Graham Mitchell’s extensive career has seen him become one of the key figures in putting the north-east’s food industry on the map.
Since starting his passion for cooking at just 15, he has been awarded a string of reputable titles – including Scotch Beef Chef of the Year and Seafood Chef of the Year.
Not only that, Graham is one of nine members forming the Scottish Culinary team who will take part in the Culinary Olympics in Germany in February.
Building his expertise by working at popular city venues Moonfish Cafe, The Chester Hotel, The Cock & Bull and many more, he now holds the role of head chef at the Newmachar Hotel.
Joining the team in March, Graham was eager to be a part of the venue’s bar and restaurant transformations – which are due to begin in the coming weeks.
And he has already put his own stamp on the hotel’s food offering, including their new winter menu which has gone down a storm with customers.
What was the main inspiration behind you wanting to become a chef?
I started cooking part-time when I was 15 at the Cloverleaf Hotel in Bucksburn.
While I was there – around 18 years ago now – my main role involved helping out the chefs.
But in the beginning, I actually got into it because of Gordon Ramsay.
At that time, his show Boiling Point had started screening on Channel 4, and I would always watch it and really wanted to get involved.
He was definitely the main figure that drove me to start my career.
That’s great to hear. Talk me through the venues you’ve worked at since starting off.
I’ve worked all over the place to be honest with you.
From the Cloverleaf Hotel, I got my first job at The Marriot in Dyce and did all my college and work training there.
Then I moved into the city, which is where I picked up a role at The Square in Golden Square.
Sadly, the venue isn’t there anymore but a fantastic team had been put together there and I really enjoyed it.
We all decided to move up to The Olive Tree on Queens Road together, which has also since been closed.
After that, the group of us branched out and went in different directions, which led to me acquiring positions at The Marine in Stonehaven, Howie’s, Restaurant 21, Malmaison and The Cock & Bull.
Have you worked abroad at all?
Yes. Following the period where I worked at The Cock & Bull, I joined the company Seabourn – an ultra-luxury cruise line operating around the globe.
They were the only six-star cruise line company in the world at the time, so it was a really demanding role having to cater to around 450 guests on the ship.
I was away four-to-five months at a time working seven-day weeks, which lasted for about three years.
It was a great experience but I reached the point where I wanted to come back to the city.
As soon as I heard that Moonfish were looking for chefs, I ended up coming home and helped out there for a bit as a sous chef.
What was it about Newmachar Hotel that appealed to you?
I knew the owners, Grant and Linda, beforehand so we sat and spoke at the start of year about me taking on the role as the head chef here.
They’ve run the hotel for 30 years now, so the pair of them know the ins and outs of the industry and how the scene works.
It’s great to work for people that know this and the pressures that come with working as a chef.
Not only that, but they showed me the plans for the venue’s upcoming refurbishment and I loved it. It’s very sleek and modern.
This is taking place in the next few weeks and will all be ready before the Christmas period.
When you started at the hotel, how did you go about developing the new menu?
I went back to my roots slightly and took inspiration from the menu I created at The Cock & Bull.
It’s a gastro pub-style because I love good comfort food.
But essentially, the menu showcases a group of classic dishes that have been modernised and given twists here and there to make them more interesting.
As soon as I go to a new venue, I make sure that everything coming out of the kitchen has been constructed by me and the team there.
Other than yourself, who else has a say in the venue’s new food offering?
There are three of us here working in the kitchen, so we’ve been the brains behind the menu.
I’ll sit down with the team and ask each one of them to go off and construct their own ideas for it.
Then we’ll come back together and decide on the ultimate menu, which is made up of all the best dishes we have thought up.
I always make sure that my menus are changed seasonally.
It’s important to go with the seasons because you won’t get certain foods all year round.
For example, you can get your hands on wild garlic in spring but not at this time of year, so we implemented that into the previous menu but not the winter one.
It’s a tight team at Newmachar Hotel but it works really well.
I’m sure there must be an abundance, but what have been your career highlights?
I was the winner of Scotland’s Surf and Turf Chef of the Year competition in 2017.
And I’ve also picked up titles for Seafood Chef of the Year, Scotch Beef Chef of the Year, Bar Food Chef of the Year and Afternoon Tea Chef of the Year in the past few years.
Other than that, key highlights would also be reaching the finals in the British Game Chef of the Year twice.
Those were big events for me because I was up against Michelin starred chefs from across Britain.
What about key experiences that really made you evolve as a chef?
Well when I first trained, the group of us on the course weren’t really using fresh foods to create our dishes.
So I didn’t have any experience about using this type of produce until working at The Square.
Everything served there was as fresh as it could be and the experience really opened my eyes.
That’s when I started to learn what it means to be a chef and how to create delicious dishes that make a lasting impact.
What can people expect from Newmachar Hotel in the coming months?
The refurbishment is definitely the main thing and I think customers will love it.
The current interiors will be removed very shortly, so those that are coming in to dine with us over the winter period will get the chance to see it fresh, as well as try out our brand new winter menu.