VARIETY certainly seems to be the spice of life for Lichfield chef Simon Smith.
With an obvious passion for cooking and creating mouth-watering dishes, his career so far has spanned more than 40 years. He has created dishes worldwide — from the wilds of Wales to Paris and New York — not to mention on the super yachts of the rich, famous and infamous. He has also owned his own restaurant.
Last year, however, Simon decided to give up the restaurant business and operate privately from home where he has a purpose built production kitchen with a five star rating from environmental health. The kitchen is stocked with enough exotic ingredients and gadgets to make any foodie pea green with envy.
“I prefer mixing it up,” he admits with a cheeky smile. “If I did just one thing I would be bored.”
With this in mind he has decided to open his home, kitchen and his vast culinary knowledge for people to either come to his home for cookery demonstrations, which includes one-to-one instruction to make a particular dish or menu, or a demo and dine event where he cooks for clients in his own home following a demonstration of his skills.
Not content with that, however, Simon also caters for a variety of events, creates magnificent bespoke margarine sculptures, gives after dinner speeches and has just co-organised the Lichfield Food Festival.
“I love doing it all, still,” says Simon with a shrug. “I’m 60 now but I don’t feel it. I love cooking as much now as I ever did. I never stop learning and there is always something new to play with.
“Now working from home means I can do what I want. I loved Thrales (his restaurant) when I opened it, but after 23 years I was ready for a change. I’m now working harder than I ever did when I had the restaurant, but life is more varied now,” he says with obvious contentment.
However, Simon’s working life was set to be very different as he was all set to join the army, until he broke his back playing rugby at the age of 18.
“I needed an alternative career and as I was artistic, spoke languages and I wanted to travel abroad, I thought cooking was best,” he says.
Simon began his training in Switzerland and Paris where he says he received a good grounding.
“In those days cooking was very much ‘below stairs,’ it’s not rock and roll like it is now! When I started in Switzerland we would be given whole animals hunters had shot so I dealt with different kinds of things than in this country. It developed as a real fascination for me.”
After Paris, he moved to London, taking up a position as chef saucier at The Inn on The Park, now better known as The Four Seasons.
“That’s where I really honed my skills, although Switzerland and Paris didn’t take any prisoners! It’s all done with military precision there.”
His dedication to his craft and obvious skill lead him to work in British Embassies in both Paris and Vienna and he even memorably found himself part of a team which catered for a Jewish wedding attended by 4,000 people in New York.
He has also cooked for royalty, in the shape of Princess Margaret and the French ex-President, Jacques Chirac.
Another aspect of Simon’s career is working on super yachts around the world, most recently for the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix where he and one other person catered for 85 people for five days including breakfast, pre-lunch canapes, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. He was also required to created his unusual margarine sculptures.
“Over the years I’ve cooked for topless people in St Tropez, on different yachts cooked for The Shah of Persia, Lionel Richie and Pamela Anderson,” he says.
Diplomatically, he will be drawn no further, but it’s clear from the twinkle in his eye there is many a tale to be told . . . if only he could.
Along with demonstrations throughout Europe promoting British food, Simon has also been involved with cookery schools in the UK and decided it was something he could easily do in his own home.
Now he and his wife, Alison, who takes care of all front of house duties, offer a demo and dine event for up to eight people for either lunch or dinner where Simon gives a one hour light-hearted and informative cookery demonstration while guests enjoy canapes and Champagne before enjoying a specially tailored four-course meal with wine.
“The joy of this is you get restaurant style food on a one-to-one basis. I have all the equipment and space here,” he says..
For the cookery demonstrations and one-to-one skills days, Simon arranges several recipes to suit guests’ particular needs before they prepare and cook the dishes, some of which they eat at Simon’s home for lunch and some they will take home.
This is done in the privacy of his production kitchen and can be for a maximum of two people.
“People tell me what they want to learn about and they cook it under my personal instruction. It’s all geared around what they want to learn.
“These have proved very popular and people can learn to cook anything from fish, to sweets or vegetarian meals. It’s all very well reading a cookery book, but there can be a lot you don’t understand.”
Simon will even cook privately in your home or cater for an outside event, but his speciality, he admits, is margarine sculptures, which he has created live on air on This Morning with Phillip Schofield. He also created commissioned pieces for Givenchy for London Fashion Week as well as Rolls Royce, British Airways, a Prince of Saudi Arabia and Heston Blumenthal.
“Each one is around 12 hours work on average but it’s something I enjoy doing,” he says adding he also works with the Experimental Food Society which pushes the boundaries of what can be done with food.
“The great thing about working with food is that it’s instant. You can have an idea in the morning, cook it in the afternoon and decide if it needs some development straightaway. It’s a great way of expressing yourself and there is an end result.
“Consumable art is the way I view it,” he says with a laugh.
For more information about Simon and his business, visit www.simonsmith-chef.com or contact him on 07947646091.