Flash-grilled: Gemma Simmonite

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled with co-owner of all-day café Gastrono-me in Bury St Edmunds Gemma Simmonite

Related tags: Chef, Restaurant

The co-owner of all-day café Gastrono-me in Bury St Edmunds on her admiration of Asma Khan, watching MasterChef Australia, and why there's no place for machismo in her kitchen.

What was your first industry job?
I’m very lucky/spoilt in that the only industry jobs I’ve had have been working for myself. But my parents tried me in every role possible at our hotel in Cardiff when I was younger. They eventually gave up as I was disaster! I would run away and hide regularly.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
Probably hawk myself as an actor again, which was my profession before I started on my restaurant odyssey.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
I’d have to say Asma Khan. She strives for a new kitchen dynamic, inspiring women to enter kitchens who would never have had the chance normally. She is completely inspirational and is weaving a new hospitality narrative on her terms.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
A little linked to the above; machismo. I’ve had to stamp it out on more than one occasion. Male chefs (not all) seem to think that even when they’re brand new to your kitchen, they should alter it in some way, without ever having spent any time in it, with no knowledge of the menu and little of the industry. Unfathomably they just think they’re innately ‘right’ and are loud about it. There is no place for that energy in my kitchen - it’s a place of nurture, respect and encouragement.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
I was once asked if I could remove the yolk from a fried egg, but only when it was cooked, and then serve it on the side... Sally Albright on an extreme scale.

Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
Smacks you in the face with flavour.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
Oof, bad reviews. I think they’re burned into a special place in your brain, they seem to come to life late at night, especially when you can’t sleep. The first one though is always the worst. Ours' was when we had just opened our first restaurant - it was a local newspaper piece with a photo of our excited smiley faces outside the frontage. This woman’s comments online ripped it apart, saying that 'it wasn’t anything special'. It broke my heart at the time as we had hardly even begun.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Be punctual, polite, interested, ambitious and do your research. Someone will always notice.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A pen.

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
I’m essentially very greedy, so I’d pick a roast. As a vegetarian of 37 years, it’s never about the centrepiece, but all the delicious things with it: dauphinoise, cauliflower cheese, roasters, Yorkshire puddings, and ALL the vegetables. It’s probably in my DNA as my Welsh grandmother ‘Tilly’ would present you with a handwritten list of how many vegetables she’d crammed onto your roast plate - I think her best was 13!

MasterChef or Great British Menu?
Got to be MasterChef, but only the Australian version. I watched George, Matt and Gary for years, and adored the generosity that they showed to the contestants on the show. Their guest weeks were incredible too – Marco Pierre White week was always one to look forward to.

Most overrated food?
Eggs Benedict/Florentine. Knowing how much a kitchen hates making it, you’re essentially eating a plateful of resentment. Plus, it’s always lukewarm, often not homemade, and its proportions are never right – simply too much sauce, too much yolk for too little a muffin. I’ve vowed never to serve it in my restaurants.

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
Man, I’m not going for popularity here, but… meat! Just so people who always order it might get the chance to try something else, an opportunity to change their pre-conceived perceptions that vegetarian food doesn’t need to be wussy or only healthy. In the days when you could be a bit vaguer with labelling, I often didn’t mark dishes as V, and it worked because meat eaters wouldn’t be put off from choosing it. The best comment was from a committed carnivore Scottish gent: “Am I right in saying that nothing on this plate ever had a mummy or a daddy?!”

Who would your dream dinner party guests be?
Jennifer Saunders, Caitlin Moran, Pamela Adlon, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Julia Louis Dreyfuss - I’d be laughing so much with these hilariously brilliant women I wouldn’t obsess over what I was serving them.

What’s your earliest food memory?
Sitting in a blue tinted Indian curry house with my beautiful mum, dissecting a show I’d just danced in – it was our post-show tradition. The thrill was that it was always way past my bedtime, and it was just the two of us. We would feast on poppadum, puffy naans and chutneys, whilst chattering wildly. We’d always be way too full by the time the main course came, but we did it every time.

Related topics: Chef, People, Restaurant

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