THE head chef at the fire-ravaged Cameron House Hotel has told how he feared his career at a Michelin star restaurant would be “reduced to ashes” when a supplier texted him a photograph of the building in flames.

Graeme Cheevers, 30, revealed that the hotel fire last December threatened to end his career as one of Scotland's leading chefs and it sent him spiralling into depression.

He said the fire at Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond Cameron House – where he had retained the Michelin star for seven consecutive years – affected his mental and physical wellbeing for several months.

Mr Cheevers, a former Herald Magazine chef, is now emerging from his personal nightmare and is about to take up a new post as executive chef at the luxury Isle of Eriska hotel near Oban, Argyll.

And he is determined that his new venture will end with him regaining a Michelin star for his new employers.

He said: “I found out about the fire at around 7am on the Monday [of December 18] when a supplier, who had been delivering some produce, texted me a photograph of the hotel in flames.

“I had taken my staff out for a Christmas night out in Glasgow on the Sunday evening, as the restaurant was closed on Mondays, and when I got the text I simply could not believe what I was seeing. I thought, ‘This can’t be right’. I was in shock. It was worse than seeing your own house devastated by fire because I spent most of my life in there and had put my heart and soul into it.

“It was like the 15 years I’d spent building up my career were suddenly reduced to ashes, just like that.”

He had to wait until the end of January to get in to inspect the damage and to retrieve any food and wine he could. He collected 2,000 bottles of wine - but tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of fresh food, bought in for the Christmas rush, was ruined.

“I didn’t know what I was going into, as we had no idea of what state it would be in and if we would ever get it back.” he said. “The water from the fire hoses, together with the smoke, had ruined everything.

“I had to clear it all out. It was a hard job and it was not nice.”

The aftermath was even worse.

“To go from working up to 16-hour days to zero had a bad effect on my health,” he added. “I couldn’t sleep or eat. I was very upset and depressed. At my lowest point I thought I was done.”

During the six months since the fire, he has been helping fellow chef Martin Wishart at his eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant in Leith.

He also has various consultancy projects, as well as doing guest chef pop-ups and travelling on research trips in an attempt to “keep the creative juices flowing”.

But it wasn’t enough. Only 11 Scottish restaurants have one Michelin star, and opportunities at that level did not appear forthcoming.

“Martin has been very supportive, and he is keen to hold on to me, but he understands that I can’t go on like this forever,” he says.

“I have been busy but I wasn’t being head chef and you don’t realise how much you miss cooking at that level, day in day out, until you’re no longer doing it.

“The eight years I worked with Martin [Wishart] were the best of my life, but we don’t know when the hotel can re-open and I just can’t keep waiting for something that might not happen. It’s not good for me to be off the scene for too long. So, sadly, it’s time to go.”

Now, as the forensic investigation into the fatal fire continues and as his contract with Martin Wishart expires tomorrow, he is finally moving on.

The Isle of Eriska is situated on a private island just off Oban, and a luxury Chateaux et Relais hotel managed by ICMI.

It lost its coveted Michelin star last year when head chef Paul Leonard moved on. As its new executive chef, Paisley-born Cheevers - who has worked in New York at Thomas Keller’s triple Michelin starred Per Se and at Daniel Humm’s triple-starred Eleven Madison Park - aims to regain the Michelin star, and will double his kitchen brigade with young Scots chefs to help achieve that.

“I’m not afraid to say I want that Michelin star back and will go all out to get it,” he said.

Mr Wishart said: “While I am sad to be losing Graeme I could not be happier for him.

"Someone with his talent he needs to be cooking and creating, and now he will have the opportunity to carry on the fantastic work he was doing with me.”

More than 200 people were evacuated from the hotel during the fire. Two people - Simon Midgley and Richard Dyson from London - died in the blaze.