Simon Hulstone, The Elephant, Torquay

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th April 2014

Simon Hulstone, chef patron of The Elephant in Torquay, is the son of a chef and from an early age was competing in and winning cooking competitions around the world. He was the 2003 Roux Scholar and the National Chef of the Year in 2008. He has represented the UK on more than 20 occasions including the Bocuse d’Or. The Elephant has held three AA rosettes since 2005 and won its first Michelin star in 2006 which it retains to this day.

  This is your tenth year at The Elephant; how would you describe your relationship with it? It’s my home. The ten years has gone very quickly. We’ve seen a lot of changes, a lot of different food styles; we’ve got two restaurants now; obviously the farm is a massive addition. I just feel very settled. I can’t really see myself away from the bay although I’d like to look at other projects because I’m older and I’ve got a team and a head chef that are more than capable of running the place when I’m not here.   Does that mean you’re looking to open somewhere new? I’d like to look at somewhere more casual but locally. This is where I am; this is sort of where I’ve made my name now and I think it would be wrong if I moved away. I’ve always had an inkling that I could do more if I was in London but I think everyone thinks that, don’t they?   How has your style changed since you’ve been at The Elephant? We got a Michelin star within 18 months. It wasn’t something we’d expected or worked to get. The last thing I expected was that we’d see Michelin down here. When we got the star our clientele changed so we had to offer food for a different kind of clientele which was very strange really because we were happy with our cooking but the customers’ perception of Michelin cooking was Gordon Ramsay style, lots of white tablecloths, lots of waiters. We did get pulled into that at one point but then we thought, no this isn’t what The Elephant is about and we went back to what we wanted to cook and how we wanted to cook it without thinking about the style really. The star is there for our consistency and style of food and I think what we do now is just as good and we’ve added the quality of produce, the locality, the freshness and the ethos that we’ve got behind everything.   How’s the farm going? It’s our fourth year now; we’ve learnt loads from our mistakes, gone forwards and spoken to a lot of people about how to change things and we’ve learnt a lot, especially about the weather. We’ve just finalised our growing plans and what crops we’re going to have. We’ve got upwards of 200 sheep on there. We got our first few lambs two weeks ago so we’ve got about 25 lambs up there ready for the new menu. We use Berkshire cross pigs. We have our own bantams. We have our own chickens and we also have turkeys which normally come round the middle of summer. We use Kelly Bronze which are the top, top end of turkeys; this year we’re taking a hundred turkeys and the idea is to have them all the way through Thanksgiving to Christmas. Customers will be able to choose a turkey and we’ll rear it for them, prepare it and sell it as a hamper for them with our own produce for Christmas.   You must have learnt an awful lot; would you call yourself a farmer now? No I wouldn’t call myself a farmer at all. I think what’s happened is that as a staunch meat eater, I’ve actually come to appreciate vegetables, which has come as a bit of a shock to everyone, including myself! As a whole team we’ve really opened our eyes to what we can grow and how we grow it and the respect that we’ve now got for the produce is huge because it’s our own. And on the cost side the saving is massive. We estimated that last year we saved about £45,000 on produce, which is unbelievable.   You’re well known for taking part in and winning lots of competitions; is there one that has stood out for you over the course of your career? Every one has its little place. National Chef of the Year is one that I always wanted to win because of the kudos of who had won it before and the fact that my father competed in it four times in the final and never won. But then there’s the Roux Scholarship which for me is the only competition that still keeps on giving. I won it in 2003 but the 30 Roux Scholars still meet up every year; we go on culinary trips; we go to restaurants and for me it’s the only trip that really keeps giving.   Whose food is exciting you at the moment? Obviously Simon Rogan is a massive inspiration because of his farm and the way he does his food. He’s just taken food to the next level for me. I love what Brett Graham does at The Ledbury. But I also absolutely love just a good burger or a good steak like MEATliquor and Goodman. When I go to London it tends to be a lot more casual than fine dining. Sometimes you’ve become your own man and don’t really need to see what other people are doing so much. And I can’t afford to splash out all the time!   What are your plans for the future? Have you ever thought of writing a book? I have enough problems with 140 characters on Twitter! Anyway I think The Staff Canteen already have all my recipes! It’s like anything, I’ll take it as it comes. I’m doing loads of little pieces here and there. The biggest issue is being based in Torquay and getting to anywhere and getting back. Ultimately I’m a chef and I need to be in the restaurant. When the fine dining is open from April to October I don’t miss a service. If the restaurant is open, I’m in there. If I’m not here for any particular reason, the restaurant will be closed. It’s my name on the door and if anyone’s going to lose a star, I’ll lose it.   Is there any truth to the rumours we’ve heard that there might be a few ghosts residing at The Elephant? The chef who used to see the ghosts has moved on now – not to the other side but to somewhere in Dorset!  We believe the place has probably got a little bit of a ‘presence’ somewhere. It has freaked out a few chefs and waiters late at night but unfortunately I haven’t seen anything yet myself and I’ve been here ten years. It does scare the s**t out of me though when I’m here in the dark on my own!   Read Simon's recipe Beef and Rock Oyster Tartare With Kikkoman Soy Mayonnaise and Quail Egg here Read Simon's recipe for Pinenut and Lemon Thyme Crusted Chicken Breast with Kikkoman Soy Marinated Onions and Girolles here Read the recipe for South Devon crab claw and pickled cucumber salad with watermelon and a Kikkoman soy and sesame dressing here Read the Simon's recipe for Summer Farm Salad with goats cheese, pickled walnut and Kikkoman soy and apple granita here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th April 2014

Simon Hulstone, The Elephant, Torquay