Multi award-winning chef Graeme Cheevers isn’t one to tip-toe around his great expectations of the first restaurant to bear his name.

Traditionally a Buddhist symbol which represents the path to enlightenment, Unalome by Graeme Cheevers will, in its first year, he confidently predicts, earn the industry’s top accolade, a Michelin star.

The opening of the establishment in Glasgow’s fashionable Finnieston only eight weeks ago set tongues wagging within the city’s vibrant fine dining scene.

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Unalome may be Cheevers’ first solo venture, but he’s certainly not going it alone.

With wise counsel from friend and former professional cookery educator, Peter Bacchetti, Graeme has successfully attracted to Unalome a cast of ones-to-watch whose names read like a Who’s Who of Scotland’s most glittering culinary stars of the future.

The time-wasters, the shoulder-shruggers and the disengaged he met as a 15-year-old at Glasgow College of Food Technology left Graeme with a bad taste in his mouth and, consequently, his student career was short lived.

Unalome is Graeme Cheevers’ first solo venture

Turning what was a negative experience to his advantage, it taught him to recognise, intuitively – and without bits of paper paying testimony to academic attendance – genuine talent in aspiring head chefs and those who’ll be there for the long haul.

“I went to college for a short time, but it didn’t do me any good. It was repetitive,” he says.

“A lot of people in the class were just there for an easy time. They got their bursary, they’d cook something for dinner, and then they’d go home. A lot of them were there to waste their time. I had a bit more passion than that.”

While of the view that colleges are getting it wrong, Graeme genuinely believes that he and others like him have an obligation to help them get it right.

He is buoyed by the fact that further education institutes such as New College Lanarkshire are engaging with regional food groups, including Lanarkshire Larder, in an effort to heighten students’ awareness of the importance of locally-sourced, seasonal and sustainable produce.

Cheevers wants to see Scotland adopting the US model, which requires professional cookery students to complete long-term placements in top restaurants. By making those placements available at high-end establishments like Unalome, says Graeme, those trainees who show promise will be inspired and energised, rather than daunted, by the hard-working, fast-paced environment that is a busy kitchen.

Former lecturer Peter Bacchetti is part of Unalome’s talented team

As charismatic figure Peter Bacchetti would have it, ambitious young chefs need to dance to the tune of progressive, discerning visionaries like Graeme Cheevers, who are genuinely interested in nurturing their talent.

“It’s Billy Elliot stuff,” pronounced Bacchetti, who recently took voluntary severance from Ayrshire College after 16 years and is supporting Graeme in getting his new venture off the ground.

“You can have a fantastic cook. But if they lack basic co-ordination and don’t move around very well, they are a burden on other team players. It is all about rhythm. That is critical.”

Candidates who don’t share the fire burning in his belly don’t generally apply for positions in the kind of kitchens in which Graeme has worked. The best places, he says, attract the right people. Peter shares his view that having a team that gels is imperative.

“When I look at the number of talented chefs we have in the kitchen just now [at Unalome] and how many have an academic qualification in professional cookery, there’s not a high proportion of them,” he said.

“The private sector will still put your CV to one side and ask you to commit on Friday and Saturday nights, and we’ll soon see what your credentials are. You do not want somebody in your kitchen who doesn’t want to be there. They need to demonstrate willingness, motivation and who their influencers are. You need inalienable individuals you can take forward on to bigger things.”

Peter went on: “For proprietors like Graeme, it is all about longevity, especially when you are investing in talents, being selective about the people who will flourish within your team over 20 years, as opposed to two years. These are the people who benefit from the partnership they have with you, and vice versa.”

Unalome aims to attract return diners with its ever-changing menu

Seasoned educator Bacchetti says too few lecturers are prepared to take a step back into a 14-hour kitchen, to keep abreast of modern cookery techniques and ensure they are reflected in the curriculum.

And, rather than sitting at a white board, he wants to see learners up on their feet, on the move, engaging and demonstrating the stamina that makes a successful chef.

New College Lanarkshire professional cookery lecturer Paul Clark shares the enthusiasm of Cheevers and Bacchetti for the US model of on-the-job learning.

