Meet Our Award Nominated Culinary Director Graham Singer

01 October 2021

Graham is the Culinary Director for ESS Energy and Compass Scotland. He is responsible for the on and offshore food strategy for our energy clients and customers, as well as the competency, training and development of the food service team. As Culinary Director for Compass Scotland, Graham plays a key role in supporting and developing the wider business to best meet the needs of our Scottish clients.

Graham’s culinary expertise has been recognised many times both nationally and internationally, but he is particularly proud of his achievements as part of the Scottish national team with whom he has competed all over the world, captaining them twice and winning numerous gold medals in the Culinary Olympics and at the World Grand Prix.

Graham strongly believes in giving back to the next generation and is actively involved in the design and delivery of the Compass apprenticeships programme. He has developed many individuals, from kitchen porters through to Culinary Olympics winners, and delivers masterclasses throughout the UK as well as supporting local colleges and schools to educate and inspire the next generation.

He is passionate about championing local suppliers and the quality of their produce and has been instrumental in building a strong Scottish-centric supply chain for Compass contracts across Scotland and the rest of the UK to access.

We caught up with Graham ahead of the Food Service Cateys final in October to find out a bit more about his career, what motivates him and his thoughts on the future of food.  

Why did you become a chef?

I always wanted to be a chef when I was younger and wanted to have a better understanding of food; but what ultimately made me decide was Marco Pierre White. I found his philosophy and the way he showed how to pair foods truly inspirational – it really demonstrated how this could showcase the key ingredient, and that being a chef was more than just cooking but understanding how ingredients could be used together. It was also exciting to think that I’d have the opportunity to travel the world, being able to learn something new every day and as I’ve progressed through my career, I’ve found that every day was a learning day.

What excites you in your role?

Having the opportunity to work with local suppliers! I’m passionate about championing local provenance within our supply chain. I love to showcase seasonality and the great sustainability story we have behind each product sourced, being able to promote this to our clients and having the ability to develop, in some instances, exclusive lines for ESS and the wider Compass Group supply chain. We’ve recently set up a new partnership with a vegetable grower local to Aberdeenshire, The Artisan Grower, who will be growing a range of products for us and which will ultimately be a great story. These fresh, locally grown vegetables will go out to our clients, including those out in the North and Southern seas. Most importantly, working in partnership with the suppliers allows my vision to be brought to life and showcased to the teams within the kitchen. This brings me great joy because being able to give back to the next generation and showing the importance of the ingredients and the quality of the produce is close to my heart.

What makes you proud? 

There are lots of things to choose from within my career but the top one has to be standing in front of a team of chefs, sharing with them my passion and the knowledge that I’ve gained. This includes the journey we’ve come on with our supply chain and the roadmap ahead with further exciting plans and opportunities to develop supplier partners and introduce ways to support and promote future sustainability within our business. Seeing how the partnerships with our local suppliers have grown gives me a great sense of achievement in some cases their products are now available across the wider Compass business, including the Amity Fish Company and Mackintosh of Glendaveny with their rapeseed oil range.

It gives me a great sense of achievement to stand in front of a team and see the passion and enjoyment they get from working with great produce. I love stepping back from the hot plate, the kitchen or an event to see how individuals have grown into their careers and gone onto to achieve amazing things. There is nothing more inspirational than teaching an apprentice!

What are your plans and ambitions for the future? 

During the next few months, I’ll be working with an ambitious and talented team of chefs and apprentices in the development and delivery of a menu that promotes consistency, quality and sustainability. This has given me a great insight into the challenges faced on the journey towards Net Zero and the opportunity to share this knowledge among the teams I work with.

I want to continue delivering the apprenticeship programme, not only within the site where I am currently based but across the whole of Compass Scotland. This training programme will encompass educational visits to suppliers and producers, as well as training days with two prominent Scottish chefs. During this time, I’ll also be delivering a range of training days to school and colleges in partnership with the Master Chefs of Great Britain (MCGB), inspiring the future generation and giving them an insight into the industry, as well as allowing me to grow and share my knowledge on quality and sustainability.

From your experience, what would you tell anyone thinking of becoming a chef?

I think that in choosing to become a chef you’re choosing a special profession. Chefs have a gift to give! The reason I say this is that from the moment you get up in the morning, go to work and step into the kitchen, you have the opportunity to make lasting memories, to turn someone’s bad day into a better day through the dishes you create. Being a chef gives you the opportunity to learn something new every day; like in nature, ingredients and food trends are ever evolving and throughout your career you will be able to decide what excites you most, be it working in the larder, the sauce or the pastry section. Ultimately the sky’s the limit if you have the passion, determination and enthusiasm for the industry. And one day you will have the opportunity to pay this knowledge forward.

Gazing into your crystal ball, what do you see as the new and emerging food trends that are here to stay?

I think coming out of the recent Covid-19 crisis has given us a different perspective on food, from how we source it, where we purchase it and, ultimately, what we want to eat. Consumers are becoming thriftier, for both cost and environmental reasons. The throwaway culture is being rejected in favour of 'upcycling' surplus food into new products. Consumers are also rediscovering their pantries and making strides in reducing food waste at home, from growing their own vegetables to baking their own bread. In the future, it will no longer just be about your own health-conscious diet, but about a responsible eating culture that also includes the health of the planet. I think we will continue to see an ever-growing popularity of plant-based dishes including firm favourites where we’ll see the meat content being reduced and replaced with plant protein. I also believe that the true carbon footprint of recipes that are being created is going to play an important part in how we make our food purchasing choices, as seasonality, sustainability and local provenance have become key deciders.