Meet Mark Donald, the chef behind the two-Michelin star Glenturret Lalique restaurant


Crieff’s Glenturret Lalique has just become the second Scottish restaurant to be awarded two Michelin stars

words Natasha Radmehr | photography Laura Tiliman

Everything that’s great about Scotland is laid before me. The yawning expanse of Loch Turret, the reservoir in a Perthshire glen that supplies The Glenturret Distillery with fresh water for its world-famous whiskies. The brooding contours of Ben Chonzie, half-capped by a lingering mist. Barbecue smoke carrying on the breeze from the distillery’s boathouse, where the staff from one of the country’s most exciting kitchens, the Glenturret Lalique, are enjoying a day off, bantering as they grill Orkney scallops, juniper-smoked Islay oysters and Fullblood Highland Wagyu steaks.

Glenturret Lalique staff

Mark Donald is the head chef at Glenturret Lalique

They’ve just been awarded a second Michelin star. Not bad for a restaurant that opened in the embers of a global pandemic.

If you haven’t heard of the head chef who led them here, you’d better familiarise yourself: he won’t be one of our best-kept secrets for much longer. I’m talking about Mark Donald, the 38-year-old from Torrance who started out as a pot washer in his teens at the Tickled Trout in Milngavie and six years later found himself training at what was then considered to be the best restaurant in the world, the three-starred Noma in Copenhagen.

Noma offered him a job in 2010, but he turned it down to take a position back home with the late Andrew Fairlie. “Reni [Redzepi, of Noma] was so definite and conceptual in his cuisine, and was already making waves,” recalls Donald. “But Andrew was so clinical in the fundamentals of cooking, and I wanted to have the discipline he had.

Mark Donald is the head chef at Glenturret Lalique

“There were junior chefs at Noma who could cook sea buckthorn leather with pickled beach roses until their hands bled, but couldn’t roast a chicken. Everyone who was at Noma when I was there has since gone stratospheric, so it was a tough decision to make — but for me, this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Donald’s marathon has seen him working in acclaimed restaurants around the world, constantly honing his craft. He is quietly restless, openly ambitious.

After a couple of years in Fairlie’s two-starred restaurant he was headhunted to be the sous-chef at the now-closed (and also two-starred) Hibiscus in London under Claude Bosi.

There, he met his Australian wife Madelaine, who worked at reception. When her visa was running out they moved to Sydney, where he worked as head chef at Bentley, a two-hat (similar to Michelin) fine-dining restaurant. He could easily have built a name for himself there and lived the sun-kissed Antipodean dream. But that’s not his style — and not just because he’s ginger.

Glenturret Lalique chef Mark and his partner

“I liked Australia and I liked living away, but it wasn’t always like real life,” he explains. “It was a bubble, a little hub of make-believe. I missed all the shit things about Scotland: waking up and it’s dark; it being sunny one minute and raining the next. I also missed the produce. And I didn’t want to be recognised in Australia as a Scottish chef — I wanted to be recognised in the UK as a Scottish chef, or just as a chef.”

So he returned to home soil in 2018, this time bringing a burst of welcome energy to The Balmoral in Edinburgh, where he retained the Michelin star at its restaurant, Number One.

A couple of years later, he got the call asking if he’d be interested in taking the helm as head chef at The Glenturret Lalique in Crieff, the French luxury brand’s only UK outpost and now the world’s only Michelin-star restaurant in a working distillery.

He had some reservations: “When you imagine dining in a distillery, you think of deep-fried food, haggis bon-bons, all the shortbread-tin nonsense. But then I came up for a look and saw all the resources. The kitchen was being built and everything was box-fresh. So yeah, I jumped at it. I told the Balmoral team and they all handed in their notice and came with me. Willingly, I should add!”

An easy camaraderie flows between the chef and his brigade. They’re tight, they make one another laugh. It’s refreshing to see in an industry plagued by stories of egomaniacal tyrants and toxic workplaces.

“I’ve worked in calm, but militant kitchens and the-place-is-on-fire kitchens,” says Donald, “and you become your environment. When I left Hibiscus, I was intense. Never physical — I would never condone that — but I was hardcore, I’d been through the wringer. A lot of kitchens are managed by fear. Do I agree with it? No. I manage each person individually and the only way to do that is to get to know your staff.”

Clearly, it works. After being open for just seven months, the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star in 2022; Donald’s first as a name-in-lights chef. “I was relieved, elated, happy for the team,” he says. “I want them to be included in these things because, as a junior chef, I never was.”

His cuisine is playful, technically sophisticated and flavoured by his travels as well as the experiences of his multicultural colleagues. A tattie scone with truffle and caviar; spoot and kombu tart; sea bream stuffed with scallops and Morteau sausage. Buckfastics — that’s a Buckfast Tangfastic — are served on £300 crystal plates.

The chef says his two big sisters were always considered the arty ones at school, and he was the “failure”. If only his teachers could see him now.

Not that he’s satisfied. He’s hard on himself. I ask if he can remember the first dish he made that he felt proud of and he responds, lightning-quick, “I’ll tell you when I make it.”

The restaurant is open four days a week but he’s there six, sometimes seven, and admits he struggles to switch off: “My family are proud of me but for the first ten years of my career my mum would say ‘This is no life for you’. Every time she watched Wimbledon she’d be like, ‘I wish you played tennis’,” he laughs.

There was an alternate path that saw him become an actor; at school he was invited to interview at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. “But I just fell into the hot mess of the kitchen,” he says. “And cooking saved me, it brought out a new passion in me. I’m driven and I have new goals all the time.”

“It’s unrealistic to continue to do it forever, though. You have to tread carefully when cooking because it’s easy to lose yourself. But that’s the romance; I like to get lost in it, you know? I just don’t want to reach 60 or 65 and realise there was all this stuff I wanted to do outside of this but everyone’s gone and moved on.”

When he’s not in the kitchen he’s at home with Madelaine, who also works at The Glenturret as its guest experience and events manager. They live by Loch Earn with their cats, Patsy (“like Patsy from Ab Fab”) and Lionel (“from ThunderCats”) and do regular couple stuff — hang out with pals, go to the theatre or out for dinner.

“I’m not one of those fussy chefs when I go out for a meal,” he says. “If I go to a Wetherspoons and the burger is hot and tasty and the pint is cold, then my expectations are met. If I go to a two-star restaurant, drop 300 quid and the food is crap then of course I’m going to be angry.”

The couple are planning a trip to Australia soon and would like to travel more. “I just want what everyone has on their bucket list: seeing the world, spending more time with my family, and more time in my back garden,” says the chef. “I don’t want to put the world to rights or run for parliament.” First, though, he’s got a marathon to finish. Something tells me he’s already winning.


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