Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Fall 2019 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
NAME: Forrest Moline
POSITION: Private chef and owner of Forrest, A Food Studio, a food-centric event space in Traverse City for cooking classes and pop-up restaurant events
BORN IN: Ventura, California; moved to the Midwest in 2006 and landed in northern Michigan in 2011
LIVES IN: Traverse City
TRAINING: Community college culinary school in Oxnard, California; staging (unpaid internships) in various kitchens in Cleveland, Ohio
EXPERIENCE: My first professional job was on Pier I in Ventura. That’s where I learned my love for seafood: beautiful halibut, fresh mahi, tuna.
After a stint at a Marriott Hotel, he moved to Cleveland, where he met wife and business partner Nicole at a wine bar and began staging at some of his favorite restaurants. (I was hungry to learn more so I was always interning at one place while cooking at another.)
He took a break to help a friend build a Des Moines, Iowa restaurant from the ground up before returning to Cleveland and celebrity chef Michael Symon’s new American eatery, Lola.
Michigan stints followed at upscale Roast steakhouse in Detroit and European-inspired eatery Forest Grill in Birmingham, where he learned a lot about French food and sausage- and salami-making, and Short’s Brewing, where he was cellar manager before starting his own businesss.
WHY I BECAME A CHEF: I think when I was a child the Food Network came out on TV so my grandmother, who was home all day and loved watching TV and loved to cook, was always testing new recipes. I was always in the kitchen with her. It was a lot of fun. Also being in the kitchen of my best friend, who was Mexican. In my heart I grew up Mexican because of being in their home and eating the food. Some of my best friends growing up were Mexican. When I was in school, all my best friends were cooks so I wanted to cook.
FAVORITE FOOD TO MAKE: California cuisine, simplistic food, seafood, Mexican and Spanish cuisine.
FAVORITE FALL DISHES: I love serving warm vegetables in a salad — if you have good greens, adding roasted squash or mushrooms to it — and things that are braised as a main course. One of my fall go-to dishes is a butternut squash mole with a seared chicken breast and collard greens. Everybody loves things with butternut squash. And I’m a fan of cinnamon; it takes a back note to many of my seasoned dishes in fall.
BIGGEST INFLUENCE: One of my biggest influences was Derek Clayton, executive chef at Lola, teaching me about integrity and the meaning of food and purpose in serving our guests. I think that was a huge turning point for me as far as cooking and why we cook: I really want you to enjoy this food and it’s the best thing I have to offer. That changed my life.
WHAT’S MOST FUN ABOUT BEING A PERSONAL CHEF: As a private chef, every day I’m cooking something different, I’m meeting new people, we’re going into new homes, which challenges me. I love going into a new kitchen and navigating it and cooking this wonderful food and getting it on the table in a timely manner. I’ve cooked at everything from log cabins where you have to turn the gas on behind the stove, to mega mansions on Torch Lake, Glen Lake, Lake Skegemog. The challenge for me is making it happen.
BEST PROFESSIONAL MEMORY: When I learned about private cheffing. I was working with Brian Polcyn (Forest Grill) and we did this private event outside. I thought, “Wow, this is really cool. I do this grind every day cooking and serving on the line, and now I’m at this beautiful (estate).”
WORST PROFESSIONAL MEMORY: Not focusing on the job that needs to be done and partying too much, staying up too late. If I could do it all over again, I’d put my focus into the job and cooking with a purpose.
MOST IMPORTANT THING I’VE LEARNED: That they’re not table numbers, they’re guests. There again, it’s about serving food with a purpose, having passion behind it and turning out the best things.