Born: January 21, 1936;

Died: May 15, 2021.

LEGENDARY chefs, according to current popular opinion, are loud, sweary people, defined by their need to control a kitchen (Gordon Ramsay). They love to create quirky food that most of us will never eat (Heston Blumenthal), or they wish to make a mission statement and save the world from turkey twizzlers (Jamie Oliver).

David Wilson’s career, however, was underlined by a very different mix of colourful descriptions. He was described as ‘The godfather of Scottish cooking’, a ‘trailblazer’, and according to many in the catering world, a ‘revolutionary’.

How did Wilson, who has died aged 85, come to achieve such accolades? It seems they were reflective not only of a man whose professional life was focused on the creation of good food, but also someone who was prepared to battle to make the cooking dream a reality.

Wilson was the first Scottish chef to win a Michelin star. He won two Egon Ronay stars, three AA rosettes, and a Master Chef of Great Britain title. He was named as one of Britain’s three Chefs Laureate by the British Academy of Gastronomes. He also inspired a long line of young Scottish cooks who worked in his kitchen.

He was, furthermore, a great risk-taker, transforming a run-down Scottish hostelry into one of the finest eateries in the UK.

David Wilson was born in Bishopbriggs, and his first job was selling industrial tools and hardware with merchants Fyfe and McGrouther.

At a dinner party in 1964 he met his future wife, Patricia, an art teacher at Bellshill Academy. The couple moved to Sheffield when Wilson took up a job as a marketing manager with Rio Tinto Zinc.

But he was not content with a life of selling product. While living in Scotland, he and his wife had long complained about the ‘abysmal’ food served up in restaurants. “We would be served the kind of food you could make at home,” Patricia recalled. “Some of it was really shocking and we always thought we could do better as amateurs.”

That thought had remained with them. In 1967, David decided to learn to become a chef, and prove that the standards could be raised. He walked away from his career with Rio Tinto, having noticed a small ad in a newspaper looking for someone to learn the restaurant business.

He landed the job at the delightful, thatched Pheasant Inn at Keyston, Northamptonshire, despite the fact the owner was looking for someone younger than 31. But Wilson, mad keen, was prepared to start at the very bottom, washing pots, learning front-of-house skills. Within six months, he was left in charge of the Pheasant Inn.

After a short spell running a restaurant in Derbyshire, the Wilsons decided to return north of the border, with the idea of creating the sort of pub restaurant they had enjoyed in England.

Eventually, they came across The Peat Inn, near St Andrews. The address was The Peat Inn, Peat Inn (the village was named after the pub); the telephone number was Peat Inn 206. “David said, ‘what an address, we need to buy it’,” recalled his wife.

They sank all of their money into renovations before launching a bar snacks menu. Wilson was a Francophile, however, and he set to introduce the very best of French cuisine to Scotland. His radical moves included the introduction of a chicken liver pate and an onion quiche, which he had adored in a three Michelin star restaurant in Alsace.

The Wilsons introduced set menus and a la carte menus, featuring dishes such as Arbroath smokie mousse, salmon and avocado terrine, game terrine, grouse, partridge, and lobster.

He also pioneered the use of local, seasonal Scottish produce. Nor did he go down the tiny portions/nouvelle cuisine route as he catered for the hungrier Scottish appetite. “Molecular cuisine’ is not for us,” he declared.

The plan, allied to some incredibly hard work, was a massive success.

Asked in 1994 to define his modern style, he conceded: “I don’t know what to say when people ask me what modern Scottish cooking is. It owes nothing to tradition.

“Scottish cooks have acquired new skills and are reworking local ingredients – venison, game, salmon, lobster, vegetables and fruit, even oats. We are not using old Scottish recipes.

“Most of the great cuisines of the world are produce-based. If you take a musical analogy, the chef of each generation is interpreting dishes and flavours as the conductor of an orchestra interprets a score.”

The Peat Inn became a national institution, the Scottish Tourist Board’s flagship. In 1985/86 it became the first restaurant in Scotland to receive a Michelin Star.

He was taken aback when informed in January 1992 that he had lost the Michelin, but in time he was able to put it into perspective. “It didn’t affect business in any way – but then again, it didn’t affect business when we got it either, “ he told the Herald’s Cate Devine in 2005, after he had made the momentous decision to sell up and move out of the business altogether.

“Michelin stars are important for an individual chef’s standing within the actual industry, but I don’t think they do anything for business. Once you have a star, you’re terrified of losing it. But I soon found that life goes on without it.”

Wilson became a self-taught wine expert. He sang Sinatra and loved to listen to opera. If he were trapped on a desert island, he wouldn’t have taken a cooker, he said, but a piano.

Once they retired the Wilsons divided their time between the south of France, enjoying the food and wine, and Upper Largo, Fife. He is survived by his wife, daughter Saskia and son Byron.

Chef Nick Nairn tweeted: “Very sad news, the hugely talented, trailblazing chef David Wilson has passed. David was a huge inspiration, in many ways instrumental in my becoming a chef.”

He added: “Impossible to overstate his influence on Scottish cooking. A true legend and wonderful man.”