New French chef John says ‘bonjour’ to The Wheatsheaf

Head Chef John Forestier of The Wheatsheaf in Swinton.
Head Chef John Forestier of The Wheatsheaf in Swinton.

IT might not be the Eiffel Tower, but Swinton’s Market Cross has become the new monument of choice for French chef John Forestier, now he has become a permanent fixture in the kitchen at the Wheatsheaf Hotel.

John stepped in to help out owners Chris and Jan Winson for five months at the end of last year, so has experienced the worst weather Berwickshire can offer, but now he is throwing his efforts into compiling a mouthwatering summer menu for diners.

And with a wealth of culinary experience under his belt, or more fittingly, his apron, John is definitely up to the challenge.

Although his origins lie over the channel, near Nancy to be exact, John has been living in the UK for 14 years, travelling the length and breadth of our shores and cooking up a storm in kitchens from Aberdeenshire to Wimbledon, via Loch Lomond, Edinburgh and York to name but a few.

But he said the produce on offer to him in Berwickshire was up there with the best and as a self-confessed fish connoisseur he was particularly impressed with the catches that were coming in for him to work with.

“There are plenty of fishermen round here which is very good as doing fish dishes is my speciality,” John told ‘Life’ while taking a break from prepping a particularly delicious dessert.

“From meat to fish, the Border produce is fantastic and I’m keeping an open mind to the dishes I can produce with it. I’ve only been in the job officially for eight days so I’m not too sure what the customers make of my dishes yet but I always welcome feedback.

“I’d like to make my mark here but I need to know that the customers like what I’m serving up first.

“I’ve worked all over the UK and people’s tastes differ depending on where they’re from so it’s always good to know what people think.”

One person who is definitely a fan of John is Chris who was confident that he would be a great asset to the award-winning hotel.

He commented: “We want him to carry on the good name of the hotel but also make a name for himself.

“He’s keen to come and chat with the customers which is what we want; we don’t want him to be a faceless server of food.

“I’m sure he’d be happy to take some constructive criticism and I can’t see him throwing saucepans around the kitchen or hurling Gaelic abuse at anyone!”

Chefs are known for their passion and fiery nature, with Brits like Gordon Ramsay becoming synonymous with their hot tempers and while John admires the work of the UK’s famous TV chefs, he said it was a man from over the channel who’d been his biggest culinary influence.

“Bernard Loiseau is definitely my favourite chef,” he continued.

“Unfortunately he is no longer with us but he made a big impression on me. He had three Michelin stars and owned 10 restaurants.

“He had a real passion for quality fresh food and that’s something I share with him.”

Like Bernard, John’s love for everything culinary shines bright although he said it was his parents rather than he himself who decided he was to be a chef.

“When I was younger my mother and stepfather were heavily involved in the restaurant business so I was always going to be a waiter or a chef and they chose the latter.

“Even though I didn’t have a choice I think it was meant to be. You’ve got to have real character to be a chef and I’d like to think I have.

“Us chefs do what we do because we love it. The hours are long and a lot of effort is involved, not just in the preparing and cooking of food but sorting out menus, food costs etc but it’s what I love doing so I don’t mind.”

As much as he loves preparing fish dishes, such as wild Scottish sea trout, John said that his favourite thing to whip up in the kitchen was a dessert, and this is borne out in the list of desserts currently adorning the Wheatsheaf menu.

Among the tasty treats John has created are chocolate dome and cherry coulis; lemon mousse with a lemon sorbet and lemon candy and apricot assiette, which John was creating when I called in at the hotel last week.

“Desserts are a lot harder to do than people think,” John explained.

“The way I see it, anyone can cook a piece of meat or fish whereas creating a dessert requires a lot more technique. They can be very complicated to do and with me being quite a perfectionist I do like to take my time with them.

“Like all food, desserts change depending on the season, but at the end of the day everyone loves something sweet.”

To many people, sugary puddings are a guilty pleasure and John confessed to having one of his own, which certainly surprised me.

“I love McDonalds,” he confessed.

“It’s fast, it tastes good and I don’t have to make it! Like everyone else I love fast food at the end of a long day when you’re too lazy to prepare anything yourself - McDonalds, takeaway pizzas and kebabs - I love them all.”

Thankfully, John gets plenty of exercise to burn off any junk food he consumes.

He is living in Little Swinton, about a mile and a half from his workplace and villagers have given him a bike to cycle to and from work.

Let’s hope the weather this winter is kinder than last year!