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Meet Jacqueline O'Donnell: the woman who makes Scottish cooking Simply Special

For Jacqueline O’Donnell, the secret to great cooking is to keep it simple... but special too.

Jacqueline says it is really easy to make great meals with really good ingredients. Photos by Mark Mainz.
Jacqueline says it is really easy to make great meals with really good ingredients. Photos by Mark Mainz.

The well-known and respected chef, 44, knows that people want simple recipes for classic Scottish fare and her passion for traditional cooking shines through in her HeraldScotland blog, which has proved to be a real hit with readers since its launch in October 2012.

After teaching readers how to make the perfect lentil soup, Cullen skink and Scottish mussels, she’s now turned her attention to tackling one of her favourite Scottish recipes: mince and tatties.

Jacqueline said:  “It’s dead easy to cook fantastic food, so easy in fact that I keep thinking I’ll get found out! Ninety percent of good cooking is good shopping so if you buy really good stuff it’s easy to turn it into a good meal.

“We’re spoilt in Scotland because I think the quality of the produce we have here from land and sea far exceeds anywhere else. It’s something we can take for granted but I think it should be used in our meals and enjoyed.”

Jacqueline has been a champion of Scottish produce since she was a youngster.

She first started cooking and baking with her Gran when she was 4-years-old, however, it was not until she was introduced to food and nutrition in home economics class that she realised she wanted to be a chef.

She said: “I am a meat and two veg kind of chef and my passion for food has grown over the years, I am still keen to watch people and find out how to do things.

“My Gran was a keen cook and baker and I would always help with making the soup, grating carrots and collecting rhubarb but even then it never twigged, it was just something fun thatI loved doing it.

“My first bake at home was a bit of a disaster. I made a Victorian sponge but I didn’t read that you had to put it in the oven and thought I could put it under the grill. Needless to say it never worked but that didn’t stop my sister and I eating it and it didn’t put my off cooking as I’ve always been a pick yourself up and dust yourself off kind of person.

“At high school I was keen on languages and my Gran had a fit when she found out I had chosen them over home economics when picking my subjects. She said I would need to look after a husband and told me to put home economics down on my form. I remember getting in quite a huff but I’m pleased she did it because when we hit food and nutrition I thought I love this and realised that cooking was the career for me.”

After school, Jacqueline went to Motherwell College and qualifyed as a pastry chef. She worked at Crieff Hydro, Craigdarroch and a hotel in France before setting up her own bakery, Short and Sweet.

However, she missed the buzz of the kitchen and decided to launch her own company catering dinner parties with her sister, a decision that was the catalyst for the opening of Jacqueline’s restaurant The Sisters in Kelvingrove. The restaurant, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, was followed by a second eaterie in Jordanhill.

Jacqueline said: “Opening the Sisters came about by chance. I decided to do dinner parties because I missed the buzz of working in the kitchen and I wanted to get it going again and at one of the parties someone said you should open a restaurant.

“It was a very steep learning curve. I had spent 14 years in the pudding section and on our opening night we didn’t know what we were doing. I had never written a menu before and we didn’t know that everyone in Glasgow wants to eat at 8pm! It’s laughable when you consider how organised we are now. It must have looked chaotic but we’re still here so it can’t have been that bad!”

Jacqueline says she now relishes the challenge of looking after the current, more food conscious generation at her popular restaurants and says championing Scottish food and getting to know her suppliers has been one of the keys to her success.

She added: “Programmes like Masterchef only blasted into our lives 5-6 years ago and they have made people more aware of great food and willing to try cooking themselves so expectations have never been higher.

“We have to keep our game up and, on the financial side, we have to be able to produce whole meals for £35, which is great for chefs because it means they can show themselves on a plate.

“I also think it’s important to champion Scottish foods and know your suppliers. Scotland produces some of the best food in the world and it’s so important to me to know my pig and beef farmers and I want to know them as they are in the restaurant with me.”

Jacqueline now hopes to inspire the next generation of amateur chefs through her restaurant and blog.

She said: “I want to keep going on looking after generations. It’s been lovely for our customers at The Sisters to see us growing up and for us to see them growing up.

“I’m quite keen to encourage my daughter to cook and to make others realise that it is really easy to cook fantastic food with the right ingredients.”

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