JOHN QUIGLEY calls it his Sodom and Gomorrah decade. In the 1980s and 1990s, he spent several years on the road as the touring chef with some of the world’s biggest rock n roll acts, including Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue. When you hear first-hand what he witnessed, those twin cities of biblical iniquity seem more like Giffnock and Newton Mearns.

“When these boys were on tour absolutely nothing was considered over the top. I’m the wee bloke from the west of Scotland walking in on scenes of eye-watering malarkey and shouting: ‘Does anyone fancy some of my seafood linguine’.

“I remember Guns N’ Roses were touring Scandinavia and Axl Rose wakes up one day with no recollection of where he is. When he’s told the band are in Norway, he immediately orders about a dozen reindeer for their tea that night. So, there’s me and the crew cooking dozens of reindeer suppers at midnight in the car-park.”

Quigley is owner and head chef of Glasgow’s Red Onion restaurant, which is celebrating its 18th year in business. In the eternal churn of Glasgow’s fast-moving food sector the Red Onion stands almost alone as the longest continuously-owned restaurant in the city.

READ MORE: Kevin McKenna: Rescuing Burns from the Scottish establishment

In a career spanning five decades, he’s collected recipes and cooking techniques from the world’s most refined and exotic cuisines. He’s fused some of these with modern Scottish fare, but is proud that around half of the dishes on Red Onion’s menu were also there in 2005.

Quigley was always destined to cook for his supper. He remembers growing up in Hamilton and being the wee boy at school who always looked forward to the Home Economics classes.

“Both of my grannies were great cooks. The fryer and the stew pot were always on and if you visited our house you always went away with a bag of chips.

My gran encouraged me to become a chef, even though it wasn’t exactly a fashionable career choice for a working-class boy from Hamilton. ‘If you become a chef, you’ll always be able to write your own pay-cheque’, she once told me.

This was at a time when you could only get olive oil in Boots … and that was if you had a sore ear.

He wanted to go to art school but didn’t have the academic discipline to get the required grades. “I was too busy being a punk rocker for education. In my neighbourhood we had Strawberry Switchblade, The Bluebells and the River Detectives all playing and rehearsing.”

HeraldScotland: Bee GeesBee Gees (Image: free)

He managed a band called Friends Again and with some success, securing a major deal for them before the record company had him moved out the way. “That hurt a lot at the time, but it paved the way for my future career,” he says.

He found a lowly position in an all-night restaurant near Peter Stringfellows in Covent Garden and within a few months was running the place. Then came a spell running a Soho wine bar that sold gourmet food.

“It was owned by the famous Soho restaurateur Andrew Edmonds who basically gave us a blank cheque to source and buy top-quality fare from local suppliers and then encouraged us to experiment with it. This was at the start of the Nouvelle Cuisine in London and I knew I had found what was to be my chosen career.”

At the age of 22, he was the youngest head chef to appear in the revered Good Food Guide.

But the bewitching lure of the music industry was to capture Quigley once more. A firm specialising in catering for touring bands was looking for a cook and he got the position.

Within a few months he was touring with Tina Turner who soon came to appreciate the dishes being served by the young Glaswegian with the rapid patter. “Tina was brilliant,” he recalls. “She was no prima donna and left everything out there during three-hour stage shows. She treated everyone equally. A real princess.”

READ MORE: The true price of Scotland's failed panda experiment

Soon he was cooking for Paul and Linda McCartney “pure sweethearts” and the Bee Gees. “They were brilliant, too,” he says. “They and their wives would often pop in and help us prepare the Sunday Roast dinner which was a permanent feature when they toured.

“In fact, I still use Maurice Gibbs’ wife’s recipe for Yorkshire Pudding on the Red Onion menu. She’s pure Yorkshire and showed me how to cook it properly.” Three parts milk and one part water for a crisper batter, seeing as I’m asking.

But it was the years he spent touring with Bryan Adams that are his most memorable. “I grew really close to him. He wanted to be bigger than Springsteen and Bon Jovi and toured countries then considered unfashionable. Yet, he was a vegan who didn’t really want to be a vegan and liked the taste of meat. And so I began to use Linda McCartney’s textured vegetable protein approach to replicate the taste of meat. He had real food anxiety and I think he appreciated that I was trying to help him with it.”

Ten years as a rock 'n' roll chef began to wear thin and an opportunity arose in Glasgow with the opening of Mojo on Bath Street in the mid-1990s. This was in the midst of the city’s gourmet bonanza with chi-chi food boutiques opening up all over the city centre.

HeraldScotland: Guns N' RosesGuns N' Roses (Image: free)

“There was Ferrier Richardson at Yes; Jim Kerr at Rogano and Ken McCullough at One Devonshire. I was at the Arthouse Hotel at a time when the banks were throwing money at the restaurant scene. At the Arthouse, I was a split crème brulee away from the city’s only Michelin Star, according to their inspector.”

Eventually, though, the cheques began bouncing and the caravan began to move on. The old Red Onion, formerly operated by Gordon Yuill, the Rogano’s kenspeckle maitre d’hotel had lain empty for several months and Quigley spied an opportunity to gather his global food experiences and meld them with traditional Scots cuisine.

“We try to be true to ourselves, which means moving with changing and evolving habits but retaining a sense of who and what we are.”

Glasgow’s lunchtime dining experience has undergone a profound cultural change. This was an era of long, multi-bottle business lunches favoured by journalists, businessmen and bankers. These have now all but disappeared and been replaced by shorter, booze-free lunchtimes. “What we’re seeing now is the age of younger retirees on decent pensions treating themselves or meeting old work-mates,” says Quigley.

“But they’re very loyal to those places who have managed to keep their prices low and who knew them when they were in business. This gained its reward during and after the pandemic. Because we had resisted the temptation to hike prices when business was thriving we gave ourselves some wriggle room to increase them a little after the pandemic and the energy price rises.

“We recently had to increase our set menu price by 25%, but no one flinched because they knew we hadn’t been taking liberties with them before Covid, unlike others who are now struggling.”

Another Covid dividend came along last February when Channel Four invited Red Onion to participate in Come Dine With Me: The Professionals. “To be honest, at first I wasn’t interested as I’d never been a fan of the show. To me, it just seemed a bunch of catty, middle-class types bitching about each other’s cooking.

“But my daughter Rosie, who was then working in the restaurant, convinced us to do it as a bit of fun after two gruelling years of lockdown. And after an intense week of filming we actually won it. And on the day the show was aired we took 390 bookings. It’s been fantastic for business. But then I started getting trolled on social media for being ‘that name-dropping twat from Glasgow’. Which was probably a bit deserved.”

One of his most treasured memories from the rock 'n' roll bacchanal though, is a soft one. “I was in the Buchanan Galleries and a woman came up to me. She’d been Tina Turner’s PA and remembered me from when we both toured with her. She’d had an allergy to onions and was grateful that I always took the time to cook her food accordingly. That meant as much to me as anything else in those crazy years.”