Gary is a full time Senior Chef Lecturer at The City of Glasgow College. Throughout his 30-year career he has opened over 80 restaurants from scratch so it was no surprise he didn’t let the pressure get to him when he battled it out on MasterChef: The Professionals.
Taking on 47 other professional chefs in the pursuit of gastronomic glory, Gary fought through seven weeks of fierce competition and extraordinary cooking in the culinary challenges before being crowned Champion in December 2016.
I knew quite early on in my life that I wanted to be a chef. It was the early 80’s and cooking wasn’t as mainstream as it is now. I just really enjoyed cooking and at school it was really the only thing I was good at.
I’ve been very lucky as there hasn’t been many. I suppose the big jobs like opening restaurants – sometimes even opening two restaurants in two different cities with two different concepts on the same day. That’s very stressful!
Scottish fish and shellfish and PGI Scotch beef. Scotland has amazing produce; we are the envy of Europe for what we grow and I’m passionately proud of Scottish food.
The reality is that life hasn’t changed that much. The biggest thing is getting recognized on the street and having people wanting photographs with you. I’m doing loads of selfies which is bizarre! It’s unique the way Scotland has embraced the result; it’s been absolutely mind blowing. I’m really, really humbled by the response that people have had towards someone from Glasgow, and someone that teaches for a living, managing to win the show.
It was actually quite easy to keep it quiet as the experience didn’t seem real. The first person I would call after a round was my wife, second was my boss, Willie McCurrach, who was an amazing support throughout the whole process. Then I would call my mum. It got a bit trickier as the shows went on and I would tell my students “I’m going out tonight” or “watch this one, it’s the last one!” before each episode aired.
The only one who might follow in my footsteps is my youngest who is three. He’s MasterChef daft and watches the episodes over and over – but not the episodes I’m in! He loves being in the kitchen, getting a wee apron on, getting involved and asking questions. I don’t know if I’m too keen for him to become a chef– it’s been good to me but I know how tough the industry can be. I’ve always had a plan that if one of my kids wanted to be a chef then I would support them, put them in the hardest kitchen with the toughest chef, and if they survive then they’re right for the job. My three-year-old is tougher than anyone I know so he’ll survive anything!
The students that I know well were exactly the same from start to finish, apart from giving me a wee bit of slagging! I’d be on TV the night before, come in and do a class the next day and it was still a normal class. The only big thing was after the final episode aired the classes had finished for Christmas; when I came back in after the holidays the students had decorated the whole classroom with banners and balloons – they even had a trophy made.
110%. I went on the show after being pushed into it by my kids and my students over the years. I’ve been the culinary coach at the College for the last six years and we’ve won everything. The City of Glasgow College do well in culinary competitions. When we turn up, whether it’s ScotHot, London or America, we are the team to beat and we inevitably are the team that wins. I knew I had the skills and competitive edge to survive on a show like MasterChef.Do you think that MasterChef has changed your style of cooking?
Have you had any famous chefs reaching out to work with you?Since December I’ve been working non-stop and doing lots and lots of charity work. It’s an amazing platform to have; in one day we raised thousands of pounds for Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland (HITS). I also had a day working with Jamie Scott the 2014 winner. We do some work with Quality Meats Scotland and spent the day together at a primary school just outside Dundee.
The first thing I would say to anyone who wants to be a chef is go to college. Secondly, do not chase money or a position. You are better to be a commis in a very good restaurant than a junior sous in a rubbish one; you’ve got to look at it as an investment in your future. If you’re working in the best restaurant, a Michelin star or Martin Wishart’s or somewhere like that, you have to look at that as the Oxford or Cambridge of cooking. That’s your education and that’s what’s going to get you money in the long term.
No, I would never consider leaving education. At The City of Glasgow College, we seem to be in a bit of a boom - we have lots of fantastic students and we’ve just moved into an amazing new £235m campus. The management team are really forward thinking in what they want; they have aspirations to be the best in the world and I want to be part of that. Where do you see yourself in the next five years?I will definitely be full time still doing my day job at the College- but you can never tell what else I might be up to!
SSC Food Ambassador and Senior Chef Lecturer, City of Glasgow College
Scotland's National Chef.
Winner of MasterChef: The Professionals 2016.