Ninth Wave's Story
Taste of Place Trails Stories
Carla Lamont originally hails from “the Mull of Canada”, Vancouver Island. Twenty eight years ago she got a job as a chef on Iona, where she was meant to stay for six months but, after falling in love with a local fisherman and his talent for cooking lobster, she never went back. Over time, Carla and the fisherman – her now-husband, John – turned a little pink granite building on his croft into a restaurant, where they grow their own organic herbs and vegetables, and serve up John’s fresh catch of the day to eagerly waiting customers at Ninth Wave.
Carla’s passion for food is infectious, she speaks with warmth and enthusiasm about the fresh lobster, sea urchin and octopus which John will present to her in a bucket before service each afternoon. There is an heirloom herb garden which she nurtures herself, growing obscure and forgotten Scottish plants like pignuts alongside greenhouses filled with exotic lemongrass, kaffir limes and Peruvian yams. The figs on Ninth Wave’s cheese board are grown in a shaded spot in the garden, on a tree which took years to bear fruit but which, like everything on Mull according to Carla, just took patience. She is passionate about food being as local as possible: if she can’t get meat from Mull, she says, she won’t cook it.
Instincts lead the way
Carla describes herself as an instinctive cook, centring the dishes she serves at Ninth Wave around ingredients grown locally and on what happens to be in season – in her words, “using what’s fresh and best at that time of the year”. It’s not her job, it’s her life, with the croft needing as much attention as guests at the restaurant. She takes inspiration from the landscape around her, “because I’m immersed in it, I don’t do it for the restaurant, I live in it. I’m in the middle of the wild moors here, I don’t have to go anywhere to forage. I’m surrounded by all this wonderful food that nobody even looks at anymore. All these things we call ‘weeds’ in the garden the Romans used to make salad out of! Just a plethora of tasty things that people walk by every day”.
She wasn’t always so certain that this way of cooking was the right one, feeling compelled at one point to do what’s expected of chefs and travel to complete an “estage” (the chef’s equivalent of an internship) in a Michelin-starred restaurant. When she got there, however, she hated it. She realised she’d been doing exactly what she should have been all along, and her stint in someone else’s kitchen taught her she “was in the right place, doing the right thing with fresh Argyll produce” and that she didn’t have to try and cook like anyone else because no-one else knew the food she was cooking or the place it came from better than she did. Despite this epiphany, she says it is important not to stagnate, and makes an effort to stay up to date with what other chefs are doing without feeling the need to follow trends.
West coast of Scotland flavours meet the rest of the world
Carla credits the dynamic food scene in Canada for her cooking style, which combines the delicious and distinctive seafood and game of Scotland’s West Coast with the Korean, Japanese and Chinese influences of immigrants to her home in Victoria. She doesn’t like to label her food as any one particular style, though, saying “you can’t get any of the dishes on my menu anywhere else because I’ve made them all up. And that’s the fun part!”
Challenges that inspire
For Carla, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought some unexpected benefits. She had harboured a dream for some time of competing on Masterchef: The Professionals and, with the temporary closure of Ninth Wave over lockdown, she had the perfect opportunity to take part, reaching the quarter-finals of the popular TV programme. She says Masterchef was one of the most challenging things she has ever done, but seems to look back on it fondly nonetheless. It brought a lot of new interest in the restaurant from people who – in some cases – hadn’t even heard of Mull before, let alone Ninth Wave Restaurant on its little croft. That being said, she didn’t exactly need the publicity, as the restaurant books up months in advance for its summer season, with bookings being taken from the beginning of April. The lockdown was also a chance to catch up with things on the croft, allowing her and John to recharge their batteries and give their beloved garden some extra attention. After all, Carla says, a croft on the Outer Hebrides always needs more work than you have time for!
Carla describes herself as an eater before she is a chef, and that passion for food really comes across in conversation. She thrives on sharing with people, and values the community spirit of her island home as much as the delicious food it provides through its temperate waters and wild moors. Ninth Wave is a must-visit on the Wild About Argyll Seafood Taste Trail – but be sure to book in advance as it’s clearly a popular destination!