Fred Berkmiller is a food pioneer and award-winning restaurateur who has long championed provenance, sourcing and sustainability, discovers Karen Peattie.

For chef-patron Fred Berkmiller, a stalwart of the Edinburgh’s culinary scene, sustainable sourcing of the produce he uses in his kitchen has always been a priority.

Now, he has taken that ethos to the next level with his French restaurant l’escargot bleu the first restaurant in the UK to be certified by Pasture for Life, the organisation that supports and promotes producers of 100% pasture-fed beef, lamb and dairy.

Since opening on Broughton Street in the capital’s New Town in 2009, the restaurant and wine bar has been pioneering a sourcing and sustainability movement that challenges the industry to put provenance and health above profit.

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Fred says: “By choosing meat raised purely on pasture, we know it’s of a much higher quality, it’s healthier than grain-fed meat and it tastes better.

“Pasture for Life farms not only treat animals well, but they also put goodness back into soils rather than depleting them, encouraging more wildlife. We can also trace the provenance of every single piece of meat.”

Pasture for Life executive director Jimmy Woodrow said farmers wouldn’t be able to do what they do without supportive butchers, chefs and retailers and, ultimately, members of the public. “Chefs, in particular, have captured the public imagination in recent years and have a key role to play in communicating the story of farming to the public,” he noted.

“We're delighted to have Fred and his team at l’escargot bleu on board and it’s heartening for farmers to see such unflinching insistence on quality at a time when it would be understandable to look for the easy option.”

During lockdown, l’escargot bleu offered a weekly sell-out takeaway menu offering dishes like rosé veal steak tartare, Hebridean mutton navarin, and cassoulet of confit beef cheeks in duck fat, all featuring grass-fed meat. Repeat business and feedback solidified Fred’s view that consumers are looking for restaurants they can trust.

Fred adds: “The food system in this country has become so industrialised that chefs like me struggle to source quality ingredients. I realised over a decade ago that things were only getting worse.

“If I am not supporting pasture-fed meat producers, and educating my customers and staff, who is? It’s becoming increasingly political, and joining Pasture for Life not only strengthens my relationships with suppliers, but it also sends a clear message to the restaurant trade that customers want the option to eat better meat.”

Originally from the Loire Valley in France, Fred came to Edinburgh in 1998 and has long placed sourcing at the heart of his restaurant’s ethos. Creating classic French dishes using the best ingredients from Scotland’s larder and French produce too, Fred’s menu – on a bistro-style blackboard – changes daily.

Don’t be surprised to find dishes such as classic French soups, rabbit, Hebridean hogget and guinea fowl alongside crowd-pleasers like beef bourguignon and, as the restaurant’s name would suggest, snails. In Fred’s case, the snails are sourced on the Isle of Barra.

“These shorter menus place emphasis on quality and the seasons,” says the restaurateur. “We will carry on sourcing from around Scotland and France, always purchasing the best ingredients we can find.”

Since reopening to diners last year, l’escargot bleu has intensified its purchasing policy, using only produce in season or with fully-traceable provenance. The restaurant has restricted opening times to four days per week and removed 22 covers, offering diners and staff a better quality of experience overall.

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Fred also grows herbs, salads and vegetables at a market garden on the outskirts of Edinburgh where he makes his own compost from the food waste of the restaurant.

With a string of prestigious awards under his belt, Fred’s most recent accolade was the 2021 Slow Food Best Restaurant/Eatery of the Year. He has also been recognised for local sourcing in the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards and was named the organisation’s “food pioneer” in 2016.

It’s a family affair too at l’escargot bleu with wife Betty and daughter Matilde both involved in the business.

They recently opened a new wine bar in the basement area below the restaurant – think cosy nooks and crannies, a woodburning stove and seats on the patio too.,