There’s a new executive chef in town at The Old Government House Hotel and Spa and his name is Simon McKenzie; inspirational leader in the kitchen, incredible chef, and dad to Evie, Simon is a fantastic addition to the team. As passionate about food and he is about great hospitality, Simon has had an enviable career, working in Michelin-starred restaurants and with world-renowned chefs. We caught up with him on a rare moment away from kitchen to talk food, family, and top recipes for aspiring home cooks.
What motivated you to become a chef? Do any meals from your childhood come to mind?
“My father – he was a chef. When I was a kid, people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I would always say a chef. To start with, my dad was against the idea, but when I was about 11 years old, we watched a cookery show on TV together and I sat there completely glued to the screen. At the end, he asked if cooking was something that truly interested me and when I said “yes”, he took me into the kitchen and taught me everything that had been demonstrated on the show.”
Tell us a little about your career so far. What are some of the highlights?
From there I went on to work with Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White – back when those guys were still chained to the stove! And more recently I was the Senior Sous Chef at The Vineyard at Stockcross under John Campbell when the restaurant held two Michelin stars and four Rosettes. We were seventh in the UK in the Good Food Guide at the time so my job was one of the most sought-after in the UK; I had to watch my back!
Can you tell us about one of your best moments in the kitchen?
“The best times for me are nights when it’s particularly busy in the restaurant – when the team’s worried and orders are flying in. That’s when you’ve got to stay focussed, keep everyone calm, and lead. Those nights are amazing because when all’s said and done, there’s a tremendous feeling of fulfilment and achievement. Your diners are happy, your team is proud; it’s a great feeling.”
You’ve worked under many renowned chefs. Who would you say has been your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?
“John Campbell, the chef I worked under at the Vineyard at Stockcross, was my biggest inspiration. Working with chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White was outstanding, but working with John was like finishing school. I actually chose to drop back down to the Sous Chef role from my former position as Head Chef just so I could work there. John made sense of everything I had learned up to that point and got me thinking about food in a completely different manner, and showed me how rewarding our jobs can be when you go that extra mile for a guest.”
Having worked in kitchens around the country, what attracted you to Guernsey?
“I’ve always had family in Guernsey – it’s a beautiful island and offers an equally beautiful way of life. I spent every summer here growing up and my parents later moved here permanently to care for my aunt. Before I came to work here, I was working at the Isle of Eriska Hotel in Scotland, which is remote to say the least, and being a single parent to my daughter Evie, I was struggling with childcare. So, one day I started researching jobs in Guernsey and one came up!”
Tell us about your approach to the menus at the Old Government House Hotel. What are some of the key ideas behind your food?
“I want my food to be approachable, right from the time you read about it on the menu. After all, when you arrive at the restaurant you should be focussed on your dining companions and enjoying a drink, not trying to puzzle your way through a dense, obscure menu describing the various cooking methods or esoteric ingredients.
I like to take great produce – local wherever possible – and use innovative techniques to extract the best possible flavours for people to enjoy. That’s the most important thing for me – creating amazing tasting food. I don’t want to use unnecessary rhetorical flourishes to describe a dish on the menu; I’d rather let the food speak for itself.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs?
“My best advice would be to find a good kitchen where the chefs teach constantly and where the team is passionate about what they do. Also, I’d suggest that they forget everything they’ve seen on TV because that’s exactly what it is, television. In the real world, aspiring chefs need to be prepared for hard work and they need to be dedicated and committed. If they can do that, then they’ll have a great future ahead of them.”
Can you share with us one of your current favourite recipes for home cooks?
“This is my recipe for Sweetcorn Velouté – it’s a delicious dish and I intend to put it on the menu at The Old Government House Hotel. I made it recently for a dinner I cooked in The Hague as part of an international chef exchange. It can be a great hearty soup to serve to friends on a winter’s day or a lovely starter for a more elaborate dinner party. And it’s a favourite of my daughter’s, too; she likes it with sautéed chorizo!”
90g white onions, peeled and sliced
5g garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
300g chicken stock
300g frozen sweetcorn
150g full fat milk
Vegetable oil, for cooking
- Heat a large saucepan and add a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook them gently (without colouring them) for around 15 minutes, or until they are very soft.
- Add the sweetcorn and stir for a minute or two before adding the stock and the milk. Bring to the boil quickly.
- Reduce the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Put the contents of the pan into a blender and blitz on full power for 5-6 minutes.
- Pass the soup through a fine sieve into a clean pan and return to the boil, making sure to stir constantly.
- Then all that’s left is to season the velouté to taste and add a dash of sherry vinegar before serving with some crusty bread and a few sprigs of watercress.
- If you wish to add a bit of extra flair to this dish, add some crispy lardons (or, chorizo, if you’re like my daughter) and a poached quails egg to the bowl before carefully pouring the soup over. Delicious.
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