“from fruit salad to sticky toffee pudding – the history of a country defines its food”
What shapes us as individuals and as nations? So often it is small, seemingly inconsequential happenings that determine the future.
Simon Reynolds, Simon’s Fine Foods, applied for two jobs when he left school at 17 in his home town of Norwich, England. One was with the RAF, the Royal Air Force. The other was as a trainee chef in a local hotel. At his interview with the RAF, they asked for his religion. When he asked why they wanted to know, they told him it was so they would know how to bury him if he died.
Suddenly, the job as a chef was infinitely more appealing. And his future career was confirmed his first day on the job when he was asked to make fruit salad. “I’d never seen or tasted some of them before,” Simon says. “It was the perfect job, tasting stuff I’d never experienced.”
Simon’ attraction to cooking grew when he had the opportunity to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant. “It blew me away,” he says. “Id never seen anything like it. Everything was just perfect – the preparation, the flavours, the way they treated the food. . . .”
Simon continued to work in hotels that had received one or two rosettes from the British Automobile Association. He was in charge of a 51-bedroom hotel in Lavenham with over 10 chefs, 4 or 5 porters and banqueting facilities.Under his leadership, the hotel went from one to two rosettes.The Swan had lost both of its rosettes, a very big deal in the food industry. On the inspector’s first visit after Simon took over, it regained both its rosettes, and it would have received a third, but this required an additional visit. Simon is very proud of this achievement – and so he should be.
“Being a chef is not seen as a ‘manly’ profession,” says Simon. “But the chef has a huge gamut of responsibilities: management and stock control, HR and training, finances. I have to ensure the safety of the food throughout the chain, from supplier, to delivery, to kitchen, to plate.”
“If you cook for a living, it envelops you, and you want to know more about it,” says Simon. He loves to share his knowledge of chemistry and nutrition in the cooking classes he offers at Wild Serendipity Foods. “I share a lot of the science, what happens when you cook things,” he explains.
He also shares his passion. For Simon, food is both fuel and enjoyment. The smell of coffee or fresh-baked bread excites your senses. It’s a social event. Sunday roast is a chance to bring your family together around the dining room table.
Fast food is beginning to lose its grip. “Thirty years ago, it was the norm to grow your own food in Britain,” says Simon. “Then everything was bought prepared. Now it’s trendy again to have an allotment and grow food. Young people want control over what they feed their kids.”
Food and History
I asked Simon for a definition of British cuisine hoping he would give me his recipe for sticky toffee pudding [he didn't - sigh]. Instead, he gave me a look at British history and its impact on British food.
“World events will change the course of a country’s food,” Simon says. “When the Romans conquered England, they built roads, which provided better transportation and more and fresher products. British food has a reputation for being stodgy and basic. But that’s understandable if you remember that there was rationing in Britain for many years after World War II. People made do with what they had.”
Recent history continues to shape British food with immigrants introducing new food products and traditions. “Nowadays British cuisine is based, where possible, on local products and cooked using a variety of techniques,” explains Simon. “It’s a fusion of nationalities.” But Simon insists that “Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, done properly, is one of the best dishes you’ll ever eat.”
Simon has spent the last few years being a full-time dad and running Simon’s Fine Foods, a part-time business offering personal dining and cooking classes. His daughter is now old enough for day care, and Simon is looking for new challenges.
I look forward to finding out what the future holds for Chef Simon Reynolds. Who knows what chance event is even now shaping his destination.
Note: Article has been updated as indicated to include additional information from Simon.