Swansea-born chef, Jonathan Woolway, has worked for the past 16 years in one of London's most highly regarded restaurants St John, that pioneered the nose-to-tail philosophy of cooking umpteen restaurants employ nowadays with diners desperate to get a table.

His start in professional cheffing came after a Masters in history and a chance bit of work experience in a Mumbles classic of a bygone era - Patrick's. Since then it has taken him all over the world thanks to his spot next to St John co-founder, Fergus Henderson - his "gastronomical dad" he says. But after playing a key role as St John Chef Director over the past near decade, what's made Jonathan come back to Swansea and take up residence at the SA1 development, where he'll be executive chef and co-owner of The Shed?

It's an easy question for the 43-year-old, who grew up in Gorseinon and talks lovingly about growing up watching his mum and nan cook at home. You can tell he's got a real zeal for what his home city can offer in terms of culinary ambition.

"Since the day I got into this industry and probably even before, my dream was always to open my own restaurant in my hometown. I never went to London to escape or anything like that. I went up there purely for my career and I had 16 incredible years up there," says the chef, who's a dyed-in-the-wool Swansea City supporter. "London, St John, changed my life professionally and personally. But the dream, the desire, was always to come home and give something back."

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Wanting to contribute to the food scene in his home city and actually strengthening that scene, so that those with ambitions for the industry can work near to where they grew up plays a huge part in Jonathan's passion behind what he's creating at The Shed and his 16 years in London has given him skills and insight to plough into the restaurant in his home city, he says. "Not only did I want to find a home here, but I want to contribute to Swansea, to the food scene in Swansea, because what I've learned up in London is priceless. And hopefully by coming back then as well, young chefs, front of house and bar people, hopefully they'll be able to learn some of what I did without having to move to London to do it. The chance to nurture local talent, who will hopefully, I mean, they can go further afield, to London or Paris or wherever they want to go, but hopefully, they'll stick around and just keep repopulating the food scene down here."

His attitude to bettering the foodie-scene community in Swansea and the surrounding area is commendable, not least because the raft of closures in the city and across Wales doesn't do anyone any favours, from empty shops and units to the loss of jobs. Jonathan's The Shed, as well as serving seasonal and locally sourced ingredients and creating jobs, will fill the J Shed building in what was Swansea docks area, an industrial Victorian red brick warehouse space that has Indian restaurant Rasoi and bar The Welsh House one side of it and coffee shop Bar Americanos down the other way.

Jonathan continues: "Everybody gets better and better, because for me... hospitality is a strange one, it's not competition in hospitality. I think if everybody's doing a good thing and everybody's getting better and better, then you develop a scene and then people commit to coming down here for a weekend or a week, rather than a day here or there. So I think hospitality is quite unique in that, in the sense that I never feel in competition, my idea is just for. I just want to absorb the local food scene, give what I can to it and just all get a bit better together."

The former chef director of St John has an infectious positivity and the way he talks about his experiences of having work experience at St John almost two decades ago, before embarking on a quite rapid rise to chef director and then leaving that post to come home to Swansea, you can't help but buy into it. The community has it seems, too, with butchers and fishmongers from the nearby Mumbles and Swansea market already on speed dial (probably) and Jonathan keen to curate a relationship with local suppliers as it's key to a restaurant's success.

See inside The Shed as it develops into a brand new restaurant

Jonathan speaks fondly of his time at St John, founded by renowned London chefs Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, who both built up loyal followings during their times at The French House in Soho and The Fire Station in Waterloo, respectively. They both came together to open the first St John in 1994, in Smithfield. There are now three St Johns in the English capital and three bakeries, with the original venue in Smithfield gaining the group's Michelin star which it retains to this day.

Getting into cheffing "quite late" Jonathan confesses, he says he was initially put off the profession due to the potential lack of free time at the weekends, so the committed Jack studied history at his hometown uni, but the itch to get behind the stove proved too much. "Sadly, I thought 'I'm never going to be good enough to play for the Swans. So let's go for it!'" he says. "Then I went into Patrick's down in Mumbles and they asked me to cook for them. They offered me the job straight after. And then while I was in Patrick's, we used to shut for a couple of weeks a year, I thought I'll go and do stars [Michelin] up in London. And as you do in this industry, at my own expense, go up and learn something.

"I've always been obsessed with restaurants for as long as I can remember. I was flicking through a magazine and there was a double-page spread on St John and I saw Fergus there with the guys all around him in their white jackets in this whitewashed old industrial space. And it was just like an epiphany for me, a light bulb moment, that it was it, I thought 'I've got to go there.'"

Bone marrow on toast, one of many dishes at St. John which is famous for its nose-to-tail cooking

After buying the restaurant's book, which he read "like a novel" he emailed to ask for work experience and got an in at the place that served the type of food he'd grown up eating at his grandparents, oxtail, ox heart and freshly grown fruit and veg. His two weeks in the kitchen must have made an impact as a few months later the head chef called to offer him a job.

"'When can you start?'" he asked me, so it was decision time then,my hands were shaking.My mother and father, they said 'well, there's no decision to make, get packing, get up there.'"

Jonathan recalls that he "threw himself" into work at St John, working his way up to Chef Director, helping open the Marylebone branch and flying all over the globe, including cooking in New York, Mexico City, Hong Kong, while working alongside names like Angela Hartnett and Nathan Outlaw. He adds he wouldn't change his last 16 years for anything, so what pulled him back to Wales?

