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Ali Carlyle: Committed to quality

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

Ali Carlyle is head chef at Carlyle’s Bar and Kitchen in Balerno. He got his start in catering at age 15, and since then has taken advantage of every opportunity to learn different methods and styles of cooking. His vision for a small, sustainable fine dining restaurant with a personal touch has come to fruition in the recently opened family business. Ali and his partner Elaine live in Balerno with their dog, Jess. He enjoys hillwalking and cooking roast dinners.

“Intentionality” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think about young people starting out in a career. But after talking with Ali Carlyle, I was struck by how intentional he has been in taking the steps that have led to his current position.

Ali Carlyle at work
Ali Carlyle at work

Just 24 years of age, Ali has trained as a chef by making a series of strategic decisions. Catering for Scottish Parliament as work experience led to a part-time job there. He then worked for a temp agency, giving him opportunities to cater for large events at the Highland Show grounds, as well as smaller restaurants, where there was more emphasis on finesse.

Ali enrolled in a three-year catering course at Jewel and Esk College (now part of Edinburgh College), but was able to enter at year two, because of his experience.

Although he liked being in a place where he could learn in-depth, Ali had a desire to move at a faster pace. “When I was younger I just wanted to take in everything I could, as fast as I could,” he says. “Fortunately I got a job at Hilton’s Point Hotel, and I was able to complete my college qualification in-house by working for them.”

After about a year and a half, Ali was presented with an opportunity to work at Iggs and Barioja in Edinburgh. One kitchen supplied the food for both a two-rosette Spanish restaurant and a 145-seat tapas restaurant. Honing his skills, Ali discovered he was more attracted to the fine dining side.

Because his skills were transferable, Ali decided to see what he could learn about cooking in another culture. At age 19 he travelled with a friend to Australia, where he landed a job with a fine dining restaurant in Sydney. He later worked at a seafood restaurant in Cairns, a steak house in Airlie Beach and a large hotel in Brisbane, before enjoying a campervan holiday in New Zealand.

He returned to Edinburgh in June 2014, planning to stay for a short time and then head for France. But a temporary stint helping his parents develop the Letterbox Bistro evolved into a much bigger venture. Together with Steve and Sharon, Ali developed a business plan for Carlyle’s Bar and Kitchen. Uncertainty about whether or not the post office was going to be relocated made it difficult to plan, but eventually a “local model” contract was signed, allowing them to move forward.

Ali’s partner, Elaine, joined the staff two years ago. “With front of house experience, Elaine has been instrumental in helping me to develop the restaurant,” he says. “Our aim was to get to 28 seats, which would allow us to retain the already-established close-knit, personal touch.”

During the refurbishment, structural walls were removed to create more internal space. But the building’s character was retained by exposing the original stone walls dating back over 100 years. Ali’s brother, a joiner, got involved as did his graphic designer sister-in-law and his painter/decorator uncle. On 15 June 2018 the new restaurant opened its doors.

“Now that things have settled, we are adding to our staff,” says Ali. “Our sous chef just started, and we are looking to hire a commis chef. A bigger team will make it possible for us to open up to seven nights a week.”

Ali describes his cooking style as “modern British, underpinned by Scottish produce”. His menu includes options for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free patrons. He is committed to working with local suppliers, and buying meat from high-welfare farms. “It’s important to us to be sustainable,” Ali explains. “So we recycle, compost, and use glass instead of plastic bottles. We have an allotment up at Harmeny School, so we control the quality of the vegetables we serve.

“We don’t take shortcuts. I’ve learned how important it is to be involved in the whole process from growing to cooking to plating. If you want to serve quality food, you have to start with quality products.”

Bon appetit!

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Published in Konect November 2018

Author: Suzanne Green


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