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20 August 2014

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Kindred spirits

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Founded on Orkney in 1798, Highland Park is one of the most remote Scotch whisky distilleries in the world and has established an enviable reputation with its blend of traditional craftsmanship and the very best technique.

The secrets of Highland Park's success involve hand-turning the malt to create balanced succulent flavours, using Orkney peat to add a luxuriant floral sweetness, and the cool maturation on Orkney enhances the smooth character of Highland Park single-malt whisky. Sherry oak casks also contribute to the spirit's multi-dimensional complexity.

Highland Park - HP0002low.jpg

Its award-winning range of single malts, from 12 Year Old to a 40 Year Old, has been acclaimed by connoisseurs and critics alike, but the distillery is also forging new initiatives beyond the world of spirits, notably a partnership with the Slow Food Movement to form the Slow Food UK Chef Alliance, a venture supported by several big-name chefs including Richard Corrigan, Michel Roux Jr, Raymond Blanc and Angela Hartnett.

Fine malt whisky is traditionally enjoyed on its own, with a little water, ice, or in a bespoke cocktail, but you might be surprised to know that it also goes admirably with certain dishes. To prove the point, Highland Park asked six of London's brightest, up-and-coming chefs to devise a signature dish that would be enhanced by this whisky's special qualities. Square Meal will in due course offer readers the chance to sample the results at a special dinner. So, who's cooking you ask? Check out the chefs and their dishes.

Sophie Wright - Sophie_Wright_MG_5752.jpgChef: Sophie Wright

RESTAURANT: Grace, 11c West Halkin St SW1X 8JL; 020 7235 8900; gracebelgravia.com

Sophie Wright first caught the eye as one of the country's youngest head chefs when she was asked to join the British Culinary Academy in 2003; since then, she has racked up 50 gongs including a silver medal at the 2011 Culinary Olympics. The 25-year-old has also written three cookbooks (including Cook on a Shoestring) and made numerous TV appearances from Great Food Live to Daily Cooks with Antony Worrall Thompson. Following a two-year stint at Beach Blanket Babylon in Notting Hill, she is currently executive chef at Grace, a ladies-only members club, restaurant and lounge in Belgravia.

DISH: Highland Park-cured organic salmon with sea fennel, juniper, horseradish cream and pickled cucumber
PAIR WITH: Highland Park 12 Year Old

Luke Thomas - Luke_3_2013_web.jpgChef: Luke Thomas

RESTAURANTS: Retro Feasts, The Embassy Mayfair, 29 Old Burlington St W1S 3AN; 020 7494 5660; retrofeasts.com

Luke's Dining Room, Sanctum on the Green, The Old Cricket Common, Cookham Dean, Berkshire SL6 9NZ; 01628 482638; sanctumonthegreen.com

Few young chefs have hit the big time as quickly as precocious 19-year-old Luke Thomas. He has appeared on Junior MasterChef, won Springboard Future Chef in 2009 and worked with a host of Michelin-starred chefs before getting his big break by hotelier Mark Fuller, who offered him the chance to launch Luke's Dining Room. Since then, he has starred in a TV documentary, written a cookbook (due to be published in 2014) and is now running a six-month pop-up called Retro Feasts.

DISH: Crispy-duck salad with watercress and grapefruit
PAIR WITH: Highland Park 18 Year Old

Daniel Doherty - Dan_Doherty_Bio_Pic_web5.jpg5.jpgChef: Daniel Doherty

RESTAURANT: Duck & Waffle, 110 Bishopsgate EC2N 4AY; 020 3640 7310; duckandwaffle.com

Shrewsbury-born Daniel Doherty started his professional career at Michelin-starred City hotspot One Lombard Street, learning the trade and later dividing his time between its sister restaurants Noble Rot, Mayfair and Graze in Maida Vale. After a spell at The Ambassador on Exmouth Market, he changed tack and followed the gastropub path with postings at The Empress in Victoria Park and The Old Brewery, Greenwich. His is currently heading up the kitchen at Duck & Waffle; perched on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower in Bishopsgate. He won the Tatler Rising Star award in 2013.

DISH: Slow-braised pork belly with pearl barley, wild garlic, smoked-eel-and-ham croquettes
PAIR WITH: Highland Park 18 Year Old

Tom Harris - tom_harris_portrait.jpg_web.jpgChef: Tom Harris

RESTAURANT: One Leicester Street,1 Leicester St WC2H 7BL; 020 3301 8020; oneleicesterstreet.com

Although Tom Harris started his culinary career with the glitzy Japanese Nobu group at its restaurants in Park Lane and Canary Wharf, he is best known as part of the team behind British nose-to-tail pioneers St John. Following a 10-year spell at Fergus Henderson's flagship restaurant in Smithfield, he headed up the kitchen at the St John Hotel in Chinatown and is now chef/partner (with Singaporean entrepreneur and hotelier Peng Loh) in the venue's current incarnation as One Leicester Street.

DISH: Braised snails with duck hearts, roast onions and lovage foam
PAIR WITH: Highland Park 12 Year Old

James Ferguson - James_Ferguson_BEAGLE_colour_web.jpgChef: James Ferguson

RESTAURANT: Beagle, 397-400 Geffrye St E2 8HZ; 020 7613 2967; beaglelondon.co.uk

James Ferguson got a taste for cheffing while cooking alongside his father at the family restaurant in Yorkshire. In 2002 he decamped to London, spent three years with Angela Hartnett at The Connaught and later worked under executive chef Warren Geraghty at the Picasso Room in Soho's Escargot. His big break came when he moved to the Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch then he decided to launch his own gaff: Beagle in Hoxton.

DISH: Braised hogget neck with turnips and pearl barley
PAIR WITH: Highland Park Loki

Brett Redman - BrettRedman.jpg_web.jpgChef: Brett Redman

RESTAURANT: Elliott's Cafe, 12 Stoney St, Borough Market SE1 9AD; 020 7403 7436; elliotscafe.com

Laid-back Aussie chef Brett Redman came to England during 2005 on a whim and opened his first eatery in Bethnal Green a year later: he named it Elliot's after the street where he grew up. Later, he teamed up with Borough Market trader Rob Green and eventually set up the funky Pavilion Cafe in Victoria Park. In 2012, the duo resurrected Elliot's Cafe, next to Borough Market, where it has earned a reputation for seasonal cooking with an offbeat British accent.

DISH: Smoked-milk ice cream with whisky and prunes
PAIR WITH: Highland Park 21 Year Old

www.drinkaware.co.uk