Flash-grilled: Stephen Simon

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled with Joanna's head chef Stephen Simon

Related tags: Chef, London

The head chef of Joanna's in London's Crystal Palace on the importance of patience, memories of his mum's cooking, and his dislike of plant-based meat alternatives.

What was your first industry job? 
I started as a kitchen porter in the local golf club. I never intended to end up in the kitchen, but somehow I did and then found that I really enjoyed it. 

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
I’ve often wondered this, unsure but would definitely have to be something creative. I did want to be an architect when I was younger – so maybe pursue a career in that.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why? 
When I was younger I worked under the guidance of Chris and Jeff Galvin. Super inspiring and talented chefs, they helped shape my earlier days in the kitchen. Other chefs which have contributed to my style and gave me inspiration are Tom Kerridge, Phil Howard, and Pierre Gagnaire. 

Pet hate in the kitchen?
People who cut corners. There are no short cuts in the kitchen, if you want to progress in any kitchen you have to give it 100%.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you? 
To be fair, mostly I have managed to stay on the good side of customers. But you do get some strange requests from time to time – allergic to dairy, but can have milk and butter; or cook my whole meal with no salt.  

Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
Ummm… I think it could still be classed as modern British – largely influenced with strong, bold flavours from around the world. I try and keep my food clean and uncomplicated.  

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had? 
It came from one of these numerous new bloggers – completely hated the meal, but only printed it instead to saying anything in the restaurant. If someone is upset at least you would like them to say something to your face.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry? 
Learn the basics… many of the young chefs I have work with recently are missing so much of the basic knowledge that was compulsory when I first started out. Its not a race to the top, be patient and learn everything you can before moving on. 

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without? 
My knife – it was the best purchase I think I made. It cost a fair bit, but has been a godsend since. I think a close second are my Birkenstock clogs, being on your feet all day, you need to have the correct footwear.

À la carte or tasting menu? 
Tasting menu for sure – much better for value and can try more dishes.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in a restaurant?
I think it would have to be in the lecture rooms in Sketch. Stunning from the service to the wine paring and the whole meal. 

Favourite fast food joint? 
Patty and Bun.

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of? 
Heston’s tipsy cake – OMG it is sooo good!

MasterChef or Great British Menu? 
Great British Menu.

Most overrated food?
I’m sorry, but I am going to say meat alternatives. I have tried I think most of them, but I feel you can make tasty vegetarian food without using fake chicken or mince.

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban? 
Red bull, cigarette breaks, and mobile phones! I’m going to be very unpopular with this selection.

Who would your dream dinner party guests be? 
Dr Brian Cox, Sir Trevor McDonald, Tom Kerridge, Leon Bridges and Anthony Joshua. What a mixed bunch!

What’s your earliest food memory? 
My mum always cooked – there was always something on the stove or the oven. My favourite was her banana cake.

Twitter or Instagram? 
Insta for sure. 

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death? 
Had a few accidents on the motorbike. Thankfully nothing broken, but was worried at the time.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down? 
Don’t know about letting my hair down, but when I want to clear my head and just get away from it all I head to the gym.

Tipple of choice? 
An old fashioned – bit like me.

Favourite food and drink pairing? 
Beer and a burger. Classic.

What do you consider your signature dish? 
I always fall back to the classics where I can, but one dish I will always put on a menu is a steak tartare.

Joanna's is running a burger pop up this weekend (27 March) outside its restaurant in Crystal Palace. There are three options to choose from - the Joanna’s hamburger, cajun cod burger, and veggie burger - and the stall will be open from 12 noon until all the burgers are gone. For more details, check out the Joanna's Instagram page​.

Related topics: Chef, People, Restaurant

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