An Interview with Chef Simon Couth
Chef Simon Couth’s professional career starts at the Montreux Palace Hotel on Lake Geneva. Though a great place to work as a teenager, years of ‘uninspired’ dishes sees him take a successful and prolonged stint as a journalist before returning to his first love, food.
Simon now runs the eclectic Hathersage Social Club in North Derbyshire’s Hope Valley (technically the East Midlands but only a short distance from Sheffield). Here, he serves classic dishes as well as themed menus. With a mini cinema on the top floor and a host of events running throughout the year, this venue is a combination of the unique, modern, inventive and traditional.
Here, he talks about his career, running a restaurant in the north and his tips for up-and-coming chefs…
Who do you try out new flavour combinations on first?
Obviously we do tastings in the kitchen, but we also have experimental food tasting evenings where we come out and talk through the idea of the menu. As we only take bookings at the restaurant, people who come to those evenings know they are coming to a slightly more experimental menu which they may pay slightly less for. But they are generally the type of people who are happy to try something new.
Do you think there has been an increase in access to top class food in the UK over the last decade?
There’s definitely been an increase in better food. I think there has been a huge improvement in the culture of food as people are more interested in food themselves. So they are giving support to good places. Even down to little pizza stalls that are sometimes even more passionate than I am about getting their dough base just right. There are more people putting food out there who are really trying hard and really care about what they offer.
What do you look for in an up-and-coming chef that makes you think they’ve got what it takes?
They have to have an interest in food that extends beyond the kitchen at work. You’ve got to love the taste of food and trying different things, going home and experimenting with techniques. Everything else you can teach people, like what to chop and the proportions to use. But having a real interest in food makes the difference.
What makes a good location for a restaurant?
It’s a lot about the catchment. You have to have a bit of a critical mass and know that there will be people who will want to eat in a place like ours. We’re very lucky that Hathersage has a train line that can bring people both from Sheffield and Manchester to eat here. I love outdoor eating so we’re also lucky to have an area to eat outside with a river at the bottom. The idea in my mind was to create a restaurant that served my style of cooking in a lively environment, and open it in an area that didn’t really have anything that catered for that type of thing.
“Talk to experienced chefs and novices alike”
What are the benefits of running a restaurant north of the Watford Gap?
Amazing produce all around. Have the whole of Yorkshire as our garden to source produce from. Many people who come to our restaurant are genuinely interested in food and are not there just to be seen. You can go to places in London where people will barely look at the food you’ve just slaved your heart out preparing…they are just interested in being seen in the right place. There’s definitely something great about running restaurants up North.
What do you think of the idea of a Northern Powerhouse, and how do you think it will affect the restaurant sector?
Manchester, in some ways, is moving ahead in terms of great restaurants. Lots of foodie places opening up and lots of interesting bars opening up. So maybe that interest in food will spread more. But I think a Northern Powerhouse may actually translate to being a Manchester Powerhouse. At present, we do get some of our customers coming across from Manchester. But by far the majority comes from the Hope Valley itself, with others coming in from Sheffield.
How important do you think it is for there to be a steady influx of new talent into the industry?
It’s a good thing, even competitors opening is. If you look at areas of Sheffield that have become established foodie areas, they keep people interested and help to create a buzz which makes people choose to go there to eat. They also keep other restaurants on their toes. And this helps to prevent the influx of generic chain restaurants.
“I like to go out to Robin Hood’s Bay for fresh lobster”
What advice do you have for young chefs looking to make their mark?
Talk to people. I still learn things from the apprentices I have. I have staff who like to experiment and if I thought ‘Don’t talk to her because she’s a novice’ I would be missing out on all the ideas she is having. So talk to experienced chefs and novices alike, anyone who is interested and passionate about food. You constantly learn stuff if you just keep asking people and have wide-eyed interest in what people connected with food have to say. Just keep asking questions.
How important to you is sourcing local ingredients?
Hugely important. Not in a faddy way as well. I really love the people and the stories. Here in Hathersage we have Stanage Millstone cheeses. We know them and we support it. There are also two allotments in the village and we have a system of club credit where people bring their produce and we exchange vouchers that they can use in the restaurant. This is produce that maybe you can’t get from any other supplier.
We get, for example, pheasant and other game from local landowners, but only during the seasonal drive. I also like to go out to Robin Hood’s Bay for fresh lobster. It’s about getting to talk to the producers, knowing what they care about. It’s about being confident about what you are getting… that it’s the freshest and ethically sourced. It’s about the connections and stories and quality of the produce.
Interview courtesy of russums-shop.co.uk