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Meet the chef: We talk food with Gidleigh Park’s new executive head chef Chris Simpson

Chris Simpson

Chris Simpson took to the helm as executive head chef at Devon’s Gidleigh Park in January 2018, following seven years as head chef at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, which has held two Michelin stars since 2011.

Chris enjoys a reputation for outstanding cooking with the very best of local ingredients, and is known for his menus that are carefully crafted without pretension, and designed to take advantage of the area’s best produce whilst offering true clarity of flavour.

Famed for its culinary credentials, Chris brings a new, progressive and exciting era to the five-star experience that Gidleigh Park is renowned for.

We sat down with Chris and discussed everything from his key culinary influences to his favourite set of ingredients to work with.

What is/are the most important element/s for you when crafting a menu?

The most important element to my cooking is taking advantage of the area’s best produce and seasonal ingredients. I’m passionate about exploring new ways to maximise these local flavours and bring out the best in them, building flavour combinations and often focusing on just one ingredient as the inspiration for an entire dish.

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Gidleigh Park holds two coverted Michelin stars

What/who were/are your main influences for seeking out a career in this renowned tough industry?

I have been lucky to work with some really inspiring chefs in a variety of locations throughout my career, both around the world and country. My career began with Nigel Howarth at Northcote Manor, where I stayed for three years and much of my love of local ingredients and classical cooking stems. I then had the honor of working with Nathan Outlaw, who I first became associated with 17 years ago and has been of great support, influence and inspiration throughout my career, even to this day with my move to Gidleigh Park.

With Michael Caines’ roots in classical and intricate and Michael Wignall’s in the creative and experimental pairings, where would you say you fit in?

It’s a privilege to have been offered the opportunity to take up the reins at Gidleigh Park, somewhere I’ve admired since I very first started cooking. Focusing on local produce, my menus bring something new and different to the hotels dining experience, through a deep-rooted classical cooking style, combined with a modern interpretation. Throughout my dishes I look to take advantage of the local flavours with a refined yet simple, honest approach, offering freshness & seasonality of ingredients.

What changes have you made since joining Gidleigh Park and how are you, and will you be putting your stamp on the place?

We’ve had a great start here at Gidleigh Park and I’m delighted to be settled in the kitchen and focused on our new menus. The team here are so talented and we are already working well together refining these dishes, with fantastic feedback from our guests so far. I’m excited to put my own stamp on the restaurant, placing emphasis on the very best ingredients at the heart of each dish, with striking colours and clarity throughout the menu, and hope to bring a progressive and exciting new era to the kitchen of Gidleigh Park.

Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?

As much of my cooking is based around local produce and seasonal ingredients, summer is the time of year I most look forward to. It’s a great time for fresh vegetables, such as peas and broad beans, as well as things like shellfish and spring lamb.

Do you have a signature dish?

Having worked in a fish restaurant for the last seven years, I love cooking with fish and shellfish in particular. I’m also enjoying the opportunity to work more with meat at Gidleigh Park, and creating new dishes that incorporate the likes of beef and duck. I would say the most prominent dish currently on the menu is the veal sweetbread with pickled mushrooms and a sourdough crumb, which is a starting dish on both the a la carte and tasting menu.

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Chris has a deep-rooted classical cooking style, combined with a modern interpretation

Do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?

Yes, I love working with seasonal ingredients, so this definitively influences my menu choices, particularly in the spring and summertime when more vegetables come into season. Fish has also continued to be a big influence; I particularly love cooking lemon sole.

How will you work to ensure that the restaurant retains its double Michelin Star status year on year?

To be awarded Michelin stars is a huge honour and I’ve enjoyed celebrations with Nathan when we were awarded our first, and then second, Michelin star. But, you can’t focus all your energies on awards – the most important thing is to work hard every single day to produce dishes that your diners enjoy and that showcase fantastic ingredients to their very best. Anything else is a bonus!

So you’ve spent 7 years in Cornwall and now you’ve moved to Devon, what is it about the South West that keeps you here?

The local produce is one of my favourite things about the area and I’m delighted to be staying in the south west to be able to continue to work with the great local suppliers in our region, and serve the ‘very best of South West’ to our guests at Gidleigh Park.