“I still remember telling a whole room that my dish was inspired by McDonald’s” - Jesse Wells

The Staff Canteen

Its substance, sustainability and sensorial fine dining for Jesse Wells, Head Chef of the zero-waste, GREEN Michelin-starred eatery, Terroir Tapas  - oh, and a bit of loud music, fire and lasers to elevate the gastronomic experience doesn’t hurt either.

Written by: 
Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

“I often shock customers with what inspires me,” Jesse Wells, Head Chef of Terroir Tapas, shares. Pomp and circumstance surrounding food is not his go-to. “I don’t like dishes that look incredibly pretty, and then you eat them, and they’re a huge letdown.”

Aesthetically pleasing, sure, but for Jesse, it’s all about taste. “It does have to look good to a certain point, but not if it’s going to mess you up with flavour”.

A McDonalds drive-through at 2am…that’s real inspiration

Eco-aware fine dining restaurant Terroir embraces this concept of beauty and exquisite flavours. One notable example is the Michelin-starred venue’s 12-course cheese-tasting menu. “It’s not your normal cheese night at all,” Jesse says of the cheese event, which the restaurant puts on at Christmas, before continuing, “I don’t want it to be”.

Jesse Wells Terroir Tapas Dorset

“I still remember telling a whole room that a dish was inspired by McDonald’s,” says Jesse. Inspiration comes from everywhere, after all. “I’d gone to a drive-through at 2 am after work, hungry, and the little screens had mozzarella sticks.” Seeing that digital screen and mozzarella sticks adorned on it inspired a whole dish for the cheese night. Terroir used a cheese called Ogleshield, breadcrumbed and deep fried it, and served it with onions cooked in whey from a local cheese producer. “The onions end up tasting like sour cream and onion Pringles.”

It’s become a tradition that every year, one dish is inspired by fast food that customers may not consider eco-aware or good for you or what springs to mind in a sustainable gastronomy fine dining venue. “As I’ve gotten older as a chef and more mature, absolutely anywhere, it could be eating a kebab, it could be eating a sandwich or a McDonald’s drive-through.”

Creativity and allowing pure inspiration to flow in and inform dishes sit alongside deep respect and consideration for the environment. Terroir’s commitment to sustainable gastronomy feeds into everything they do, from sourcing ingredients to selecting suppliers. The restaurant uses small farms and fishermen to keep the focus on sustainability and their incredible produce.

The Bournemouth-based restaurant always looks for a few things in dishes, namely acidity, bitterness, richness, texture, kind of umami, and mouthfeel in terms of fat. With the exception of chocolate, which comes from Original Beans who consult with governments on sustainable sourcing and biodiversity protection, Terroir does not import any of its ingredients.

Jesse Wells Terroir Tapas Dorset

Sometimes, therefore, inspiration comes from how the team can create this dish. How can I make that without importing any ingredients? How can I create those flavour profiles with these British ingredients? “It’s changed my thinking on food and creativity through necessity. When you put humans under restrictions, they become far more creative because they must be.”

Staying true to its roots

Joining Terroir, which Jesse partly owns and has worked as head chef at for three years, was a big career-defining moment. After lockdowns lifted and Terroir reopened, Jesse went in and “pushed it”, saying, “we weren’t aiming for anything, we were just cooking and just doing what we do, and then lots of things happened very quickly”.

The passion-infused hard work paid off. Terroir made it onto the Michelin Guide and Good Food Guide. “We were full every night, so it is easily the biggest achievement of my career, the Michelin Green Star”. Despite these immense achievements, criticism came from within the industry. “At the time, I was a bit like, you know, it’s not the red one, and I did, quite sadly, get a lot of flak from chefs, saying it’s just because you recycle some boxes.”


However, the height of scaling the culinary ladder to this renowned level has never been lost on the restaurants’ guests. “I’ve had customers remind me that we’re one of 350 in the world with that achievement, which doesn’t sink in with me at all, but it’s huge.”

Now, though, the messages and sentiment from other chefs are very different. “Funnily enough, two years later, those same chefs are messaging me now saying, how do I get one, how do I do it?”. Beyond receiving the accolades, keeping them—the Michelin 2023 and as featured in the Good Food Guide logos are proudly displayed on Terroir’s website—is a huge achievement.

Before receiving Michelin status, so many people asked if the team was going for a star, Jesse recalls, answering: “No, we’re just doing what we’re doing and cooking how we cook. We will not change for anyone and will stick by that profusely. And we did that, and it came.”

Jesse Wells Terroir Tapas Dorset

Working with and sharing James Fowler, Founder of Terroir’s energy, drive and force, is clearly a labour of love. As head chef of Terroir for the past three years,Jesse is proud of what he’s helped it become. “The whole restaurant essentially is probably my biggest achievement, turning Terroir into the whole dining experience.”

The best service of my life involved 23 courses

“I guess we do service a bit differently.” The team puts on a set menu, like a tasting menu, and has plates served like tapas delivered to the table as and when they’re ready.

For Jesse, a good service is when the team cooks over fire, guests sit at the bar and the chef’s table watching, totally absorbed in what is being created. The music’s blasting, everyone’s dancing, having fun. It takes the night from a meal to a whole experience. “When we’ve got a combination of loud music and customers that love our energy, it’s an absolute buzz and one of the best feelings in the world.”

“Probably the best service I ever did in my life was New Year’s Eve, a 23-course menu”. Talk about elevating experiential fine dining. Friends of Jesse and James, Adam and Tor are a DJ couple called We Broke Free. They took the menu and paired music to every item. Imagine the scene: Fire, sparks and charcoal to perfectly-paired music, sometimes in the dark.

A zero-waste ethos

James Fowler opened Terroir in January 2017 with the premise of running entirely on zero waste. Ensuring access to high-quality products was one of the first things James set up, creating supply lines that most other restaurants can’t get as they don’t have the relationships with the farmers or fishermen. “With zero waste, people think we’re pulling rubbish out of a bin and then serving you stuff, [but] it means we’re stopping things from hitting a bin entirely in the first place.”

Jesse Wells Terroir Tapas Dorset

Terroir can tell you everything they use, down to the farmer’s name, the breed, its provenance. “Without these farmers and fishermen, we’re a bit screwed, we need them.” A truth often in hospitality that goes unrealised. “It’s not about me or anyone in the restaurant, it’s about telling the story of these producers because they don’t get to tell their story.”

The whole restaurant is built on sustainability. Minimal packaging is huge, and no plastic comes into the building. It is built out of recycled materials. Its tables are made of compressed yoghurt pot lids, and then the bar top and chef’s table are made from compressed coffee cup lids. It is also free of bins. Instead, Terroir has boxes for any food waste scraps that then go into compost and back to the farms.

Rather than receiving animals in whole or in their skin, like deer in large pieces, Jesse will butcher and break down the animals. The restaurant utilises every part of the animal, whether it’s through charcuterie, on the tasting menu, or on the plates menu.

Creativity through necessity

The dish that surprises and shocks people the most? And one that Jesse gets every chef messaging asking how he does it, is a fish dish with a sauce similar to Thai green curry. Yet, it contains not a single Asian ingredient. “And this absolutely baffles chefs.”

“Basically, this is creativity through necessity.” Jesse set this dish as a challenge for himself, saying, ‘I want to make a Thai green curry, but I have no Asian ingredients. How am I going to do that?’ “I’m very stubborn and determined, and I won’t stop. I set myself a challenge, and I do it.”

Jesse Wells Terroir Tapas Dorset


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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th January 2024

“I still remember telling a whole room that my dish was inspired by McDonald’s” - Jesse Wells