Discover what makes our team tick with our new series of interviews with our staff. First up, our head chef Joe Simpson, who’s been with us for six years.
What’s special about Cafe St Honoré?
Having the freedom and opportunity to change the menus frequently prevents the team from becoming complacent, ensures we’re always evolving, and makes Cafe a great training ground for chefs. The restaurant itself is beautiful, with a really special, intimate feel that’s impossible to replicate. Most importantly for me though is that the food we serve, is the food I love to eat. Simple, honest and delicious. I wish there were more restaurants like Cafe that I could dine in on my days off. We’re also highly committed to all things sustainable from sourcing of produce and providing good working conditions, to recycling and reducing waste. It’s a great source of pride for the whole team.
Favourite dish and why?
There are too many to mention. I love the sense of occasion that accompanies a classic roast (the trimmings are often as good as the centerpiece) be it lamb shoulder, chicken, pork belly or a beef rib or sirloin. I have fond memories of these feasts going back to early childhood. I also have a soft spot for classic brasserie fare like confit duck or cassoulet, and I’m intrigued by the traditions associated with these recipes. Nowadays, many classic French dishes are viewed as ‘old-hat’, but despite constantly changing food trends, they will always have an important part to play in European food culture. I adore paella – another dish steeped in history and tradition – and cooked perfectly it is hard to beat. But my list is long and includes risotto, carbonara, tagine, Cullen skink, Thai curry, tacos, burgers, pizza, steak. I guess so much depends on time, place and company. A good wine to wash it all down is a must!
Favourite cook books?
I own a vast collection of cookbooks. Some I’ve had for years. It’s always nice to revisit and rediscover forgotten gems. A few books always occupy pride of place however.
Anything written by Thomas Keller. I admire his absolute commitment to perfectionism and his meticulous technical approach to cooking at his flagship restaurant The French Laundry, his bistro, or bakery. These are beautiful books that everyone can learn something from.
Fergus Henderson’s ‘Nose to Tail Cooking’ is a great read with a witty and unique writing style. He’s been so influential in defining British cooking since the early 90s. His restaurant St John in Clerkenwell, London, is a true British institution.
The River Café Cookbook(s). A bible of Italian cooking, with emphasis on regionality and core ingredients. The recipes are generally accessible and I particularly enjoy the sections on pastry. Chocolate Nemisis will always be the ultimate dessert in my eyes!
I really believe that food is only a proportion of what defines a great restaurant. I’ve eaten incredible food in some of the most highly acclaimed restaurants but haven’t necessarily loved the overall experience. Very occasionally a restaurant will get it just right. The service should be professional, but friendly and genuine; the food and wine should be honest and delicious, with provenance; and the atmosphere should be relaxing and fun. Then it’s really special. For me a few stand outs are River Café in London and Vue de Monde in Melbourne. Closer to home, I’m a huge fan of El Cartel, Locanda de Gusti and Origano.
What piece of kitchen equipment is indispensable?
Apart from a stove and an oven I would say an ice-cream machine. Even in the depths of winter I love ice-cream, especially freshly churned.
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
Cooking in a restaurant on a vineyard with a vast kitchen garden in New Zealand. I would love to have a few vines and produce my own wine. Running a small cook school is another dream of mine.