CHEF Marcello Tully wrote his new book - his very first one, incidentally - because so many people wanted to ask him for his recipes and also because so many wanted to ask about the story of his career. His background is fairly exotic, to say the least. You can’t really blame them for asking.

The 48-year-old is the Chef Director at the Michelin-starred Kinloch Lodge in Skye. And though his grandfather is from Edinburgh, Tully himself was born in the north-east of Brazil, in the coastal city of Maceió. It’s a place of tropical climates, palm trees, endless beaches, great seafood - and music, almost everywhere you go.

As for the streetfood, he says, “you could get everything from boiled quail eggs to pastels, a type of pasty filled with cheese or beef”. He remembers venders turning oil-drums into barbecues, on which they would grill cheese on sticks (queijo quente) that could be washed down with coconut water.

Loading article content

His parents divorced when he was six years old. His father Guilheme had dual nationality, owing to his father, who had emigrated from Scotland to Brazil in 1925, to become a partner at PriceWaterhouse, in Rio. So Guilheme, Tully and two of his three brothers came to the UK, and settled, first in London and then in Buckinghamshire.

As Tully acknowledges in his book, “The culture change was a complete shock, and my lack of English made me very shy. It was not a very happy time for me, and I couldn’t wait to leave school altogether”. But at the age of 14, having decided that he wanted to become a chef, he landed a job in a restaurant; this led, in time, to catering college (where he met Claire, whom he would eventually marry), and then to six long years with the Roux Group, run by the Roux Brothers. The classical French training he received there has stood him in good stead.

Twenty years ago, he met the other Claire in his life - Lady Claire Macdonald, who with her husband Godfrey opened Kinloch in the 1970s. When she and Tully first encountered each other, it was in a blast-frozen, ready-meal delivery operation in Cambridge.

It didn’t take off, but the two remained friends. Ten years ago in April, she rang him to ask if he knew anyone who could be Kinloch’s head chef. Long story short, Tully and his wife ventured north, fell in love with the place, and stayed. A coveted Michelin star followed within a couple of years. Small wonder that Lady Claire should say that Tully has delivered far beyond what she had dreamt of.

So now, Tully has self-published a cookbook, The Key Ingredient, timed to mark his 10th anniversary at Kinloch.

“I’d actually been thinking” he says, “about something smaller, a leaflet or a pamphlet with five of six recipes.

“Then I began looking into it, and I realised a book was do-able. I always wanted a book to be photo-led. There’s a design studio in the local college and I approached them to project-manage the book. It was very much for me a way to document the questions I get asked time and time again, and also to document recipes that people also ask about”.

The book ranges across breakfast and starters to mains and petit fours. The dishes include spinach and smoked salmon roulade, seared scallops and black pudding with cauliflower puree, and wild-mushroom-topped beef fillet with a brandy sauce. Here and there you can find dishes that reflect Tully’s early years in Brazil: the cheese puffs known as Pão de Queijo (“the most popular street-food there”), Brazilian crab and lime cakes, and Feijoada, Brazil’s national dish, so meat-laden that Tully advises it’s “not for vegetarians!” The petits four include Quindim, a rich, set coconut egg custard.

“The recipes in the book are among my favourite dishes”, he says. “I often have a look at the type of cookbooks that Michelin-starred chefs tend to write, and I think, ‘Bloody hell - even I would have a problem attempting to do some of the things in them’. Some of them are huge, and you wonder what sort of market are they aimed at? They’ve got to be selling at other chefs, but are these other chefs at that level?

“What was vitally important for me was that the recipes in my book were extremely simple and easy to put together. I didn’t want to do something that people would glance at and think, ‘Oh no, I could never do that’.

“I’m not a writer or anything like that, but one of the things I admire in Claire’s [Macdonald] cookbooks is the sheer simplicity of her writing, and her appeal to the home cook”.

Tully has spent a long time getting the kitchen brigade at Kinloch the way he likes it. There have been staff departures and replacements, as is the case with every restaurant, but the brigade is currently eight strong.

He says he used prefer to employ younger chefs, “purely because I didn’t want anyone with bad habits they had learned from other chefs. They come here to work for me and cook my food, so it’s my job to teach them how to do just that.

“That mentality very much worked for the first five or six years. When we put the new kitchen together, three-and-a-half years ago, that all changed; the kitchen became much bigger, and I was able to employ more people, with different types of experience, to help me achieve what I’m trying to achieve.

“This year the team is so much stronger than it ever has been, which has allowed me time to develop new dishes and also to work on the book.

“I’m a chef through and through”, he adds. “By that I mean, I’m not going to sit in an office and do office-y tasks. My wife Claire does that for me. When I’m here, ninety-five per cent of my time is spent cooking in the kitchen, and developing new dishes. That’s what I enjoy. I’m not from a restaurant background - I’ve been more involved in food developing, food manufacturing.

“I’ve been here for 10 years and though I sometimes wonder, God, where has that time gone?, I still feel very fresh. We’re evolving every year, and the Macdonalds continually reinvest in the business”.

Such is Kinloch’s popularity at this time of year - the clientele come from as far away as Germany, Italy and the US - that many would-be diners cannot get a table when they telephone. This will be addressed next January, when one of the hotel’s bedrooms will be sacrificed to make way for a new 16-head dining room. But two new bedrooms will be added onto an existing extenson.

He was delighted to win the Michelin, which arrived in 2010. Does it get harder each year to retain it?

“That’s a good question”, he says. “The food here now is far better than was on the menu back then. But the whole industry is doing that, so you strive to make your dishes as close to perfection as possible. You stay at that level every year, but it makes you think: what on earth do you need to do to nudge up to the next level?

“The Michelin for me is the Oscar of the food industry and I’m very proud to have retained it for the past seven years. But my goal is to reach the next step. As with any chef who has one star, you want to work towards your second star.

“ It does amaze me how the industry gets better and better, and how you have to develop yourself, and improve, just to stay at that one-star level”.

Kitchen technology has improved immensely and made life easier for chefs, he adds, but he is grateful he’s of a generation that had to learn the classics, how to do things the hard way. “Younger chefs”, he says with a laugh, “know how to use the machines - but if those machines weren’t there, they’d basically be lost”.

The Key Ingredient (£25) is available from Kinloch Lodge and from