With his ruddy cheeks and copper curls, Ben Reade doesn’t look like a Scottish cliché-buster—but that’s his mission. “Scotland plays on this bagpipe-blowing, tartan-wearing, haggis-hunting imagined ideal,” says Reade.
He and his partner, chef-anthropologist Sashana Souza Zanella, run the Edinburgh Food Studio, located on the edge of the city centre. The restaurant has a candlelit dining room with two long tables, olive walls and an open kitchen.
Scottish-born Reade met Brazilian-Canadian Zanella while studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. After living in continental Europe for 10 years, they moved to Edinburgh in 2014, eager to explore and experiment with Scottish cuisine from an insider-outsider perspective.
In November 2015, the couple launched their 29-seat restaurant as a gastronomic nightclub. Diners sit down to a set seven-course dinner and eat at the same time so they experience the food together. “They’re expected to come with an appetite and an open mind,” says Zanella.
Local and international guest chefs are also invited into the kitchen to create dishes with seasonal ingredients dropped off at the back door. “We’re like the house DJs, metaphorically speaking,” explains Zanella.
“But, even when there’s a guest chef-DJ,” adds Reade, “we’re still helping out in the kitchen.”
Open Thursdays to Saturdays, The Studio has hosted luminaries like Ana Roš, named World’s Best Female Chef in 2017 by British-based magazine, Restaurant, and Ireland’s JP McMahon—the Michelin-starred culinary director of Aniar, Cava Bodega, and Tartare Cafe + Wine Bar.
Beyond running a buzzy spot for dinner, Zanella and Reade want to fix the disconnect between Scotland’s authentic food culture and what shows up on diners’ plates. They look beyond Scotland’s typical luxury ingredients, such as langoustines and Angus beef, to lesser-known edibles like pepper dulse—known as the truffle of the sea—or razor clams, which have scallop-like creaminess and a squid-like texture.
The couple also see untapped potential in the humble turnip, a sweet and earthy root vegetable that is usually boiled, mashed and served as a sidekick to haggis. This cream-fleshed crucifer has been elevated to star ingredient in both savoury and sweet dishes. Its shining moment came when guest pastry chef Philippa Marsden discovered the perfect interplay between sweet and tangy pickled neeps, voluptuous white chocolate and anise-scented tarragon oil. “Diners just couldn’t believe they were eating turnip,” says Reade.
Four days a week, Zanella and Reade shut down the restaurant. They drive single-track roads to Highland villages and take ferry rides over choppy seas to interview farmers, fishermen, brewers and elders in rural communities, often borrowing their yellow-paged recipe books.
“You could search the Internet and find nothing on an old dish or technique, but every week, we’ll turn up something fascinating in these old books,” says Reade.
“And the quirky ingredients we uncover from fieldwork are there for us to use in state-of-the-art cuisine and not stay stuck in the past.”
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