Foodie chat with a chef: Neil Forbes

Cafe St Honore, Edinburgh

Wednesday, 9.15 AM. I am walking in the empty streets of the Edinburgh’s New Town. I am very excited to meet the chef of the Cafe St Honore restaurant, Neil Forbes.

Neil is a well-known chef of the food scene in Edinburgh. If you are a blogger, a foodie or a producer, you talked to him at least ones. He is an out of the ordinary chef who likes to share with people his passion. I could listen to him for hours…

His restaurant, le Cafe St Honore, is a very unique place. Located in a very small street, hidden in New Town, you will discover a restaurant that has been brought from the past by a tardis: a Parisian brasserie from the 1950’s. Yes, you read correctly. A real French brasserie from top to bottom with French bottle stickers and mirrors on the wall, dark wood furniture, a real “licence IV” (French alcohol licence) and the small sign “Interdit de fumer”. Everything seems so real!

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9.30AM. Here I am in front of the restaurant wondering where I should entre the restaurant. Let’s go to the kitchen door. I meet there a man with a big smile welcoming me with a “Bonjour” “Enchanté”. My morning is going to be great! We head to the restaurant and begin our foodie chat with a cup of coffee (well… Tea for me).

Chef Forbes is passionate. He cooks because he loves it and not for the financial reward. What he likes most is sharing his passion with clients and all people eager to learn more about cooking. That’s why he organizes master classes in his restaurant, participates in Slow Food events or goes to the Saturday farmer market.

Having worked for Michelin Star restaurants all over the UK, Neil always wanted to come back to Scotland and for a good reason « Scotland is a dream for chefs ». The country produces some of the best products of Europe and from the world like beef, lamb and of course seafood.

But Neil’s real passion is dedicated to the beautiful Scottish vegetables and plants:  turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, kale… All these beautiful vegetables are growing perfectly in Scottish soil. When I told him that I never cooked or ate kale, he instantly said “ You have to try it! Cook it simply in a pan with butter and some bacon”. Now I have to try it!

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Our chat continues on vegetables and Neil tells me all about his garden where he is growing his vegetables. His little pleasure is to ride his Champagne Triumph bike in Edinburgh’s streets and visit his plants in his garden. Apparently this winter has not been cold enough for him to have perfect turnips. He tells me that the cold helps turnips getting better and stronger flavour (gardening course=check!)

Then I ask him about the most interesting Scottish native plants I should know (I had no idea what kind of plants I could use in my cooking to make it more “Made In Scotland”). Strangely all the plants, we talked about, are plants you can find in different regions of France: Juniper, Elderflower, Pine trees, Sea buckthorn. No novelty here, however I was surprise by the possible uses of the plants! Neil’s suggestions were very interesting: using juniper branches to smoke meat or fresh springs of pine tree in salads.

The sea Buckthorn piqued my curiosity (which I did not recognize at first by the English name). Apparently you can find bushes of the plants all the way from Edinburgh to North Berwick. Neil has someone picking the berries for him during the season. He tells me that the berries from the Sea Buckthorn are saturated with vitamin C and contain more vitamin C than an orange. Apparently a British University is studying the subject because the plant is perfect remedy for people who has been radiated by nuclear for instance. Fascinating!

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Then was the time to go back to the kitchen and I saw stars shining in Neil’s eyes. “A kid surrounded by his Christmas presents”. I had the chance to discover his new kitchen. For the first kitchen refurbishment, they have done well. It’s great to see how functional the kitchen can be even with so little space. Neil proudly presented me his new toys: a plancha to cook perfectly fish and meat, induction burners, ovens, salamander… Shiny toys from a great French brand. 😛

Finally, we talked about bread and how he prepares a sourdough bread each day for the restaurant. Bread is an important element of the meal for Neil and he prepares it with care each morning. He showed me his super active starter that he is using since 2006, which surprised me a lot. I did not know you could keep a starter for so long! I was wrong. Each afternoon, he prepares the dough and let it rise during the night. Then he puts the dough in special baskets and lets it rise again for a couple of hours in the warms of the kitchen. They really are doing everything from scratch to please their customers. It’s great!

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Unfortunately, it was already time to end our chat because Neil had to go back to his chef and owner duties but I keep in mind his proposition to spend a day with him in the kitchen and I hope we can arrange that very soon. This time, I have stars in my eyes!

Merci Chef Forbes and thank you to your team for this enjoyable foodie chat!

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