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White Heather Hotel gets new lease of life in Turriff

White Heather Hotel in Turriff has a new lease of life.
White Heather Hotel in Turriff has a new lease of life.

You’d be hard pushed to find someone more passionate about food and drink than Gary Fisher.

He seems to shine when asked to share his knowledge, delicious morsels which he has carefully gathered during his decades long stint in the hospitality industry.

Gary made his foray into the world of dining when he was just 18-years-old, and has been hooked ever since.

Gary is general manager at White Heather in Turriff.

Despite a spell spent in oil and gas, he always seemed to find his way back to what he loves doing most; pulling up a chair and making all feel welcome.

Gary is the smiling face ready to greet you at White Heather Hotel in Turriff.

A local institution

Something of an institution, the building has taken on numerous guises over the passing years.

From townhouse to grocer, pub and then night club, the latest changes mean it is now a rather trendy hotel and restaurant.

Creative cocktails include Sweet Like Chocolate, an enticing mix of salted caramel vodka, Baileys and chocolate.

Anyone for a Strawberry Daiquiri?

And if that’s not your poison, there’s Roku Japanese gin, Conde De Castille Crianza Rioja, and 15-year-old Glenfiddich.

We caught up with Gary and found out why White Heather’s transformation is only just beginning.

Interesting past

“I’ve been general manager here for around six months, but I went straight into hospitality after leaving school,” said Gary.

“I did a stint as a project manager in oil and gas, and then I went into marketing for Grampian Country Food Group.”

It was during his time in marketing that Gary rose to the challenge of creating the world’s first cook from frozen chicken!

“It was challenge accepted, I poisoned myself on several occasions,” he said.

“We got there though, you can still buy it to this day.

Pictured from left are John McCormick sous chef, Kim Milne front of house and Gary Fisher manager.

“I think we sold the idea to Iceland first and then Tesco, who sold 14 million in the first week.

“You cook it on low for an hour to bring up the core temperature, and then turn up the heat.”

Roast chicken aside, the menu at White Heather Hotel has undergone quite the overhaul.

“We have head chef, Lewis Cumming, leading the way,” said Gary.

Extensive menu

“We serve food seven days a week, you can get everything from chicken fillets to fresh langoustines.

“We get a langoustine delivery every day, and we also have a separate vegan menu.

“I’m a seafood lover, so I love our Cullen skink which is our own recipe.

Chicken Supreme features on the extensive menu.

“We only launched our new menu two and half months ago, it was a lot of trial and error to get it just right.

“The black gold beef which we use for our steaks is fully traceable beef of Scottish origin.

“Raised in Aberdeenshire and grass fed, then dry aged for a minimum of 28 days.

“It is unbelievably popular, we’ve run out of steaks the past few weeks despite ordering more in.

“Our Turra cow burger is the next biggest selling dish, it’s two 4oz beef burgers topped with black pudding, blue cheese and smoked bacon.”

The extensive menu proves that the team really have thought of everything, including a peanut butter sundae and s’mores on the dessert list.

It’s not just the foodie offerings which Gary adores however, for the drinks menu is equally impressive.

White Heather Hotel prides itself on offering fresh, local produce.

“Our drinks are not on draft, we make every single cocktail by hand,” he said.

Cocktails with a difference

“We’ve had a play about, and our Baileys Espresso Martini for example, the addition of Baileys really does take it to another level.

“We honestly can’t keep up with how popular the cocktails have been, we’ve recently taken someone on who makes cocktails all night.

“A lot of businesses don’t make cocktails by hand because of the time and skill needed, alongside keeping ingredients fresh.

There is a fabulous cocktail menu, which includes this beauty.

“We have a pineapple leaf on our Pina Colada, it’s these tiny little things which seem to make the difference.

“Our Pornstar Martinis have taken off like there’s no tomorrow, and the Mojito is also unbelievably popular.”

The male population of Turriff is also switching on to the cocktail way of life, and Gary believes attitudes are changing.

Out with the old

“Even in somewhere like Turriff, people’s habits are changing,” he said.

“Sherry used to be a thing only a lady would drink, when it actually tastes beautiful.

“Our wine sales have massively picked up as well.

“More wine seems to be drank in city venues, but the culture has altered somewhat.

“We’ve changed the entire wine menu, so the Five Ravens Pinot Noir is the best you can get on planet earth.

The cocktails are all made by hand, as opposed to on draught.

“We also sell a huge amount of prosecco, back in my day prosecco didn’t even exist.”

Gin is also a much sought after tipple, with people’s preferences going beyond a G&T.

“People know what they like now, and they’re specific about the mixer as well,” said Gary.

Map of Scotland

The whisky offering has been carefully thought through, and although White Heather Hotel doesn’t stock hundreds of whiskies, the list is nonetheless impressive.

From Old Pulteney to Tomatin, Gary has included whiskies which will complement the menu.

“Do I like whisky; I’m Scottish so I have too,” he said.

“I like it the same way I gin and wine, and all their little nuances.

White Heather Hotel has previously been a grocers and even a nightclub.

“We have created a map of Scotland with our whisky selection.”

With so many changes, Gary and his team haven’t had much chance to catch their breath.

But one thing is for sure, their dedication is steadfast.

Hospitality to the max

“I’ve always loved food and drink, it’s the sense of occasion for me,” said Gary.

“Going out to a restaurant isn’t going out to eat something because you’re hungry.

“If you were hungry, you’d stay at home and make a sandwich.

“I think hospitality is a bit like working in nursing. You’re doing something to make someone feel better.

The restaurant serves food seven days a week.

“You want people to come away saying oh my gosh, that was great.

“If people come back to White Heather and they tell other people about us, well we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve.”

A round of questions with Gary Fisher

Best food and drink pairing?

A banana sandwich and a cup of tea. It has to be a plain loaf, buttered and with the banana mashed. It’s the best thing ever.

If you were a drink, what would you be and why?

I would be a gin and bitter lemon. It’s always different, always satisfying, nice and simple.

I’d say milk as well, for the same reasons. I drink milk like there’s no tomorrow.

What’s something you wouldn’t try again?

A pig’s heart, when I was in Germany. I was too polite to say no.

Tell us the secret to the hospitality industry

Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated. Give it everything you’ve got.

Go out of your way to make someone’s experience of you and your offering, the very best it can be.

Do it the old fashioned way, I’m glad that way of treating people seems to be making a comeback.

What three things would you take to a desert island?

My wife Jackie and my dog, Callie, plus water.

Jackie and Callie are my entire life.

For more information, visit the White Heather Hotel’s website, or check them out on Facebook and Instagram @whiteheatherhotelturriff.