Every plate of food served here at the Bella Luce is the culmination of a huge amount of hard work put in by everyone from the farmers and fishermen who supply our ingredients, through to the team behind the doors in the kitchen. The man that leads that team is Simon Mckenzie, our Michelin-trained Head Chef who was two times Channel Islands Chef of the Year in both 2014 and 2016. Simon has had an illustrious career to date and cooked with some of the best in the business, so we sat down with him in-between services to find out more about how he got started in cooking, and what he has planned for the Bella.
Where did you get your love of food and flavour from?
My love of food and flavour came from many people. From a young age I was baking with my gran and great aunt who owned a hotel here on Guernsey - my gran made amazing cakes and my great aunt’s specialties were apple strudel and Jamaica horns, however she is probably one of the strictest chefs that I've worked for and found uses for the wooden spoon past stirring!!!
Did your Dad (Simon's Dad was also a chef) want you to follow him into the kitchen?
My dad never wanted me to be a chef, until one night he found me glued to the TV watching the Roux brothers cooking eggs. After the show he asked if I was sure that's what I wanted to do, and after many yeses he took me into the kitchen and started teaching me to cook properly.
You’ve worked with some big names over the course of your career, including Gordon Ramsey, Marco Pierre White, Paul Gaylor and John Campbell. What was it like learning your craft under these chefs?
Working under those names was amazing, and they all played a massive part in making me the chef that I am today (I'll let you guess which one my temper came from!), however those kitchens were all incredibly tough for different reasons. Gayler taught me organisation and stamina, Marco to ask “why” and question myself, Ramsey how to survive on 4 hours sleep a night over a 6 day week (we started work at 5.30am, got a break from 4 until 4.15pm and then worked until 12.30am 6 days per week!!!), and Campbell was the finishing school.
Having moved to Guernsey several years ago to be closer to your family, what are the best things about living and working here?
Living here is amazing; the quality of life and childhood that my daughter experiences here is everything that I could wish for her.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from the seasons, watching my suppliers on social media to see what is available, as well as looking at my peers and what they are doing.
What are your aims when creating a new dish?
I'm looking for balance of flavour, acidity, texture and temperature - but above all I want it to outsell the last dish that I came up with. Unfortunately, my uncontrollable competitive streak is not limited to other chefs!!
How have you approached designing your menus here at the Bella Luce?
I think I started out sympathetic to the Bella and then have started to push gently along. I think the food is currently really strong and has a fresh approach; it suits the Bella and I strongly feel the Bella is a strong fit for me.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu at the moment, and why?
Right now, I love the quail starter. However there’s a funny story behind that answer; I wasn't completely sure about the quail when I'd tried it in the kitchen - I thought it was good but the team that I'd picked to try it with me before it went live (I always pick a few people from both front and back of house to try dishes before they hit the menus, and listen carefully to what they say before I decide to run with a dish or tweak it) loved it, so I went with it. A few days later I had dinner in the restaurant and went for the quail and loved it! It’s amazing how your palate changes when you haven’t had a hundred things to taste before trying a new dish!!
What can diners expect when they book a table at the Bella?
A taste of where we are now as a business and an entity. We are growing and learning everyday; are we where I would like us to be? No, not yet! But this takes time and training and tweaking. I love the guests that are buying into us along the way and helping us to gain momentum. I don't care what it takes, I want the Bella Luce to be the best hotel and restaurant on the island and then we can look further afield! (I’m still not sure why everyone says I'm competitive...)