Jane Pikett hangs out in the kitchen with Masterchef: The Professionals finalist John Calton

How many types of flour do you have in your cupboard? Two? Three? Six? Or are you like me, with at least a dozen of varying types? (In the appetite office, this is actually considered to be quite conservative).

I have buckweat, gram, corn (x2), rice (with a use-by date of August 2011), brown bread (x2), white bread, self-raising (x3) and plain (x2) vying for space in my kitchen cupboard with three tubs of baking powder (all in use – why?) and one of bicarbonate of soda (September 2009; still fully functional).

This collection has now been joined by three interlopers from Eastern Europe in wholemeal, strong white and rye; gifts (the glamour of being a food editor!) from chef John Calton, whom you may remember as a finalist in BBC TV’s Masterchef: The Professionals 2010 and who, it transpires, is fussy about his flour, even more so when it comes to his Jubilee baking.

“It’s so important to have the right ingredients, and I’d never found a strong flour that was really light, particularly for bread,” says John, happily dusting his kitchen work surface with a layer of strong white. “Then I got hold of this and I’m making the best bread I’ve ever made.”

Natural Flour Co is marketed by New Leaf, a food specialist based in a converted barn in Stocksfield, Northumberland, and is natural, apparently, because it is made from Eastern European wheat. So why not use home-grown? Well, apparently the UK doesn’t have a perfect climate for wheat, which is why our home-grown flours have to be boosted with added agents.

This boosts the gluten content of UK-grown flour, which is why so many of us struggle to digest it. This Estonian stuff has no added agents and – get the flags out – is far more digestible. Who knew?

While John busies himself creating a majestic Jubilee tea spread, I try a smidge of white bread (a tiny bit, lots of butter). Amazingly, not only is it exquisite, with a rich, nutty flavour, I also detect none of the usual grumbling which generally follows even a tiny taste of wheat-based food.

I dare to move onto a scone drenched in lemon curd, Chantilly cream and summer berries and I am similarly impressed by the flavour and texture and unaffected by indigestion.

By the end of an afternoon I have ploughed through increasingly generous helpings of different breads and scones and I am seriously considering moving to Estonia, assuming all bakery goods there are this amazing.

Meanwhile, we are in full flow on the merits of great baking, while John’s puppy Fergal – an absurdly adorable mix of Cairn and Scottie – hoovers up the crumbs.

John’s top tip for bread is find a simple recipe and practise. “It takes a lot of practice and you should keep going until you find the right formula,” he says. “I’m experimenting with ale breads, breads flavoured with oils and chutneys, seeds and herbs, black pudding bread and beetroot bread right now. The customers love the variations, but you can’t beat a good, simple recipe.”

The customers in question are the hearty souls at The Habour Lights in South Shields, where John’s menus are fresh, wholesome and local. “They love the bread and sarnies,” says John, slapping a doorstep down and smothering it in Coronation chicken and toasted almonds. “I love an open sandwich on a doorstep, don’t you?”

I would, only our photographer is tucking in and no-one else can get near. Fergal, poor thing, can only watch, doe eyed, from the floor.

While they’re distracted, I investigate the cupboards of John’s kitchen in South Shields and find an array of home-made store cupboard staples. There are flavoured oils (curry, garlic, herb, lemon); loads of wild garlic oil (I go home and make it that weekend – it’s amazing); lemons and limes; fresh herbs; quality seasonings.

John is a highly organised cook who believes in simple, fresh ingredients. “I like to practise and tweak as I go along. I love experimenting and I always follow the seasons. We use fantastic local, sustainable fish every day at work and I love to use game in season and good steak; fantastic produce from as nearby as possible.”

John Calton is head chef at The Harbour Lights, Lawe Road, South Shields, NE33 2AJ, tel 0191 456 0124

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