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Shirley Spear

Formerly The Three Chimneys, Skye and Scottish food ambassador

  • What was your favourite subject at school?

My favourite subject at school was English and I always wanted to become a journalist. Unfortunately, I had to drop Domestic Science (as it was called then) after 1st year, to concentrate on more “academic” subjects.  This was a massive disappointment to me as I always loved cooking. I strongly believe there should be far greater focus on learning to cook, maintain a home and cope with everyday life for both boys and girls in school, throughout their education.

  • What was your first job?

My first properly paid job was as a Saturday girl at British Home Stores in Princes Street. My first job in hospitality, was a 6-week summer job at the (then) Venlaw Castle Hotel in Peebles.  I was 16 and earned £6 per week.  My boss kept all the tips until my Dad asked him if I might be due a share at the end of my stint.  He gave me £6.  My day began at 7.30am.  I served breakfast, cleared-up, cleaned the dining room and re-set for lunch. Helped with housekeeping until lunch time. Served lunch. Cleared and cleaned and re-set for dinner. Went home for a couple of hours and returned at 6.00pm to serve dinner, clear and clean and re-set for breakfast the next day.  7 days per week. Loved every minute! The original dining room in the hotel was a glorious wood panelled room with polished wood flooring and a huge bay window overlooking Peebles and the Border hills. It was beautiful! It is now luxury flats, sadly.

  • Which is your favourite restaurant /hotel?

Favourite restaurant or hotel is very hard as I have been so lucky to sample a great many over all the years. Today, I would say my favourite hotel is the fabulous Jumeirah in Port Soller, Majorca.  As of today, my favourite, most outstanding restaurant experience was Moor Hall near Liverpool with Chef Mark Brichall. Other than that, my new friends at the Gordon Arms in Yarrow, or coffee with the girls at L&CArtisan in Gifford, are favourites too.

  • How did you inspire your team

I no longer have a team, but I always tried to inspire by example.  I never asked anyone to do anything I would not do myself (although there might be someone out there who would dispute that!!).  The emphasis on working hours and healthy work/life balance changed dramatically over my time in the industry.  I am not sure how good I would be as an employer nowadays, no matter how hard I tried!

  • Which person in hospitality have you most admired / inspired you?

Raymond Blanc began his culinary life in the UK at around the same time as Eddie and I moved to Skye and bought The Three Chimneys. He has always been my inspiration, based upon his skills and his standards, but more importantly, the way in which he values good food and the best ingredients. I did meet him once, but, of course, he had no idea who I was!

  • How do you manage your stress levels?

I was very poor at recognising any levels of stress when I was working.  I just kept going regardless.  I realise now this was not a good thing and I certainly did suffer as a result, getting quite depressed due to being deeply tired, mostly. Now I get stressed because I do not have enough to do, but I still worry about industry colleagues.  Being retired I am learning how to garden and adore being out there with the birds and the sound of the sea. I still love to cook and potter in the kitchen, where there is no stress involved now!

  • Instagram, Twitter or Facebook – and why?

Instagram and Facebook, it allows me to keep in touch with family and friends

  • If you had not gone into hospitality, where do you
    think you would be now?

I began my career as an editorial assistant at DC Thomsons in Dundee.  I always wanted to write.  Recently I met Kirsty Wark, who is an incredibly successful journalist, of course, but she also loves cooking.  We laughed when she said she had always wanted to run a restaurant, and I told her I had always wanted to be like her.  Who knows if I would have ever made it?

  • What did you do on your last days off?

Every day is a day off now. How lucky am I?  Last week, we had a couple of nights away in Perthshire, visiting 2 refurbished hotels and dining in their lovely restaurants. Eddie and I still love to eat out.  If I get the chance to see my grandchildren for a day, that’s my favourite thing and of course, I visit my family in Peebles too, which is a beautiful part of Scotland.

  • What do you do to relax, to support your wellbeing?

Cook, read, try the crossword and just try to sit still for half an hour!  I love really good drama on television. And I love sunshine.