Simon Hulstone

Simon Hulstone

Simon Hulstone

With multiple successes at the highest levels of competitive cooking behind him, Simon Hulstone is now achieving in the restaurant arena, holding a Michelin star at his Torquay eatery since 2004. His beautiful, seasonal plates feature the best of West Country produce, most of which is grown at his remarkable dedicated farm.

Simon Hulstone’s career has been greatly influenced by his father Roger, who was executive chef at the luxury Imperial Hotel in Torquay when he was growing up. From the age of fourteen he was working alongside his father in the kitchen, accompanying him to Ecole Lenôtre (a professional French culinary school in Paris) when he took chefs there to train. ‘Life was always a bit different in that my dad was always at work. I actually became a chef because of that, as it was easy to get a job because he always had ones going. So it was my first job, but also gave me an opportunity to see more of dad I suppose. I just enjoyed the camaraderie and the fun of it all.’

He apprenticed at Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon, working under Freddy Jones – a top competition chef who often competed against Simon’s father. Inspired and encouraged to enter himself – now battling against his dad – from the age of sixteen he was cooking competitively, a pastime which helped propel Simon forward in his professional development and cheffing career.

After his apprenticeship, Simon moved to Hanbury Manor Hotel in Hertfordshire, then onto Ston Easton Park Hotel in Somerset. After achieving success at the European Culinary Championships, he was encouraged to compete in the Youth Skill Olympics in France, which necessitated considerable training and backing from a more senior chef. Michael Kitts of the Swallow Royal Hotel in Bristol, a competitor himself, stepped in and alongside working full time in Kitts’ kitchen, Simon prepared in whatever free time he had. Competing in 1995, he achieved Gold and left the competition with job offers from fourteen of the nineteen competition judges.

Not feeling quite ready for the positions he was being offered, Simon spent a year in New Zealand while his partner studied, interspersing travel with work at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Auckland. Still keeping his hand in with the competitions, he won New Zealand Young Chef of the Year and his success in this arena bloomed. He went on to achieve wins in South Africa, Luxembourg, Malta, Canada, South Korea and Australia. He has represented the UK twice at the Bocuse d’Or – the world’s most prestigious and demanding culinary competition – and was the captain of the British team for the Culinary Olympics. He was also captain of the English team at the Culinary World Cup in 2010 and 2012. He says of this time: ‘Over the years I’ve met a lot of people and travelled the world and have got great contacts and great friends. So the winning just went by the by a little bit, it was just about the whole experience of it all, cooking in different countries, meeting new people and for me now I judge rather than compete.’

On his return to England he started work at the Bailiffscourt Hotel in Sussex, before moving onto Cheltenham’s Bacchanalian. He says of his time at Bacchanalian: ‘What I learnt from it was that it was all about flavour. Customers were more concerned with flavour than presentation. It made my food a lot more mature; I stopped following trends and started to cook what I wanted to and what the customers wanted me to cook. It was quite bizarre – that was when I started winning food awards rather than competition awards. That really woke me up because I didn’t really know anything about Michelin or AA awards at that point really.' After this came Cotswold House, where he attracted even more attention from the guides.

In 2003, Simon won the coveted Roux Scholarship. ‘Without a doubt it is the best competition I have ever won and it continues to give back to me as well.’ The prize was a stage in any three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the world and he was the first Roux Scholar to choose Spain, opting to train with Martín Berasategui at his eponymous restaurant in the Basque Country.

After the stage, Simon and his wife moved to Devon to establish their own restaurant, The Elephant. In 2004, it won a Michelin star which the couple (his wife Katy runs front of house) have retained ever since. ‘It was a bolt out of the blue really. When we reached Torquay and got our Michelin star, really I thought it was the last place in the world that you would get one.

‘What it has done is to make me respect the ingredients a lot more,' he continues. 'It has made me analyse what I was doing and how I was doing it. It has really matured me, sometimes it has pulled me back and sometimes it has pushed me forward. More than anything it has made me listen to gut instincts rather than doing something to impress people. I’m not cooking to impress but to make my customers happy.’

This new respect for ingredients, in part, motivated Simon and his business partner to create their own dedicated farm in south Devon. With almost 100 acres now in operation, they raise free-range pigs, turkeys, chickens, geese and sheep, along with growing the fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers that supply the restaurant. ‘It has really woken us up to the quality of ingredients and to seasonality and to utilising products at their best natural state, as early as possible. We will get everything picked in the morning, we’ll have it prepared and hopefully we’ll sell it that evening. It has given me a love for the quality of ingredients, for how we grow then and how we look after them. When I see the chefs overcooking a vegetable now it is so annoying because we have grown that from scratch, we have been there on the journey with it and we want it really respected.’

Simon's dishes are often adorned with a colourful range of delicate plants and flowers, but he is keen to stress that ‘everything is on the plate for a reason’.

Simon has gone from a child who wouldn’t eat ketchup because it contained a vegetable to a Michelin-starred chef with one of the best kitchen gardens in Britain. He has achieved amazing success at the highest levels of international competitive cooking and is now transforming Torquay into a top culinary destination. Although his days as an event competitor are now over, he’s still pushing forward. 'Now we’re only competing against ourselves, because we’re striving to be better. Every dish that goes out has to be better than the last one you send.’ We’re excited to see where that leads.