Chef Director at Cafe St Honoré, Neil Forbes describes cooking as an “emotional experience that uses all the senses”. Born into a family of chefs, it was his granny’s soup that first inspired a young Neil to get behind the stove, and inspires him still. “Good, honest ingredients cooked simply” he says of the soup, and it’s possibly the best way to describe the menus at Cafe.
Tell us a bit about how you got into food?
I guess it was always going to happen, me being involved in the food business. I was born into a long line of chefs and cooks and it was always my ambition to become a chef, just like my father. But a huge influence on me was my gran, she made the best soup I have ever tasted, and her stews were superb. My grandfather was blind and deaf and taught me how to use my senses. He could fillet a trout with his fingers and no knife, incredible really! Historical, traditional dishes are what drive me and I see it as my job to pass them on to the next generation.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Work hard, and enjoy what you do. It’s a simple message really. And don’t spend too much time at work or you run the risk of waking up one day to the realisation that you didn’t spend enough time with family and friends, going for walks on the beach, skimming stones with the kids, baking a cake and licking a bowl, taking holidays and appreciating the simple things in life. Life is a long marathon not a sprint, and I want to still be cooking when I’m older and greyer!
Why is Scottish produce so important to you?
Scottish produce is paramount for my team, the restaurant, and me. At Cafe St Honoré we pride ourselves on using the finest, local, seasonal and organic produce. I see it as a duty to support the hard-working artisans, growers and breeders in my community. I have a role to play by being proud to mention their names on our menus and telling our visitors that this produce is great because of its integrity and traceability. All the producers we use now know us well, and have become friends. It’s a great feeling knowing you are all speaking the same language. On the world’s stage, we are a proud nation and now we are known more than ever for our brilliant food, dishes, and drinks. We have a great story to tell.
Have you discovered any interesting and innovative products lately?
I’m working very closely on a new cure and smoke with the fabulous Belhaven smokehouse in Dunbar. We’re creating a unique cure using Hebridean sea salt and a local honey, and will be giving the salmon a longer-than-normal smoke and a good dowsing in Glenkinchie whisky. It’s so good. On the drinks side, I’ve recently discovered Dark Matters spiced rum from Banchory. Mixed with Cuddybridge apple juice it tastes very special – and it’s Scottish!
If you were abandoned on a desert island and could only take one Scottish product, what would it be and why?
Wow, only one Scottish product on a desert Island. Easy, and sadly it’s a beer, But not any beer, I am in love with Black Isle Organic Blonde beer. It’s clean, simple and served at just at the right temperature, I am a very happy chap. With notes of elderflower and freshly-mown grass, it would be one special beer to enjoy on an special island in the sun!
However, if I was allowed two items (or no beer) then Peelham Farm’s fennel salami, sliced not-too-thin, is about as close to being in heaven as I can imagine. The Tamworth pigs they breed and care for on the hilly coastal plains in the Borders are perfect for curing in the salty sea air blowing in from the east. Slow Food founder (and Italian) Carlo Petrini claimed it to be the best in the world when he tasted it in Edinburgh this year, and he should know!
Loin of Venison with Greens and Barley
450g piece of loin of venison, red deer or roe deer
200g of pearl barley, washed in a sieve
1 Savoy cabbage, or equivalent of spring greens
3 nobs of butter
A few hard herbs, like thyme
Good salt and pepper
A trickle of cold-pressed rapeseed oil
- Drain the barley and place in a pot. Cover with water, season with salt and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until just soft. Drain and add a nob of butter on top. Keep in a warm place.
- Meanwhile, heat a frying pan and season the venison with salt and pepper. Fry in a trickle of rapeseed oil with a wee nob of butter and some thyme. Baste as you go, cooking for 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown all over. The longer you cook it for, the more well done it will be.
- Allow the venison to rest before carving. At least 5 minutes, then give it a flash under a grill to heat up again.
- Cut the cabbage into strips and wilt down in a pot with a nob of butter and salt and pepper. I like it quite crunchy.
- To serve, carve the venison and arrange on a plate. Sprinkle the barley and drape the cabbage over and around the meat. Delicious and simple.