Your new cookbook is called Rebel Cook and has a photo of you on your motorbike. Trying to give Anthony Bourdain a run for his money? I'm really embarrassed about that. I thought it would look tongue-in-cheek and humorous but I actually look a bit of a tosser.
Well, I wouldn't have put it quite so bluntly. Do you ride a motorbike? I've never ridden a motorbike. I was going for that Marlon Brando look. Basically we were playing on the idea that I'd never been taught to cook, didn't know any of the rules when I opened my first restaurant.
Ah yes. Back in '92 as a non-cooking meat eater, you bought a vegetarian restaurant in Manchester (Greens) and decided to cook there. What drugs were you on? None, I'm so straight-laced. The honest truth is I'd always liked restaurants but I planned to work front of house to chat up girls. Once we'd bought the place and paid all our rent and rates we realised we couldn't afford to pay anyone, so I didn't have any choice but to do the cooking myself. It's the best thing I ever did.
So how did you get up to speed?
Hard work, pure and simple. I've got an incredibly obsessive personality and I don't like not being able to do something well, so I worked and worked and consumed cookbooks. Anyone particularly inspirational? No, I mean, veggie cookbooks like Cranks and Rose Elliott have some good recipes but it was all a bit worthy, so I kept experimenting and eating out. Hard when we weren't bringing in money.
How awful for you. How long did it take you to learn to cook?
It sounds insincere but I'm still learning. Probably about 18 months to understand the principles.
Didn't your customer's notice before then? No. Without being rude, I don't think the previous owners could cook particularly well.
I knew how things should taste so kept the repertoire small – to about 10 or 12 dishes – and said ‘let's learn to cook those really well'. I shudder to think of some of the food we cooked but the approach worked.
Tempted to turn veggie? Never.
Why? Bacon sarnies.
Do your customers assume you're vegetarian? They used to.
Only 25 per cent of our customers are vegetarian. When we opened we wanted to put it in its own category, so just as you go out for an Indian and you're not expected to be Indian, why can't a meat eater have a vegetarian?
What's your favourite vegetarian meal? Beans on toast. believe you've been presenting BBC1's show To Buy or Not to Buy – what's that got to do with food? Nothing. Someone from the Beeb asked me to do it and I felt it would be a way to get in with them. I was worried at first as I knew nothing about property, but it's a presenting job, and even doing cookery programmes is not really about being a chef, it's mainly about entertainment.
You're opening a new restaurant, Earle, in Cheshire in October. Will that be vegetarian too?
No, but there will be veggie stuff on the menu. If you go to most restaurants, vegetarian dishes are usually marked out and don't go with the rest of the menu. Here they'll fit in and the dishes that use fish and meat will use them as an element added rather than the focal point of the dish, so we'll be doing things a bit differently.
Rebel Cook by Simon Rimmer is available from Cassell Illustrated from 12th October for £20.00