The executive head chef for Amadeus at the ICC Simon Hellier talks travel, lucky breaks and his mother-in-law’s fry up
Tell us about your cooking
I worked on the QE2 in my early cheffing days and many of my dishes are inspired by that period. Shore leave allowed me to explore and shop for fresh and exciting ingredients. Asia, in particular Singapore, blew me away from that perspective. I took that away with me and now great local suppliers producing the highest quality ingredients are key to the success of the ICC. We deliver dining for up to 1,800 covers, yet manage to make each dish feel like it has been created in a fine dining restaurant.
Describe your perfect meal
The one that stands out was with my other half on the French coast. We ate a large pot of beautifully cooked mussels dripping in sauce, served with the best crispy fries and freshly baked crusty bread.
How did you become a chef?
I worked in the fruit and veg markets when I was 16, then through a chance conversation between my Nan, who ran a pub in Harborne, and her local butcher I managed to get an apprenticeship at the Plough and Harrow Hotel. Inspiring head chef John Sweeney ran the kitchen like clockwork – it was like watching 20 chefs performing on a West End stage! I worked there for four years and the training put my career on the best possible path.
What do you eat when at home?
I tend to go straight to the vegetable drawer in the fridge and create a one-pan wonder by adding a bit of this and a bit of that. The very best meal at home is one that is cooked for me, that’s why I’m always at my mother-in-law’s house as she cooks the best Irish fry up.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why?
And who’s the best in Brum? In the world it’s Spanish chef Ferran Adria – he is ground breaking. In Birmingham it’s Luke Tipping of Simpsons restaurant. Andy Waters of Waters on the Square is also amazing. If you could bottle his passion you’d make a fortune.
Is the customer always right?
You should never be afraid to try something new and sometimes customer feedback can make the dish even better. The skill of a chef is to understand the dish and find the perfect ground that makes it a 10 out of 10.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
There are many. If you are competitive and challenge your own abilities, the personal sense of achievement and teamwork bring great rewards.
What’s the worst thing about being a chef?
Cooking steak well done!!
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I’ve always enjoyed sport from karate to squash, so I would have trained as a personal fitness coach.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
After all that talk of exercise, I’m now going to recommend the dessert, the mango cannelloni.
SIMON’S RECIPE FOR LEMON MERINGUE PIE
Serves up to 8 people
Pastry case ingredients:
- 125g butter
- 75g icing sugar
- 250g plain flour
- 2 egg yolks
Mix diced butter, icing sugar and flour until texture of breadcrumbs. Then add 2 egg yolks to form a dough and refrigerate for 30 mins. Grease a 10-inch flan tin, roll and cut the pastry and carefully line the tin. Blind bake for 20-25 mins at 170C/338F/Gas Mark 4.
Lemon curd ingredients:
- 225g butter
- 225g sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 5 lemons
Gently heat the diced butter, sugar, the zest and juice of the 5 lemons but do not boil. Whisk into the cooled mixture the eggs and egg yolks. Cook over a low heat stirring all the time until the curd thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Pack the curd into the pre-prepared flan case.
- 3 egg whites
- 150g sugar
Whisk on full speed the egg whites and add the sugar gradually. Once the mixture has formed stiff peaks, pipe on top of the tart. Place into a hot oven for 6-8 mins at 200C/392F/Gas Mark 6 until the meringue is slightly scorched.