It’s a very long story! Are you sure you want to know it all? I’m from Galashiels in Scotland, and came here via New York, Italy, London and Ibiza. Up until I started working in hospitality I had done a lot of different jobs: I’d worked in call centres, supermarkets, all kinds of places, but nothing had really stuck with me. But then I got a job as a potwasher on the Orient Express train line. I thought I was applying to be ticket conductor on ScotRail, but turned out to be wrong! There was a very high turnover of staff on the train and I ended up working in a lot of different departments, in the kitchen, and behind the bar. It gave me the opportunity to show that I could work in extreme circumstances and I learned a lot from Andrew Fairley, the Michelin starred chef I was working under.
In 2007 I got the opportunity to move to New York, I was young and fresh and willing to work and learn.
We did a lot of events and I was in charge of expediting the kitchen, which means that I was in charge of communicating the orders to the kitchen and keeping everything organised and under control.
But I started to get the chance to work behind the bar, and I really enjoyed the interaction with the customers, and realised that this was something I enjoyed. I began to study wine and drinks, and the art of mixing and over the next couple of years I worked on that. Then I had the offer to go to work as the barman in a new hotel in Tuscany, Italy, and so I went over there. It was a five star boutique hotel and it ended up winning loads of awards. I was really influenced by the chefs in the hotel, they were so passionate about food that they really got me interested in the subject and in cooking and in the art of eating and entertaining.
From that I was in between Italy and London a lot and worked my way up to bar manager and then general manager. But I realised that I didn’t want to be a general manager, you’re just in the middle of the decision you know? I felt frustrated, I was only 28 years old and I’d been working hard to get to the position I was in, but when I got there I realised that wasn’t where I wanted to be!
I heard about an opportunity to work in Ibiza, so I quit what I was doing and went over there. I love the island, but it’s just not sustainable as a place to live all year round. So after a couple of seasons I decided to take a look at Mallorca, and that’s how I got here! I knew that my time as a barman had come to an end as I didn’t want to work all night and finish at 8am anymore, and I started to look at how cooking could be my next step.
What was your first job in Mallorca?
I worked in this Chinese restaurant in Santa Catalina for the first year I was here. My main role was to answer the phone and take orders because they didn’t speak much English. It wasn’t a very well paid job, but after the craziness of Ibiza it was great just to have a steady source of income. I worked every day, seven days a week. The time in between taking orders gave me time to think about my next step and I decided to save up and do an intensive cooking course. I knew a lot about food but I’d never been taught the fundamentals and I knew I needed to get those right if I wanted to have a shot at a career as a chef.
Did you have to hustle to move into cheffing?
Yes! After I had finished my course I got my CV together and went around a load of different places just handing it out and hoping. Then a couple of weeks later I got this call from a guy called Danny at Antiquari, he needed a chef right away and gave me my first break! From there I started to work in some really good restaurants in Palma and made friends and contacts as I went along. The network in Palma is good that way, you get to know people quickly, and these contacts are really helpful now I have my own business.
What do you like about Mallorca?
Initially I didn’t have any intention to stay but I really like the architecture and the lifestyle here. I was surprised at how beautiful the island was. I started to get integrated into the local society and I learned to speak Spanish. I’ve made a lot of friends here from all walks of life and countries.
How did the idea for LaVan come about?
I'd seen food trucks in Ibiza, but there weren’t any here that I could see. And I thought maybe there was a gap in the market. I did some research and found a man on the mainland who had vintage trucks for sale and found my van there. We came to a deal and he agreed to send it over to me on the ferry, but it doesn’t have an engine in it so it got stuck in Valencia for quite a while until we had figured out how to get it here on a grua (towtruck)! It was a bit of a slow process, but eventually the van got here. That was 2017.
What did it feel like having your own business?
I think at the beginning I had some fears, worrying about running out of money, or not having anywhere to live, but when you face those realities, there comes a point where failure is not an option you know? You are literally all in! You start to realise what is possible and that you are capable of dealing with anything. I’ve had to work hard, and come up with creative solutions when I’ve needed them to keep the business going at the beginning. But you also learn a lot from those situations. I am still learning, and refining the business.
What kind of food do you serve?
A mixture of food from different cultures, things that are tasty, fresh, healthy. We serve a lot of dishes with an Asian or South American influence. Argentinian barbecues have become very popular this year for example.
How has the business developed?
We do a lot of catering for private events, parties, and weddings, plus catering for production companies. And we opened LaVan Santa Catalina where you can get our food to go. We’ve also been the resident pop up for No11 in Port Andratx this summer which runs until the end of October. At the moment I have ten people on contracts and probably another 30 who work as extras.
What advice would you give your younger self now?
There’s no perfect answer, no perfect formula. Just keep working hard, be honest and persistent and you’ll get there.
You can get in touch with Max at the location in Santa Catalina or at No11.