“I never wanted anything more than for people to come in and feel comfortable in our restaurant”
Alnwick-born chef Simon Scott’s introduction to cooking was a world away from fine dining, and came as he helped his mother run her chip shop, as well as keeping his younger brothers fed. “I lost my father when I was very young, so from the age of about eight I was cooking at home,” reveals Simon.
Simon, now 49, liked it so much he decided to make it his career. Heading to London after finishing catering college, while an emotional wrench, was a necessary move.
During that time he met his French wife, Marie-Hélène, and through their regular trips to France, a love affair with the country began.
After sending out hundreds of job applications, Simon went to Avignon to work for Jean-Claude Aubertin. “He allowed me to create my own style. I think it was only then I began to understand what it was to cook.” Homesickness saw Simon return to London to work at The Ritz and become the youngest head chef at the Savoy Grill, but he admits, “Coming to France and opening my own restaurant had always been my dream.”
The couple eventually found a secluded farmhouse in the out-of-the-way Tarn village of St-Avit, and embarked on their culinary adventure. “I’d been advised against it by lots of French friends, because of social charges, taxes, and everything,” Simon says. “We said ‘no, of course we know what we’re doing’ – it was a dream, a coup de coeur.
“It was only later we realised it was quite hard to get people to come out, and being an English chef as well… it took a good year to be accepted and for word of mouth to travel.”
But travel it did, and Les Saveurs de St-Avit won a Michelin star, much to Simon’s surprise. However, the accolade did not prevent him and Marie-Hélène from looking to pastures new.
“We had a good local reputation and were well known in and around Castres, so we looked for a new premises. I didn’t want to take over something; I wanted to create a restaurant. Where we are now was a bicycle shop and we had to completely build a new kitchen and everything.”
The hard work has more than paid off, and Simon’s Les Saveurs de St-Avit is well loved by locals, including players for the town’s Top 14 rugby team.
“I never wanted anything more than for people to come in and feel comfortable in our restaurant. I think we’ve got the right balance, we’re not over the top.”
The love affair with France is set to continue, as Simon says: “I’m very happy with the life that I have – the friends I have, the producers I work with. I would always want to grow a little bit, maybe consulting a little bit. But it’s important to me to be the chef in the restaurant. I don’t like the idea of having my name over the door but I’m over there. I want to be able to cook.
“I’m still young at heart and surrounded by young people. You inherit this enthusiasm for life and it reflects in the food. For me to be able to share that with a larger public would be great.”