in Kuala Lumpur, which over a hundred family and friends from Asia, Scotland and Australia came to. It was a fantastic ten-course banquet and a fabulous mix of kilts and karaoke. Although it was sadly my dad’s last holiday before he passed away a year later he had such a wonderful time holding court reminiscing about his days based in Asia when in the Navy. Special memories.
Have you ever had any culinary disasters? Plenty. I make a nice little starter of Marie Rose king prawns in a filo basket with a balsamic drizzle. It takes just ten minutes in the oven to cook the baskets. On Christmas Day two years ago it was 20 minutes before I remembered they were in the oven. You can’t buy an emergency pack of filo pastry on Christmas Day. My youngest daughter always asks if people remember the Christmas daddy burnt the dinner. She’s only six.
Is there one ingredient in your kitchen that you couldn’t do without? Can’t get it down to one. There are always bottles of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce and chilli flakes in the cupboard. You just need to remember to pick up the right one when cooking, although it just makes the food a little more interesting when you get it wrong.
Food Heaven/food hell? Dumfries and Galloway where I live is very much food heaven. We get our vegetable boxes from the farm round the corner, our milk delivered from a local dairy and our butcher boxes from the butcher’s a mile away - all local produce. They all went out of their way to support people during the various lockdowns with home deliveries. I feel passionate that we should repay that support. But also quality local produce tastes so much better. It’s a joy to go to the regular local farmers’ markets to buy the flourishing range of amazing local food and drink. We also grow a lot of our own vegetables, fruit and herbs in our garden which is fantastic for the kids to learn about where food comes from. I think that should be on the school curriculum. As for hell, well let’s just say like George Bush senior, I won’t get the broccoli vote.
What’s your guilty comfort food? Without doubt, chocolate. But as convener of the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Fair Trade, I go for Fair Trade chocolate, so not only is it guilt free, eating lots is supporting a very good cause!
Fantasy dinner party guests and what is on the menu? I was in New York a few years ago and found myself standing on the crossroads of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Boulevards. It’s remarkable to think they only met each other once. Shared goals but different views on how they could be achieved. I’d bring them together with the leader I admired most - Nelson Mandela, who was both Malcolm and Martin. It would be an inspirational masterclass in how to battle injustice with dignity and determination. They all had simple culinary tastes so the food would be straightforward but would be shared.
What is your favourite thing on the parliament menu? It’s a parliament cliché but it’s hard to walk past the Mac ‘n’ cheese. I’m on my annual post-Christmas diet just now so tend to head for the soup. I think they need to do in the parliament café what they did in supermarkets when they moved the sweets away from kids at checkouts. Move the Mac ‘n’ cheese and chips to the back to protect us MSPs who keep failing miserably to walk past them to get to the soup and salad.
How would you describe your approach to food? Adventurous. I love to try new dishes. But with so much of my family living in many different places, bringing people together to catch up and share food is incredibly important to me, whether it’s a visit to the local Chinese restaurant, which cooks an authentic Chinese banquet for us, or my many regular barbecues in the garden. Such gatherings are something we haven’t been able to do much of in the past two years for obvious reasons and I’ve missed them terribly.
Rhoda Grant, Scottish Labour MSP
Describe your favourite plate of food I have lots of favourites - shellfish and lamb and things like that. A good example of this is scallops and black pudding. When I was growing up I loved them, but they were never served together. They were free food (I wish they were now!). My dad caught the scallops and my mum made great black pudding. Stornoway Black Pudding is just fantastic.
Why is it so special? Two things that I loved from when I was a child but never eaten together. I guess I was really lucky where I was brought up that we were able to grow or catch our own food pretty easily, so we never went hungry although there were times there wasn’t much variety. I love scallops. When I was visiting a friend who fished for scallops, he brought a lot home and we had them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. His family refused to eat them because they were sick of them – I was in my element.
More generally, what’s your most memorable meal and why? I was in Florence with friends for a girls’ weekend. There were ten of us and we were struggling to find somewhere to eat that would take us all. We were wondering what to do when a woman came out of a pet shop and asked what the problem was. We explained and she said wait until I close the shop and I will take you to a good restaurant. This meant following her through dark streets behind bins as she cycled ahead, beckoning us to follow. We were a bit concerned as to where we would end up! She eventually brought us to a restaurant, a local place, which seemed crammed full of people, but they found us a table. They didn’t have enough English menus so the waiter said, “Will I bring you best the chef has on offer tonight?” We said yes, and he did! A full Italian traditional meal, it was wonderful, pasta, salad, rare steak – we had no room for dessert, to the disappointment of the waiter, so he left us with a two-litre bottle of dessert wine to help ourselves to. The meal was really cheap, the food delicious and the company was fantastic.
