Families lunching in style at Derbyshire hotel East Lodge on Mothers’ Day have two people to thank for the chef’s handiwork.
Darley Dale-born Simon Bradley cites his major influences as master chef Raymond Blanc - and his own mum.
Simon, who took over the kitchens in 2008, the year the hotel won Derbyshire’s Restaurant of the Year, set his sights on becoming a chef the hard way.
At 20 and hating his job in insurance, he took a job washing up at a posh hotel in Bath. “I wasn’t academic so I took the hands-on experience route; I still recommend it to people,” he says.
After honing his skills, he sold his house to fund a three-month stint at the world-renowned Escoffier school at the Paris Ritz, then worked in its two-Michelin star kitchens for 15 months.
Next, he wrote to top chef Raymond Blanc asking for a job at his celebrated Oxfordshire restaurant, Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons. The interview involved cooking a veal fillet for Raymond’s dinner - a nerve-wracking experience, but Simon pan-fried it perfectly with caramelised baby onions - and got the job.
“I worked with Raymond for 18 months. He was inspirational ” says Simon.
“He was a very nice guy too - he only lost his temper when we deserved it. He was an absolute perfectionist; when starters were £35 and a main course around £50, it has to be right.”
Simon credits Blanc with raising the bar on British cuisine. What did he learn personally from the French maestro?
“Tasting as you cook - Blanc is obsessed with it. Many professional cooks don’t do it. And cooking the freshest vegetables as simply and as close to service as possible.”
He took the principle to East Lodge in Rowsley. now holder of a 2010 three-star AA “Inspectors’ Choice” Award. “In summer, greens are picked from our vegetable garden early evening. Stuff has just come out of the ground before it’s served, lightly boiled with a bit of butter. The taste is incomparable.”
But the chef who will be cooking Sunday lunch for 50 mums on Mothers’ Day is quick to credit his mum as a role model. “When I was a kid she would try new ingredients and dishes out on us. She gave me my love of food,” says Simon, 42. “Many professional chefs say exactly the same about their mums.”