I have been very lucky in my life when it comes to food and wine. I have worked with some of the best chefs and spent years in France with vineyard owners and producers.
At one point I even considered joining the industry but broadcasting came along and I have mixed the best of both worlds.
But of all of the establishments I have eaten in and the master chefs I have spoken with, Simon Hulstone and The Elephant in Beacon Terrace, Torquay has eluded me.
Finally, I managed to speak to the man himself on my BBC Radio Devon show... disappointingly down a phone and without the chance to sample some of the best cuisine in the west.
The first question was obvious, how are things at the moment?
“All very good, thank you, it’s great to be back. The business has opened up again which was a very stressful situation with all the new rules and regulations but we have achieved it.
“We have taken every precaution but we do still want to make our guests feel comfortable. The distancing was a challenge but to be honest, we were very well distanced in the first place so we haven’t lost that many tables and cleanliness has always been one of my top priorities.
“I believe our customers feel very comfortable about what we have done and it is table service as it always has been.”
Simon is passionate about local produce and the area, becoming a self-made ambassador for the English Riviera and the food on offer. But I did call him the ‘stealth chef’!
“It’s always good to stay under the radar. We’ve been here 15 years and we want to be here for many more years to come.
“Yes, I’ve done an awful lot within the industry and I’ve won most of the competitions that I have gone in for. We have had a Michelin star for 15 years, gaining it in the first year that I started here. We won numerous local awards and we are proud to say we are one of the UK’s best restaurants.”
That was a short summery of a man who in his early teens already had several world junior titles to his name and until 2011, was the only British chef to win gold in the World Skills in France.
He won the Roux Scholarship and he went on to win the Craft Guild of Chefs, National Chef of the Year award in 2008. Twice, he has represented the UK in the Bocuse d’Or, the world’s most challenging and prestigious culinary contest. He was captain of the British team in the Culinary Olympics and was also captain of the English team at the Culinary World Cup in 2010 and 2012. So where did it all start?
“Originally I’m from Stoke-on-Trent and my father was a chef so we travelled around a lot. We moved to Torquay in 1987 when my father was employed at The Imperial Hotel. I did my training in London and then bounced around the country until I made it back down to Torquay.”
Have you had to change the menu because of the current situation?
“We have made the menu slightly smaller because of the trouble trying to get hold of some produce. But that’s actually made things a little more relaxed.
“Luckily, we were doing takeaway throughout the whole of the lockdown so we came back in July all guns blazing. The Elephant is here as everyone remembers.
“We’ve got fantastic customers who are returning to enjoy the best in what is now a refurbished ‘Elephant’, which was undertaken during lockdown.”
So what about the future?
“I don’t think we should be changing anything really. If we have to tweak a few things especially when it comes to safety, then will do it.
“For us it’s all about getting together and celebrating life with great food.”