NO matter how hard I try to pretend I don’t really care if we win or not, it is always a great feeling to learn that your business has won a prestigious award. The first win for The Three Chimneys was possibly the best of all, when journalist Ray Gardner telephoned to tell me we had won the Scottish Restaurant of the Year Award in 1990. Many readers may remember Ray as Trencherman, who wrote restaurant reviews for The Glasgow Herald in the 1970s and 1980s. I had picked up the call in the restaurant kitchen expecting to take a regular enquiry, to learn that he had already been to dine with us incognito and was telephoning to tell us the final results.

It was a great deal harder to achieve recognition in those days and awards of this kind were few and far between, particularly for a remote business. I had entered in the vain hope of being recognised for what we were achieving in our far-flung corner of Skye, doing our utmost to promote all that was best about Scottish food. Like most things we did in those early years, we were hell-bent on simply building the business and encouraging visitors to come and find us down the single-track road to Colbost. The movement to encourage more restaurants to recognise the importance of Scottish ingredients, fresh, seasonal produce and good cooking was only just beginning to grow, particularly through the original Taste of Scotland scheme run by the old Scottish Tourist Board. However, the food, drink and hospitality industry was a very long way from where it is today, with little support and an alarming disregard for its importance to tourism and the Scottish economy.

Being an "award-winning" business is a frequently churned-out phrase today. There are so many competitions. Unfortunately, a little scepticism has crept into the hype associated with the large number of glittering ceremonies that take place throughout the year. It may bring only a few moments of fame on the night, but an award brings a level of prestige for every company and those who work in it, particularly in the form of a useful badge for marketing purposes. And every winner deserves that.

This weekend, several of our Scottish food producers will be celebrating the after-glow of their success in the wake of the Scottish Food and Drink Excellence Awards held last Thursday evening. There are many categories for these annual awards. A quick flick through the 2016 shortlist makes one realise just how the Scottish food and drink industry has expanded over the past 10 years, with some exceptional success stories at home and abroad. Our current food and drink industry is not only about the fresh, seasonal products that are farmed, fished and grown on land and at sea. We have a glorious natural larder, but these ingredients are also being put to excellent use in manufactured items, celebrated at these awards. Everything from the current trend for Scottish gin and vodka to a whole range of craft beers, soft drinks and cordials, is using Scottish ingredients. We smoke and cure meat, wild game, fish and seafood, to create a whole range of delicious products. We turn our fresh milk into a choice of cheese, butter and ice cream that knows no bounds. We turn fruit and vegetables into jams and chutneys and we cook, make and bake a wealth of goods to sell. Scotland's food and drink industry is thriving, providing good jobs around the country, including the most remote and rural places.

From companies making sea salt and seaweed flakes, to whole sides of smoked salmon and whisky laid down for another generation, we need scientists and food technologists, skilled workers and marketers to create and promote this industry, providing a whole new arm to the business of food and drink which extends far beyond the process of growing the ingredients.

Wearing my Scottish Food Commission hat, I am pleased to see how seriously many manufacturers are taking up the challenge of ensuring that the true provenance of their goods is a worthy one in every possible way. But we all need to take heed of the necessity to do more – much more. Our Scottish food and drink industry has a huge responsibility for helping towards improving the health and wellbeing of the nation and its sustainable future. We all share this responsibility.

Scottish charcuterie is one of the brand new food developments that have been growing in recent years. We have several first-class producers who use organic meat from their own farm, or wild venison, such as award-winning products made by Peelham Farm in the Borders and Great Glen Charcuterie in the Highlands. Learning from masters in their own field in Italy, France and Spain, these Scottish producers now compete alongside their more experienced European colleagues on occasions, with astoundingly good results.

So, in celebration of our award-winning Scottish ingredients, I have chosen just one of these charcuterie products, along with just one of our outstanding fresh, seasonal products, Scottish asparagus from Eassie Farm in Angus which is in season now for just a few special weeks. For lunch in our early years at the restaurant, I would bake a savoury tart or two every day and Asparagus Tart was a great favourite, often made with off-cuts of peat-smoked salmon, or thick flakes of poached and chilled, wild salmon fillet, left over from dinner the night before. This tart is particularly delicious served slightly warm, to get the full flavour of the combined ingredients and to allow the egg filling to set perfectly for slicing. Served with some new potatoes and green salad, for a light lunch or a supper dish, followed by a bowl of fresh strawberries (also in season now) and one of our award-winning Scottish ice creams, this makes a delicious meal that is perfect for eating outdoors.

Scottish asparagus and venison salami tart

Serves 6/8

250g shortcrust pastry

6 slices of Great Glen venison salami taken from a 50g pack, snipped into small pieces

8 fresh asparagus spears, preferably Scottish and in season

3 eggs

250ml fresh double cream

150g mature, Scottish Cheddar cheese, or similar full-flavoured hard cheese, grated

A pinch of sea salt or seaweed flakes


1. Line a greased 23cm loose-base flan tin with the pastry, place the flan tin on a flat baking sheet and bake blind for 15 minutes at 190°C.

2. Remove from the oven and brush with the beaten egg. Return to the oven for a further five minutes.

3. Cut approximately 3cm from the base of each stick of asparagus to remove the tough, woody end and discard. Cut the top 10cm of each stick of asparagus and set aside. Chop the remaining, central piece of the stem into small rounds.

4. Whisk the eggs and cream together in a measuring jug and season lightly with a pinch of sea salt or seaweed flakes.

5. When the tart case is baked, remove it from the oven. Scatter the venison pieces and chopped asparagus stem, plus half of the grated cheese over the base. Divide the asparagus tops into two pieces, cutting them down the length of the tip and stem. Lay these like the spokes of a wheel around the tart.

6. Pour the whisked egg and cream mixture carefully over the contents of the tart right to the edge of the pastry. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the surface.

7. Return the pastry case to the oven and bake for 30 minutes until well-risen and golden brown.

Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chimneys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye and chair of the Scottish Food Commission, which is helping to build Scotland into a Good Food Nation. For more information visit or phone 01470 511258