Simon Wood is a MasterChef winner 2015, Food Porn Awards People’s Choice Award Winner 2018, restauranteur & owner of WOOD Manchester and WOODKraft Cheltenham, author of the cookbook “At Home With Simon Wood” and Executive Chef at Oldham Athletic Football Club.
A man with such a lot on his plate makes you wonder, how does he do it all?
He talks to us about his journey so far which began when he could reach the top of an oven….
Food Porn Awards: How did you become a restaurant owner?
Simon: After winning MasterChef in 2015, I knew I wanted cooking to be my full-time career. I was a data manager previously and while I’d always been good with numbers, food was where my true passion & creativity lay, and still does today. Soon after winning MasterChef and making a name for myself it was a no-brainer for me to open a restaurant in my hometown of Manchester and I love it.
What has the journey been like?
From the day I entered MasterChef, every day has been a whirlwind. Everything happened very quickly for me but that’s because I worked hard and I knew I wanted to be a full-time chef more than anything. Since winning, I’ve opened WOOD Manchester and my artisan eatery WOODKraft Cheltenham and been appointed Executive Chef at Oldham Athletic Football Club, all of which I never could have dreamed of beforehand.
Has it always been your aim?
I started cooking as soon as I could reach the top of an oven! I’ve always loved food but I’d say my passion began when I was eight years old and I won a competition to be anything I wanted for a day – of course, I chose to be a chef! Thirty years later here I am and I couldn’t be happier.
What drew you to the hospitality industry?
My dream has always been to make a living doing something that I love which, for me, has always been cooking and hopefully giving people a great experience along the way. Basically if it’s making food, eating, drinking or talking about cooking, I’m going to love it.
What does food mean to you?
It’s everything. It’s my career, it’s what I’ve strived for most of my life. I love the way food brings people together – it’s everyone’s common ground as everyone has to eat, so why not make it a great experience. I couldn’t imagine my life without it really.
Describe how the past year has been for you since winning the People’s Choice Award last year.
It was such an honour winning the award last year, knowing that genuine people are routing for you and wanting you to do well means so much. Since then the year has gone by so fast but I’ve opened a new eatery in Cheltenham and announced plans for the opening of WOOD in Chester with Hotel Indigo – all in all, a successful year. What it boils down to for me is that it’s nice to know people like your food, no matter who it is.
Tell us about your future plans.
I’ll be opening Wood Chester later in 2019 – it will offer the same ethos as the restaurant in Manchester. We serve modern interpretations of traditional flavours with a focus on simple, seasonal dishes with the odd surprise along the way. I have been delighted by how well we have been received in Manchester and can’t wait to take the restaurant to Chester with Hotel Indigo. They are a great brand that really fits with ours and we know there are plenty of foodies in Chester to enjoy my food.
Me being me, I also have a couple of slightly different ideas in the works too – can’t say anything at this stage but watch this space.
What do you think is the key to running a successful restaurant and what advice do you wish you had been given/ the best advice you were given for opening a restaurant?
You always think you can do it, cooking in a professional kitchen, but you don’t know until you get there. That’s the moment you know whether you’re in it to win it. It’s the tipping point. You know at that moment whether this is what you want for a professional career. You either go to pieces or you rise above it and never want to go back to work again. You’ll only ever really know if you give it a try and in my case I had nothing to lose. To anyone looking to open their own restaurant, just prepare for it to be more difficult than you imagined – there’s a lot to think about and if you don’t have a good team around you then you’re destined to fail.
Describe an average ‘day in your life’- both a work day and a day off.
It’s difficult as when you run a restaurant and your own business no two days are ever really the same. I’m in the kitchen in Manchester most days but also head down to Cheltenham around once a fortnight. I work long days and I love running so I’ll sometimes take a break to run in between shifts or run to work in the morning. Even when I’m at home I’m usually thinking about food so I can even think up new dishes while out running before practising them at home. If it’s just me at home I’ll cook all the ingredients and plate them up. Any days off I do get are usually spent with my kids or at a heavy metal gig!
What are your food predictions for next year and what do you think we going to be see more of on menus?
I can’t say for anyone else but for me personally, I love nothing more than being inspired by food on my travels. I’m a big fan of Adam Handling at The Frog in London. Marcus Wareing, Gordon Ramsay, Michael Caines, Daniel Clifford. There’s loads. You never stop learning with food. If you can take the same ingredients and make something different every time than that is the making of a great chef in my eyes.
Where are your favourite places to eat out?
My schedule is so hectic I don’t get to eat out as much as I’d like to. It took us a long time to find the perfect site for WOOD in Manchester and a huge selling point in the end was First Street. If I do go out it’s round there – you can play golf, have chicken wings and pizza, coffee, fine dining, tomahawk steaks, beers next door. You can have health food, go to the cinema or theatre, go to the gym, and stay over at the hotel. There is nothing you can’t do on First Street and we’re like a proper little community.
What is your all-time favourite dish?
As chef it’s so difficult for me to pick just one – what food you like is all dependent on mood and who you’re with. That being said I can never say no to a burger.
What ingredient could you not live without?
I don’t know about my favourite ever ingredient but there’s one dish in my book [At Home with Simon Wood – Fine Dining made Simple] that uses one ingredient – cauliflower! There are some spices but essentially it’s cauliflower and, to me, it looks outstanding. If someone can generate that dish with some inspiration from my book then I’ll be made up.