Si­mon Scott

“I never wanted any­thing more than for peo­ple to come in and feel com­fort­able in our restau­rant”

Living France - - Lifestyle - bistrot­

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.”

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