Alison Sykora on Scottish island produce

Alison Sykora on island produce

The Larder: Chef's Choice

With focus on air-miles and carbon footprints, restaurateurs are looking to source their food as locally as possible. Alison Sykora, Chef Manager at Mount Stuart, tells us about the produce available on the Isle of Bute.

It is such a privilege to be able to eat good food, and to celebrate the quality of each ingredient by doing as little as possible to it.

I have just eaten a delicious supper of mackerel, line-caught here on the Isle of Bute, and stuffed with oatmeal, a sauté of onions, parsley, black pepper, lemon juice and zest, with a huge portion of cavolo nero, (that beautiful black textured kale, until recently more often grown in British gardens as an ornamental plant, rather than an edible vegetable) steamed with garlic and white wine and, on the side, fresh roasted beetroot with a splash of cold-pressed Scottish rapeseed oil. Each part of this meal (apart from the lemons and the wine) came from Scotland and the majority of the produce travelled no air miles, and even no road miles – in fact it all came in by shanks’ pony. The mackerel was caught at Kerrycroy, only some 800 metres away, and the garden produce was freshly picked and carried by hand to the restaurant this morning, direct from the gardens right here at Mount Stuart.

My choice of all these ingredients is the glorious but often under-appreciated beetroot. It is brimming with colour and is also the current healthy choice. I have loved this root and its rainbow leaves (chard and beets are from the same family) since my childhood. Probably in part because of my Czech heritage and being brought up on borsch. From mid-summer onwards we ate bowlfuls of this sweet, earthy vegetable soup. Hot or cold, thin or thick, it is said that there are more recipes for borsch than there are days of the year, and I would happily eat beets on every single one of them.

Alison Sykora is chef manager at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, 01700 503877,

Mount Stuart House and Gardens

Rothesay, Isle of Bute, Argyll and Bute, PA20 9LR

A 19th-century mansion that’s home to an annual visual arts programme and one of the biggest collections of private art and artefacts in the UK.

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