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British chef Simon Levy was brought up around food in London.
From a young age he worked with his father at the family fruit and
veggie stall in the Old Covent Garden Markets, which inspired his
career as a chef. Levy quickly climbed the ranks to work at some
of London’s best restaurants. He’s worked for renowned French
chef Pierre Koffmann, as senior sous chef at the Berkeley Hotel
and as head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s The Warrington, as well as
landmark London venues like Claridge’s Hotel and The Ivy. These
days he’s executive chef at Christchurch’s new Fine Fare Kitchen.
HOW DID YOUR CHILDHOOD IN ENGLAND
INFLUENCE YOUR CAREER AS A CHEF?
My dad was a market trader and when my brothers and I were
young he opened his own fruit and veggie stall in the New Covent
Garden Markets and various other locations in and around
London. From a very young age, we worked in the stalls helping
Dad. I loved the market life, the banter and the different types
of produce and products that you could get. I think that, coupled
with the fact that Mum wasn’t the greatest cook, led me to my
career as a chef. My parents always encouraged me to work
and to choose a career that suited me. I didn’t want a “desk job”
and when I did my first work experience in a kitchen I knew it
was where I wanted to be. I loved the fast pace, the noise of the
kitchen and that I could put my creativity to work on a plate. That
is what inspired me to go to culinary school and work my way up
the ranks to where I am.
YOU HAVE AN EXTREMELY IMPRESSIVE CV. WHAT WAS KEY
TO YOU CLIMBING THE RANKS SO QUICKLY AND SCORING
TOP ROLES IN SUCH PRESTIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS?
Hard work, long hours and dedication. (blood, sweat & tears too!) I
made sure that I learned everything I could from every chef I worked
with, which helped me develop my style. As I progressed to head
chef, I still continued to learn, either from my team or my peers.
This, along with the passion I have for the industry and cooking,
helped me progress to the roles I held with Ramsey and Koffmann.
DESCRIBE WHAT IT WAS LIKE WORKING FOR
GORDON RAMSAY AND PIERRE KOFFMANN AND
HOW THEY HAVE INFLUENCED YOUR WORK?
They are two of the culinary masters. Pierre Koffmann, having
trained nearly all of the chefs that hold Michelin stars, was
inspiring to work with. I will never forget working with either
Ramsay or Koffmann. They have two very different styles and
personalities. However, the one thing they have in common and
that has stayed with me is that, “you must be proud of what you
put on the plate” and “you are only as good as your last dish”.
I don’t think you realise at the time how much you learn. It’s not
‘til you leave being under their guidance that you see how much
you have grown as a chef.
HOW DID ALL OF THIS EVENTUATE IN YOU MARRYING
A KIWI GIRL FROM THE HAWKES BAY, HAVING TWO
KIDS AND ENDING UP IN CHRISTCHURCH?
I met Lisa (my now wife) working at Rules Restaurant - London’s
oldest restaurant. We both went on to work at other London
restaurants and hotels and married five years after we met.
Harry, our eldest child, arrived the first year of our marriage
and we decided that Lisa would stay home to look after him as
we both worked incredibly long hours. We’d holiday in NZ about
every 12 - 18 months and I loved the lifestyle here, especially
in Hawkes Bay where Lisa grew up. The biggest motivation to
move here was for the quality of life it could offer Harry. On
returning to NZ in December 2013 I never thought we’d live in
Christchurch as I’d never particularly enjoyed my time here.
Lisa’s parents live in Christchurch and on moving here we stayed
with them. This gave us the opportunity to see Christchurch
post-quake and the vision that so many people had for the
rebuild. It seemed like a vibrant place to be and one that would
have an emerging culinary scene along with a re-emerging city.
Our daughter, Ivy, arrived the following September. We’re settled
here and Christchurch is now our home.
DESCRIBE YOUR COOKING STYLE, WHAT FOODS
YOU’RE MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT AND WHY?
My style has progressed from classic French/British to Modern
European with flavour, fun and excitement on a plate, not just for
us cooks, but for the customers. I am passionate about all food.
I enjoy knowing where my products and produce come from and
working with smaller suppliers who are as passionate about their
product as I am. My style has been influenced by all the chefs I
have worked for, predominantly by Pierre Koffmann, although I’ve
developed my own unique style now. I like working with what’s
seasonal and using all of an animal, not just the best cuts.
HOW DID YOU END UP WORKING FOR JONNY SCHWASS
IN CHRISTCHURCH AND THEN TEAMING UP WITH
WAYNE CAMERON, OF FINE FOOD KITCHEN?
Lisa and I wanted to open our own restaurant when we arrived in
NZ, so we decided to work with/for someone for one or two years
to get a good grounding in the New Zealand restaurant scene.
We needed to see what was happening here now. Jonny was
looking for a head chef at the time and we hit it off. Working with
Jonny was great and I couldn’t have asked for a better person
to introduce me to the Christchurch and New Zealand food/
hospitality scene. After a year with Jonny I decided I needed to try
something different and the opportunity arose to work with Wayne
Cameron, opening his new concept, Fine Fare Kitchen. We work
well together. He needed a chef to bring his concept to life, which
I’ve done. Wayne has great rural contacts, which allows us to
choose some of the top produce available in the market today. I
Chef Simon Levy,
Fine Fare Kitchen
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