Chef of the Week: Derek Johnstone – Head Chef at Borthwick Castle in Midlothian

Derek Johnstone

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I have been the head chef of Borthwick Castle for 3 ½ years.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I have always been passionate about food, ever since I can remember. I knew when I left school, I was going to become a chef. After three years at college in Glasgow, I worked in some of Scotland’s finest country house hotels. I then spent time in London working at the 2 Michelin star restaurant Le Gavroche and I have gained experience working in Milan, Paris, and Bruges.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I really enjoy the change in the seasons, where we get to be creative with our menu offerings. I am extremely passionate about Scottish produce and I really enjoy training and developing young chefs.

Name three ingredients you could not cook without.
Salt, butter and cream.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
We use our Thermomix a hundred times a day. I could not do without it.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I feel people are looking for more complex healthy dishes, even when dining in a luxury establishment like Borthwick Castle. I find a lot of our customers are focusing on vegetables and non-meat-based dishes which is obviously great for their health but also it is a lot better for our environment.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
I find young chefs forget to taste their own food. The presentation should not be their main priority.  If a dish is under seasoned or the acidity levels are not balanced, it really makes all their efforts in presentation worthless.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
My favourite time of year is the Autumn. I love the game season where we cook very classic recipes. The Autumn is a challenging time for chefs, with a lot of the produce arriving late in the day and the rush is on to get everything ready for service.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I cooked a Scotch Lamb dish a couple of years ago for National Chef of The Year. It was a simple dish, flavoured with lots of Moroccan spices and was served with a little grilled merguez sausage. The judges loved it; I was pleased with that dish.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I am usually led by the seasons and the produce that is available to me. I buy as much local produce as I can, and I usually take inspiration from classic dishes then try to incorporate my own cooking style within them.

Who was your greatest influence?
I am very fortunate to have worked under several inspirational chefs throughout my career. I feel the chefs that have had the biggest influence on me are Michel Roux Jnr and Albert Roux. Working for the Roux family taught me so much and gave me an education which I will always be thankful for.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Robert Bates, Steve Groves & Hrishikesh Desai.

What is your favourite cookbook?
I am reading Daniel Clifford’s Out of My Tree just now, I love it, the recipes are great.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
There really is too many to say, The UK has an abundancy of highly talented chefs just now which is fantastic and hopefully we can encourage more young people to enter the industry too.

What has been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Not too sure to be honest. The pandemic has made it almost impossible to find new restaurants to try. I am looking forward to the industry getting back to full health and hopefully I can discover a new favourite restaurant soon.