Lady Claire Macdonald. - The red rose of Kinloch
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Don't dare whisper it north of the border but Lady Claire Macdonald is as Lancastrian as the hotpot she still cooks. Emma Mayoh spoke to her on the idyllic Isle of Skye
Don't be fooled by Lady Claire Macdonald. Her name may seem as Scottish as a tin of shortbread biscuits but scratch the surface, and you discover a proud Lancastrian.
'Yes, I have kept my Lancashire roots,' says the woman credited with transforming the Scottish food industry, once as famous for the quality of its produce as it was infamous for the way it was cooked. 'I go back to visit my parents at least once a month so it's still very much a part of my life.
'I sometimes think the Scots would benefit from a good dollop of Lancashire blood. They do get it from me and I think they like it!'
Joking aside, Lady Claire is quite a personality in the food world. As well as running Kinloch Lodge, the beautiful Skye home and hotel she runs with her husband Lord Godfrey Macdonald, she is also a passionate ambassador for Scottish produce, has written almost 20 recipe books, is an accomplished cookery writer and has just moved into the field of food consultancy.
Her addictive, sparky personality will have been the springboard for her success. It was formed during the years she spent living in Thurland Castle in Tunstall, just outside Kirkby Lonsdale. The castle was bought by her grandmother and Claire, her siblings and her parents, lived on the top floor of this incredible pile.
'It was such a beautiful place,' said Claire. 'It was a moated, wonderful rambling house that was perfect for us children to get lost in. We travelled all over because my father was a submariner in the Navy but we always had Thurland to come back to. And it always felt like home.
'I go back regularly and I've seen Thurland since it's been made into fantastic apartments. It's just beautiful. Other parts of Lancashire are special to me, too. The Fylde is such a beautiful area. My mother used to live at Lytham Hall. I love going back there and although my father doesn't live in Lytham anymore, he is the oldest surviving member of Royal Lytham and St Anne's Golf Club.'
It was the influence of her strong-willed grandmother and mother that nurtured her passion for good domestic cooking and seasonal, local produce. It's arguable, too, that her Lancashire grit and determination got her to where she is today.
She said: 'My first memories of food are when we were at Thurland Castle. I remember I would go outside with my grandmother and collects eggs from the hens and we would have them for breakfast.
'Sunday lunches were always a real treat too. The first meal I ever made was a fricassee from left over chicken. Cooking was a big part of my childhood.'
Her life at Kinloch Lodge, perched on the shores of Loch Na Dal, remains heavily focused on food.
Although she no longer cooks for the hotel restaurant - she leaves that to friend and accomplished chef Marcello Tully - she holds cookery courses at Kinloch as well as running the hotel with daughter Isabella and son-in-law Tim.
She also travels regularly - the day after I spoke to her she was flying to Texas for the Clan Macdonald annual general meeting with husband Godfrey, the high chief of the clan. (Their wedding featured in Lancashire Life in 1969)
But when the couple first arrived at Kinloch 40 years ago, life was quite different.
She explained: 'We'd been living in Edinburgh but we got married and we moved to Skye. It was such a shock to the system.
'Even if you had a television, there was no chance of using it because there was no reception. It really was a wilderness. Now we have a road where people can reach us. The isolation did take some getting used to. I'm used to island life though now.'
Despite being hundreds of miles away from her Lancashire birthplace she has not lost touch with home and likes to keep a keen eye on our food.
She said: 'I'm so greedy, I just love food. And there is such a lot of good food in Lancashire. I love Nigel Haworth. The Highwayman is just superb.
'The Sun Inn in Kirkby Lonsdale is also a place I love to go when I visit Lancashire. I love Lancashire hotpot and I still make it for people up in Scotland. I must confess I do use Scottish black pudding but the recipe is not mine.
'It was given to me by the last Lady Shuttleworth, what a great cook! It's brilliant, we love it. I love to entertain and this is a fantastic dish.'
Lady Claire's life is a whirlwind and it's difficult to know how she fits everything in. Possibly, it's the Lancashire resolve she learned as a child.
Although she is happy with her Scottish life, she will never relinquish her roots.'I love what I do and I love my life. But Lancashire will always be so important to me. Skye may be my home but part of my heart will always be in Lancashire. You can take the girl out of Lancashire but you'll never take Lancashire out of this girl.'