A month ago, I found myself in a position I had never imagined - atop the largest freestanding mountain in the world alongside fellow members of Scotland’s culinary scene! The trek was a charity fundraising expedition to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in honour of late two Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie, who sadly passed away of terminal brain cancer in January 2019. Led by Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT) Scotland and Andrew’s brother Jim, the goal was to make the same climb that Andrew completed in 2011, when he famously cooked the ‘World’s Highest Burns Supper’ atop the summit.
Andrew was a giant in the industry. Not only did he possess incredible culinary talent (he was the first winner of the Roux Scholarship in 1984) but he gave back most generously to the community that supported his success, establishing the Andrew Fairlie Scholarship alongside HIT to award career-changing educational opportunities to aspiring chefs each year. He also supported me personally by always encouraging his teams to compete at our ScotHot show where most famously Lorna McNee from Gleneagles won Scottish Chef of the Year in 2017.
In October, we made the climb to support this same charity, alongside the Cornhill Macmillan Hospice nursing staff who provided incredible care to Andrew and his family in his final weeks. This voyage was a long time in the making – a worldwide pandemic foiled the original scheduling of a 2020 trip, and after two years and some new faces, the trek finally began on 7th October.
The journey to the summit took eight gruelling days, during which the full effects of altitude sickness and exhaustion set in. Luckily, our team of hikers had enough spirit and motivation to push each other through, despite the physical and mental toll. On the 17th October, we finally reached the summit. That final day began at midnight the evening before, as we fought through polar conditions of minus 18 degrees and thinning air to finally reach 5,895 meters by midday. Once we were at the peak though, that breathlessness takes on a new meaning – and you’re faced with the stark reality that you’ve made your way to the top of the world.
While that feeling alone was worth the journey, the true accomplishment came from the support we saw from the community for the mission we were there to achieve. Once the group had returned home safe and sound, we were shocked by the donations large and small that allowed the campaign to exceed its £100,000 goal. To date, the collective fundraiser has reached an incredible £102,973 in donations collected from 1,169 supporters. The experience, while one of the most difficult I’ve faced, is one I will always cherish for the deep bonds it created and the good that we were able to accomplish.
If you would like to donate, the just giving page for Toby is still open at