“Closer links between industry and education is something I’m very keen on,” said Paul, who worked as a hotel chef at Forte and Hilton, and was among the culinary team at the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

“The two shouldn’t be seen as distinct and apart. They should be working together to give learners, through placements, an insight into what their future career would look like.”

Based at New College Lanarkshire’s Cumbernauld campus, Paul wants to see a broadening of the professional cookery curriculum to include visits to the producers on students’ doorsteps, including dairies, farms, artisan bakeries and cheese production facilities.

Paul encourages the use of Lanarkshire produce within the college, and has sourced Lanark Blue cheese and St Bride’s poultry to enable learners of all ages to achieve results and recognition through a combination of their skills and fine local ingredients.

“Around 6200 jobs are related to producing food and drink in Lanarkshire,” pointed out Paul, of Coatbridge.

The Coatbridge campus of New College Lanarkshire has great potential as an events venue

“We could be broadening our horizons, expanding our curriculum towards cooking locally produced food, learning more about ingredients and their governance, and creating jobs as well.”

He maintains that both the food and drink industry and the education sector have to look closer to home in addressing negative perceptions of working in hospitality.

“A lot of vocational courses, not just cookery, suffer from ‘third skills’ syndrome. They’re not seen as being an attractive or quality way forward in your life,” said Paul, who enthuses about plans for a training restaurant that proudly showcases Lanarkshire-labelled produce, and of the potential of the college’s Coatbridge campus as an events facility.

“Maybe a student didn’t excel academically in school and came out second best. Here, they can make something, get feedback that’s positive and end up getting a qualification. It’s great to see people expressing themselves creatively and go on and embark on decent careers for themselves. For me, that’s rewarding, that’s the satisfaction I get from the job.

Lecturer Paul Clark wants a stronger collaboration between industry and education

“We’re in an industry where if you work hard, there are rewards. You can end up working anywhere in the world, on the biggest cruise ships and in restaurants at the highest level. Taking these first steps might need a bit of convincing.”

Although, like lecturer Paul, Graeme Cheevers needs no persuading about Lanarkshire producers’ pedigree, he wasn’t one to sit on his hands when lockdown delayed his plans for the opening of Unalome.

Cheevers, who won a Michelin star while working at Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond and the luxury Isle of Eriska Hotel, used the time to further sniff out the best of fresh produce from Scotland’s natural larder.

Errington Cheese director and chairperson of Lanarkshire Larder, Selina Cairns

Having already committed to adding Errington Cheese, produced at a farm near Carnwath by chairperson of regional food group Lanarkshire Larder, Selina Cairns, Graeme visited the Wishaw wholesale facility of MacDuff 1890, where director Andrew Duff has succeeded his father, Rory.

“I met Andrew and went to a few farms to see the whole production process from start to finish: from when it comes into the slaughter house to when it arrives on the table,” explained Graeme, who sources not only beef, but also lamb and pork, from MacDuff.

“Unlike the supermarkets, where it’s bright red with as little fat as possible, I look for good colour and marbling in beef, and fat colour.”

The introduction was as fruitful to the fourth generation business – a member of Lanarkshire Larder – as it was to Chef Cheevers.

MacDuff directors Andrew and Rory Duff are proud to be among Unalome’s suppliers

Said Andrew Duff: “Graeme and many other chefs in Scotland take great pride in sourcing the best produce that Scotland has to offer: locally produced, high animal welfare, sustainably raised and grass-fed and you really can tell when they work their magic. The quality of the produce on the plate is a match made in heaven.”

Chicken from St Bride’s Poultry near Strathaven – another member of Lanarkshire Larder – is also listed among Cheevers’ suppliers.

An entrepreneurial chef who describes his food as modern European, calling on inspiration from Japanese culture and cooking, Graeme has worked for numerous high-profile chefs across Scotland, and in Michelin standard establishments in Singapore and New York – including three-star Michelin restaurants, Per Se and Eleven Madison Park.

Chef Cheevers looks for marbling in the best cuts of beef

At the age of 32, with a staff 14, Graeme Cheevers is now on his own path to enlightenment with Unalome. Rather than an occasion restaurant, he wants diners to return time and again to experience his ever-changing menu.

To achieve that, Chef Cheevers will stay true to his commitment to surrounding himself with the best people, who’ll creating exceptional food using the best possible produce.