He credits his family support system as enabling him to take that chance to move up to London, but in equal measure he was always homesick for Swansea, coming home every other month from the city to visit and his time back here during Covid really stoked the fire of hiraeth in Jonathan's soul. This and a pulsing need to get back in the kitchen.

"As chef director, you're dealing with more the day-to-day running of the business and making sure that all the crew were happy and keeping an eye on the menus and the foods and things like that," he explains. "The guys that were at St. John they'd been there a long time, they were nailing it. I was feeling more and more that now is the time to move on and this opportunity presented itself. I'm under no illusions that I'll have a lot of non-kitchen things to do as well. I'll be putting my shifts in the kitchen, but I want to have an input on service. I want to have an input on the bar. After all these years, I know what I like. I know how I like certain drinks, what glass I like it in. It's little things, but it's big things in a way."

Jonathan's come home to open The Shed after 16 years in London

And Jonathan is 100% going to put his stamp on everything, and for those hoping to have a touch of St John influence, will they be satisfied. Don't bank on it, but he's brought his head chef Josh, with him - someone he's known since Josh was 13 and came to St John on work experience - and says he "trusts him with his life." And a second St John chef will work at The Shed, too, but much of the staff rota will be populated with local talent.

"I think after spending 16 years somewhere, you're bound to take on some of that DNA," he muses. "It's inevitable and that's not a bad thing. It's an incredible restaurant that offered me opportunities that I never dreamt of having when I left Swansea. And for me, I wouldn't be in the position to do this now without St John and Fergus in particular, he's my mentor, one of my best friends, he's like my gastronomic dad and he, for my money, is the single most important, impactful British chef of all time.

"However, he would be... I've got no desire to just recreate the mini St John... and I know Fergus would be heartbroken if he thought that's all I was going to do, because there's so much more to my food than that as well. My job, a lot of my job at St John was to be a custodian of what they did and did so well, and keep the rigour, keep the focus, not play around too much outside the box, because people wanted that St John experience. But I think a restaurant, like anything else as well, takes on a different meaning just by being in a different place. The rhythms of our day-to-day business will be different, the produce will be coming from different areas, working with different people in a different place. So inherently, it's going to be different by default."

So what's The Shed actually going to be like? Jonathan hasn't gone into the nitty gritty of the menu dishes, that'll be under wraps until opening, hopefully in December, but he did talk us through what diners could expect. He explains: "I like an a la carte experience, starting from a small bite to get you going at the top, all the way down to starters, mains, then big sharing plates. And afters is never an afterthought for me, it's a really important part of it as well. The menu will be designed in a way where you order whatever you want, whether you want to go big on starters or save yourself for mains and for afters, it's the full a la carte experience. The menu will change every day, sometimes twice a day, depending on what's good and what's coming in.

"Say we have a run on something for lunch and there's only a handful of portions left, we can then move that to the specials board for the night. Bring something fresh on that came in that day. So everything is moving at its peak and is governed by the season, driven by sort of the ebb and flow of nature. And yeah, just eaten at its peak in the area where it was grown and reared."

Picking suppliers and ingredients has been a joy for Jonathan, who is under no illusion how great Wales is for produce: "We have everything, from a landscape and a geographical point of view, to the produce that can rival the best in the world. We're very bad at backing ourselves and shouting about it and believing in it. We're almost sometimes slightly apologetic for it, that's what I find a bit frustrating, because it was never a doubt in my mind that the produce was going to be there. And for me, you take the city of Swansea, for example. It's nestled between the Gower Peninsula, Brecon Beacons. You've got the vast sort of fertile farmland and coast of West Wales, and then you've got borders around Monmouthshire, even into Herefordshire, right in front of you as well. It's uniquely placed to deliver a high-end food offering."

That food offering, paired with Jonathan's background, skills and outlook are sure to make The Shed something special, as he adds: "It's just coming back, learning, putting a lot of the skills and attention to detail. It's about the philosophy of food and the way of eating and being in tune with the season, with nature, with your producers. It doesn't always have to be local, but I've got relationships with suppliers that I built up over nearly 20 years.

"I was in the market this morning with Lee, my fishmonger, and I've known Lee for over 20 years. My butcher who I'll be using, though we'll do a lot of our butchery in-house as we did at St John, Philip, has great connections with the farmers in Gower and beyond. The first time I met Philip, I literally held him as a baby and now he's my butcher in a special project like this. It's just a lovely feeling, a really lovely feeling. And then just using what I've learned with their produce it just becomes very intensely personal then. And I just think it means that little bit more, and I hope people will taste that."

The waterfront views and location tempted Jonathan

With the sweep of Swansea Bay one way and the former Swansea docklands the other, The Shed is certainly perfectly placed to make that impact on the local restaurant scene, but, as Jonathan mentioned earlier, he wants to enhance that scene by working with what's there already. He concludes: "Look, I think there are people already in Swansea doing a great job. Like I said, I just want to add to it and see where we go from there. But there's a handful of restaurants in Swansea that I would not be afraid to take any of my friends say, for example, the owners of St John when they come down, I'll be proud and delighted to take them there.

"And I've been beating our drum for a long time now it's nice to finally be putting my money where my mouth is."

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