Interview with celebrity chef Simon Rimmer

Simon Rimmer believes cooking is about exciting people it should be sociable, straightforward and sparkling

Interview with celebrity chef Simon Rimmer

Interview by: Siobhan O'Neill

'It's my favourite ingredient in the world. Seriously, I love it, it's brilliant!' Vegetarian Living's new columnist, the chef Simon Rimmer, is talking about beetroot, of all things. 'I've always loved it, I think it's very versatile,' he says. 'I don't think there are many other ingredients that you can eat raw, that you can roast, that you can pickle, that you can put into sweet things, into savoury things... I just think it's great.'

Simon is perhaps best known as the resident chef/presenter on the BBC2 show Something for the Weekend, but he's also the cooking brains behind award-winning vegetarian restaurant Greens, based in Manchester.

A non-vegetarian himself, Simon nevertheless likes to champion vegetarian cooking, and has written two books – The Accidental Vegetarian and The Seasoned Vegetarian – to encourage more meat-eaters to occasionally ditch the ubiquitous chicken and try something just a little bit different.

With Simon helping make Greens a success for the past 20 years, he's an expert in vegetarian cuisine and what you need to make veggie food exciting for people who love meat. 'Our plan was, could you have a vegetarian restaurant that was regarded in a similar way as, say, going for a Chinese?' explains Simon. 'You don't have to be Chinese to enjoy Chinese food, therefore you don't have to be vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian food, and it's worked – our customer base is 70 per cent carnivorous. What we do is very exciting food that happens to have no meat in it.'

Simon has transferred his no-nonsense approach to his books as well. 'I think sometimes vegetarian recipes and books have so many ingredients and so many techniques that if you're not a veggie you think, "Oh for God's sake, I haven't got any of those 22 ingredients to make it!" Whereas I think my recipes tend to be quite straightforward,' he says.

In the restaurant, Simon says he still hears, the classic line of 'I didn't even realise it was vegetarian', or 'I imagined I was going to be hungry and it would all be brown'. 'It's quite exciting still now to get that reaction from people.' So he's taken that to his recipes, but he's not interested in turning people off eating meat. 'I think what you hope is that people look and think, "You know what, I could do that and it sounds delicious."'

Simon likes to use seasonal and regional ingredients as much as possible, but while he says it's paramount to keep that in your mind when shopping, he also admits, 'There are times of the year when it's a very difficult thing to do and the reality is that as an island, if we didn't import food we would starve within three months. I think sometimes we all get a little too het up about "Oh, I'm only going to eat things that are seasonal and regional." Well, you'll have a bit of a dull life if you do that really!'

And returning to the beetroot, Simon says he loves his favourite ingredient because it's so versatile, and because of its unique flavour. 'It's one of those things that tastes of the earth in its purest form,' he says. 'If you were making any kind of casserole, pop some grated beetroot into it and you get that little bit of earthiness as a back flavour.' And look out for a few surprises in Simon's recipes, because he reveals beetroot is the secret ingredient to his moist sponges. 'We use it in our chocolate cake!' he grins.

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