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Top international chef – well known in Inverness and Nairn – is retiring at 75

By Neil MacPhail

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George MacKay is hanging up his whites.
George MacKay is hanging up his whites.

A Highland chef who has worked in top restaurants around the world and rubbed shoulders with royalty, celebrities and other VIPs is hanging up his whites at the age of 75.

The kitchens George MacKay has worked in is a global list of top-rated establishments, and latterly he was involved with running some of the leading spots in and around Nairn and Inverness.

But as well as being an elite chef himself, it was how he helped his trainees achieve great things in this high pressure world that won him much praise in the industry.

His wife Mary said: “His devotion to the hospitality industry in encouraging youngsters to develop their skills to the best of their ability is second to none.

“In the days of traditional apprenticeships, he would use his contacts worldwide to give youngsters opportunities to work in amazing environments.

“His trainees attained work in many prestigious hotels including Gleneagles, The Balmoral in Edinburgh, and in Washington DC, and New Zealand and many would return with a greater depth of enthusiasm and experience.

“He is a true believer in traditional work values and that these should be passed on to the younger generation.”

George began his training in the Great Western Hotel School in Oban and his apprenticeship included working at The Mitre Hotel, London and The Schloss Hotel, Kronberg, Germany, and The Piccadilly Hotel, Manchester.

At The Midland Hotel, Morecambe, he was promoted to second chef and met his wife there.

Having experienced traditional methods of training, he then progressed to fine dining in Country House hotels in South Wales.

He returned to Scotland in 1976 as head chef of The Golf View Hotel, Nairn, where he stayed for 10 years and during that time also became responsible for the town's Newton Hotel.

After spending a few years running one of the Highlands’ first Restaurant with Rooms in Inverness he moved to Fife to help open the Balbirnie House Hotel, where he was executive chef, designing the kitchen and recruiting the kitchen brigade.

Here he achieved many accolades and his renowned training methods set the standard for similar projects throughout Scotland.

In 2023, Balbirnie House Hotel has been named the world’s best wedding hotel for the fourth consecutive year at the Haute Grandeur Awards.

Returning to Nairn, George became executive chef for Morton Hotels, where he was responsible for The Golf View, The Newton, The Royal Golf in Dornoch and The Westerwood, covering weddings, conferences, large functions and fine dining.

During his period as executive chef he travelled extensively to America, Japan and Switzerland to promote Scottish food, involving many radio and TV appearances.

He was also executive chef for the five-star Ness Castle Lodges in Inverness, catering for private functions and events.

He created Ghillies Kitchen in the early 2000s, catering for events in castles, country houses and estates throughout the Highlands, often for royalty, celebrities and other VIPS.

And he worked beside celebrity chefs including Rick Stein and Nick Nairn at charity events in the north.

To come full circle, George has just sold his business, Ghillies Kitchen, to local chef/businessman Kenneth Loades, who was trained by one of George’s apprentices.

George MacKay at Linn House.
George MacKay at Linn House.

Mary added: “At 75, he has now decided to retire, but still offers consultancy, sharing his vast experience. He is still passionate about encouraging youngsters into hospitality and is currently helping the Rotary Club of Inverness Culloden who annually organise a Secondary School Masterchef Competition.

“George’s experience and enthusiasm is still being shared by anyone who will listen to his many catering anecdotes.”

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