Have you ever had any culinary disasters? Many. I love experimenting with food and have done so since I was really young. My first attempt at pizza I thought was really good, but I was asking the rest of my family what they thought. They were not so enthusiastic, so I prompted them by asking whether they had tasted the herbs and spices. “Yes” said my Dad “and I’ll be tasting them for the next week!”
Is there one ingredient in your kitchen that you couldn’t do without? Tomatoes. I love tomatoes.
Food Heaven/food hell? Food heaven is probably tomatoes. Food hell: veal – oh, the very thought of it. I was brought up on a croft so I’m not squeamish about where my food comes from but that is a step too far.
What’s your guilty comfort food? I don’t feel guilty about comfort food! I love Maltesers, especially if they have been in the fridge for a wee while so that the chocolate breaks off.
Fantasy dinner party guests and what is on the menu? I love having dinner with my family and catching up. A big extended family table with everyone round. Food and people are just such a lovely relaxing experience. I like to have a laugh so I think I would invite Graham Norton - I love his wicked sense of humour - and Kay Adams because she would ask all the questions I’d like to but don’t have the nerve to. And James Martin to hopefully do the cooking.
What is your favourite thing on the parliament menu? I’m not keen on a heavy meal during the day so I tend to go for salad or a baked potato.
How would you describe your approach to food? I like proper food. I’m not too keen on fast food, other than KFC (maybe that is a guilty pleasure).
Ariane Burgess, Scottish Green MSP and party spokesperson on food
Describe your favourite plate of food A salad made from whatever’s grown locally and in season. Recently I tried locally grown chioggia beetroot - I’d never tasted it before. It was amazing to look at and peeling off the red warty skin I was thinking ‘this is definitely an ugly vegetable’. When I started to grate it a surprise of pink and white concentric circles were revealed. I mixed it with grated black radish, salsify and some salad greens and a dressing of olive oil, lemon and garlic. Yum.
Why is it so special? I like to eat seasonally as much as possible; it connects me to what’s happening in nature on my doorstep.
More generally, what’s your most memorable meal and why? There are many memorable meals, summertime in a South Bronx community garden eating a plate of food all grown in that garden with the young people who grew it with me. A couple of oysters on Barra beach as the plane was landing, shared by the person who grows them. The most recent memorable meal was the community Forres Feast a few years ago – with 200 people in the Forres Town Hall seated at long tables, tucking into delicious food – meat, vegetarian or vegan options – everything locally sourced and being entertained by local musicians and poets. I also really love the multiple quick picnics on mountain walks – a sandwich, a flask of tea and great vistas – what’s not to like?
Have you ever had any culinary disasters? I like to experiment. I wouldn’t call them disasters…
Is there one ingredient in your kitchen that you couldn’t do without? Garlic.
Food Heaven/food hell? Food heaven is eating veg fresh from the garden. Food hell is veg boiled until there’s no texture, taste or colour left. You know, like overcooked Brussel sprouts – totally ruined.
What’s your guilty comfort food? It’s not guilty, but it’s definitely comfort food – lasagne.
Fantasy dinner party guests and what is on the menu? A tasting menu with locally produced food from every part of the Highlands and Islands with the people who grew, produced, harvested, procured and cooked it at the table telling their stories and sharing everything with young people who live in the region.
What is your favourite thing on the parliament menu? We’re spoiled for choice on the parliament menu. One thing that’s not on it yet that I’d like to see, in line with the government’s plan to increase the amount of organic food grown in Scotland, is more organic ingredients. I’d like to see the parliament kitchen, and all public kitchens, signal to food producers that local organic food is wanted for the menu. This would give the producers confidence that there is a market to grow for and they could start making the move to farming methods that will help us cut carbon emissions and support nature to regenerate.
How would you describe your approach to food? Flexible, experimental and curious. After going through some health challenges, I know I function best with a good deal of nutrient-rich fresh veg every day so as much as possible I make that happen. On weekends I indulge. Lately we’ve been perfecting homemade pizza – they’re not round but they taste great.
