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Catering for all tastes

Chef, restaurateur, television presenter, Simon Rimmer has led a colourful life; green of food, but fervently red of football. Rupert Bates joins him for a virtual brunch

 Rupert Bates   Spring 2021

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 #BBQMag #bbq365 #BBQ #SimonRimmer

 
 

 

 

One grandmother’s delicious apple pie he can still taste today; the other granny’s exquisite Italian cooking, the fondest of memories. No wonder Simon Rimmer grew up loving food.

So, what did he do? He studied fashion and textile design at university. Student life, whatever your financial state, does however take you into bars and Rimmer was soon working shifts in them. He immediately took to the hospitality industry and “the brilliant, bonkers people in it”.

He did put his degree to some use for a while, but then, as you do, Rimmer decided to buy a restaurant and, with plenty of bumps in the road, he was on his way. He is now a regular fixture on our television screens with his Channel 4 Sunday Brunch show alongside Tim Lovejoy and sharing his love of live fire through his Grilling podcast, produced in association with Weber.

But back to the starter and Rimmer and his business partner Simon Connolly pick up the story... ‘Once upon a time, two 20-something would-be-heroes were putting the world to rights over a Nepalese curry and a beverage or two, when they spied a little vegetarian café in the fabled land of Lapwing Lane, West Didsbury, Manchester.

“Wouldn’t that be the perfect venue for a proper vegetarian restaurant?” sighed Simon. “One with scrumptious dishes and exciting ingredients that aren’t 10 years behind the best restaurants in town?”

“Absolutely,” agreed Simon. And then, after another beverage or two, they went home.’

The back story is wittily told on the Greens restaurant website and the next day they spotted a For Sale sign outside the vegetarian café. An impulse buy, a fib to the bank to obtain a loan and they were away – sort of. No surprise to learn the title of Rimmer’s first cookbook was The Accidental Vegetarian.

With the restaurant marketing line of ‘Terrifying carnivores since 1990’ you may now be wondering if you have picked up the right magazine, but it is very much tongue in ox cheek. Rimmer is a great advocate and lover of barbecuing and eating meat.

However, first and foremost, he is all about celebrating the best ingredients and that includes championing vegetarian food. When it comes to cooking, Rimmer is all about what you can do with food, be you carnivore, vegetarian, vegan or omnivore, not what you should do with food.

He will wax lyrical about a cut of beef, but equally about the potatoes we produce in this country, or the amazing array of cheeses. Blessed indeed are the cheesemakers.

“I taught myself to cook and love buying produce from local markets, tasting and experimenting with ingredients,” says Rimmer. Bringing vegetarians and meat eaters together, cooking for both with equal passion and panache, is some feat of food diplomacy.

To the grill and Rimmer extols the virtues of the #bbq365 movement, cooking outside all-year round. “More and more people are realising what a fantastic oven a barbecue can be; better than anything inside. I honestly prefer barbecuing in winter than summer. When it is cold you get that moisture in the atmosphere and the flavours from low and slow meat, fish and vegetables are fantastic,”

 

 

“There is also something incredibly rewarding when you bring the food back inside from the cold, almost as if you’ve somehow worked harder for it and it tastes better. Cooking outside feels more of an achievement, rather than pulling down the oven door inside and impassively saying: ‘yes that’s done’.”

It was on an episode of his Grilling podcast that Nadiya Hussain told Rimmer about her love of barbecue. “We barbecue all year round. We prefer to barbecue in the cold. Barbecuing and cooking outside comes completely naturally to me,” said The Great British Bake Off winner, television presenter and author.

“I love to barbecue in the winter. I hate the idea that barbecues get put away when it gets cold; keep them out. They create heat. Get a coat on and get out there barbecuing,” says Hussain. Rimmer recalls a conversation with Tom Kerridge, who featured in the launch issue of BBQ magazine.

“Tom said a turning point for him was when he read Marco Pierre White’s book White Heat, thinking ‘I want to be that level of chef’. For Tom it was a pivotal moment,” says Rimmer. And pivots and sliding doors are central to his podcasts, asking his chef guests like Kerridge for those moments in time that directed their career journey, or indeed changed their life.

Rick Stein told Grilling that he started with a Padstow nightclub that he had to close because there were too many fights, so he turned it into his first restaurant and Stein’s turned out pretty good at spinning plates rather than discs. A regular feature in the podcast, as the name suggests, is live fire talk, with Rimmer setting his guests a BBQ recipe challenge.

“All my guests are passionate about BBQ cooking. It provides another dimension whoever you are. I find it very relaxing away from the commercial kitchen, but also thinking sometimes, as I discover new flavours, ‘gosh I wish I could make this happen in the kitchen’.

Some people can be intimidated by barbecue, so it is great for listeners to hear Michelin Star chefs like Paul Ainsworth enthusing about live fire cooking.” While recognising the social draw of fire and smoke which invariably triggers a party vibe, Rimmer enjoys the opportunity for solitude too.

“I quite like it when everybody else in indoors and I can escape to check the barbecue with a glass in hand and a bit of isolation. I enjoy a party too!”

We are talking during the third lockdown, with the hospitality industry taking hammer blow after hammer blow and, as BBQ went to press, no clear end in sight. Rimmer has a portfolio of a dozen restaurants in the UK, including his original Greens, Rudy’s pizza restaurants and Albert’s Schloss in Manchester, which screams Bavaria and beer.

“Of course, it’s incredibly tough and difficult decisions to make with jobs lost. While I totally understand the impact and threat of the pandemic, hospitality has been held up as a spreader of the virus, when the industry has put so much time and effort into making guests and employees safe.”

Rimmer the restaurateur has now added drink to his business portfolio, investing in Tappers gin, handcrafted in small batches in a distillery on the Wirral Peninsula. Sunday Brunch has continued through lockdown, three hours of live television every week.

Rimmer first worked with Tim Lovejoy on the BBC show Something for the Weekend and the pair have hosted Sunday Brunch since 2012. “We’re essentially allowed to mess around for three hours with great guests. It is deliberately not slick and shiny, perfect for a lazy Sunday morning.”

On one episode the perils of live television left Rimmer with no gas to cook on and he improvised brilliantly, ‘sizzling’ sound effects and all. A charcoal barbecue on standby next time Simon?

Away from the grill, Rimmer, from Birkenhead, is a massive Liverpool football fan and was terrified last year when there was talk of cancelling the Premier League season with Liverpool on the cusp of their first title in 30 years. So red is his family, his grandfather even turned down a professional contract with Everton.

Tranmere Rovers is very much his second team and ‘The history of Tranmere Rovers’ was his specialist subject on Celebrity Mastermind, and, up for most challenges, Rimmer also appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2015. As for the future in these uniquely challenging times, the passionate Liverpool supporter knows as well as anybody that at the end of a storm there’s a golden sky. Walk on, grill on.

 


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