Claire Baker, Scottish Labour MSP
Describe your favourite plate of food A big bowl of home-made chicken soup.
Why is it so special? My mum didn’t like to cook but that undersells the food she was very good at – trifle, soups, macaroni cheese, stews. I still make her chicken soup. The stock is made from the remains of a roast chicken, and you add rice, leeks, carrots and salt. It is quite therapeutic to make. It has nourished me when I get home late from parliament and too tired to cook.
More generally, what’s your most memorable meal and why? Henrique Leis’ restaurant in the Algarve was one of my first Michelin starred restaurants – the food was inventive, colourful, beautiful and delicious. This was before you took photos of food with a phone, but I can remember clearly the lattice pastry basket filled with all colours of ice-creams and sorbets.
Have you ever had any culinary disasters? I usually have faith in Nigella Lawson’s Feast book, it is great for celebratory meals and I use it for special occasions. I like marking special events and points in the calendar with cooking and baking. But it has a typo in it - Baked Alaska needs ‘stiff’ peaks not ‘soft’, as I discovered one Christmas.
Is there one ingredient in your kitchen that you couldn’t do without? I like fresh ginger – it is good for giving warmth and depth to a dish
Food Heaven/food hell? Heaven is my mother-in-law’s honeycomb ice cream. She makes the honeycomb and the ice-cream is almost like a parfait. Hell would be tomato ketchup and a fried egg together
What’s your guilty comfort food? I don’t associate food with guilt, I think we should enjoy the choices we make. I do have a sweet tooth and I like all flavours of dark chocolate truffles from Heavenly Goodies, a local chocolatier.
Fantasy dinner party guests and what is on the menu? Sylvia Plath, Michelle Obama, Amy Poehler. Michelle Obama’s book Becoming has a method for making grilled cheese in a microwave which does work, and Amy Poehler as Lesley Knope loves a waffle. Sylvia Plath’s recipe cards and rolling pin recently sold at auction, and being from Massachusetts, she liked chowder. Anything more complicated and I’d order outside catering.
What is your favourite thing on the parliament menu? Fish and chips has been on the menu since 1999, and I still enjoy it.
How would you describe your approach to food? I try to eat healthy, in season and shop local. My daughter is a pescatarian who doesn’t really like fish, so we eat much more vegetarian meals as a family and at the moment I am trying lots of recipes from a Christmas gift, Anna Jones’s One Pot, Pan, Planet.
Rachael Hamilton, Scottish Conservative MSP
Describe your favourite plate of food Sharing simple, food with friends and family is more important than what’s on the plate. Most people know they’re going to get good nosh at our house because we love cooking locally sourced ingredients. A homemade cottage pie with Scotch beef mince can be as satisfying as something fancy, it’s more about the company.
Why is it so special? Sharing food is the art of giving.
More generally, what’s your most memorable meal and why? A winter BBQ at Yellow Craigs beach in East Lothian. We barbequed partridge breasts, and ate them with homemade red onion marmalade and cherry tomatoes in a crusty baguette with a can of G&T.
Have you ever had any culinary disasters? I made a decadent lemon tart with nine egg yolks and six lemons and didn’t have time for it to set before I served it to my guests. Instead of a beautifully cut and presented pudding, it was a tasty, but runny, gloop.
Is there one ingredient in your kitchen that you couldn’t do without? Butter
Food Heaven/food hell? Sweetbreads are my food hell because of their association. My husband ordered calves testicles at Au Petit Comptoir in Reims. The waiter arrived with the food, he took one look at it and tried to convince me that it was what I ordered!
What’s your guilty comfort food? Almond croissants.
Fantasy dinner party guests? Nadim Zahawi, David Attenborough, Henry Dimbleby, Richard Osman, Peter Scudamore, Elizabeth Blackadder, The Queen, Mary Berry, Clementine Churchhill, Sinead O’Connor, Ayesha Hazarika.
What is your favourite thing on the parliament menu? Spiced lentil soup.
How would you describe you approach to food? Wholesome and educated. Knowing how to cook and manage a store cupboard is one of the greatest skills known to mankind. The pandemic has pushed people back into the kitchen - let’s jump on that bandwagon and get home economics back into schools to cut food waste, promote health and wellbeing and alleviate poverty.