Food Features

Simon Gueller – Kitchen Shackles Off

Below is the interview I did with Chef Simon Gueller on his reasons for leaving the restaurant kitchen behind. Simon is one of Yorkshire’s most prominent chefs and the only one to have held a Michelin star at each of his restaurants.

The article in its entirety can be seen on the Yorkshire Post website if you are a subscriber. Otherwise, have a read below.

Images of Chef Simon Gueller

Simon Gueller – This Time it is Personal

Renowned Yorkshire-born chef Simon Gueller holds, to date, the record for the only chef in the county to have had a Michelin star at each of his three restaurants. That is no mean feat, for sure. His years at the stove have brought him many local and national accolades, yet, after 40 years, he has decided to hang up his apron, at least where restaurants are concerned.

“I want more time to spend with my family, downtime perhaps or maybe just doing nothing,” he says. “I love cooking, but there are other things I love too.” Simon is also a keen cyclist and can be seen whizzing around the Yorkshire Dales and other challenging Yorkshire landscapes often.

Simon was just 24 years old when he returned to Yorkshire as both head chef and owner of Millers in Harrogate after a spell in London. He took the town by storm and caught the attention of the AA, who awarded him 3 rosettes.

But it was his move to Leeds, a city that was very much changing and growing significantly in the city centre with the development of the river and canal banks, and cleverly where Simon opened Rascasse, right on Canal Wharfe. Rascasse quickly became one of the most prominent restaurants in the city under Gueller and soon gained national attention when he received his first Michelin star. His second star came at the eponymous Guellers in Leeds and, at the same time, he was awarded Yorkshire Chef of the Year.

In 2002 Gueller took over the eminent Box Tree restaurant in Ilkley, and there he stayed until late 2022. He gained another Michelin star but sadly lost it in 2019. Losing the star was, in his own words, a huge disappointment’, and Simon took the blame for it feeling he had taken his eye off the ball. He put a new team in place, a couple of head chefs came and went; Simon came back to the stove; there was, at one time, even talk of a sale back then, but it continued even post-pandemic until the decision to move on in 2022.

Simon’s cooking is deeply rooted in French classical technique, founded on years of learning how food and ingredients work. He doesn’t discount technology, saying, “It (technology) can do stunning things with food without difficulty.” Still, with his grounding and being considered a master of putting his personal touch into food, he has kept his cooking fresh and contemporary across the years.

Right from his earliest days cooking, Simon says he gravitated toward pastry – not the shortcrust stuff, but the pastry section in the restaurant, the bread, desserts, pastries, etc. His long-time friend and sometimes co-chef Marco Pierre White told Simon early doors that “you can’t be a chef without doing pastry,” though jokingly Simon added that over the years, he had wondered if Marco was just short of staff in the pastry kitchen when he said that. However, given that the pastry section can so often be the nemesis of many chefs as it takes patience, detail and a skilled hand, we suspect Marco was right. The pair have been friends since childhood, growing up in Leeds, and both have a shared passion for food and enjoy a spot of fishing together when possible.  The Box Tree in Ilkley is where Marco started his restaurant career and, now, seemingly where Simon ceases his.

Over the years, Simon has also mentored and inspired many young chefs, and as he admits, “I love to teach.” One of the many he has influenced is Daniel Clifford, now a prominent chef in his own right as chef patron of the Two Star Midsummer House in Cambridge. At just 18, he turned up to work alongside Gueller and Marco Pierre White at the Box Tree, and later worked for Gueller at Millers and latterly at Rascasse for a couple of years, declaring later that those years “were the backbone of my career.”

So will Simon miss the frenzied, stressed environment of the professional kitchen? “I will miss the adrenalin, but I am glad to remove the shackles of the many aspects of running a restaurant,” he says ” I already can feel the reawakening of my passion for cooking and my creativity with this new chapter.”

In this new phase for Gueller, he has declared that “this time his business is personal”. He is no longer chasing the stars and the plaudits – lovely as they are. He is doing what he wants and the way he wants. He feels ‘the criteria needed for those accolades pushes back creativity.”

His new venture will not have the confines of a physical restaurant; he simply wants to take his immense talent and creativity into private homes. “There won’t be any starched white tablecloths”, he says with a wry smile, “what I want to get across is that fine dining can be accessible and in a relaxed context.” Be that for two or twenty-two people, or more, Simon says he is open to all possibilities. He is willing to explore what is personal to each happening; there is no prescriptive. He and his team will bring their years of experience to deliver an extraordinary dining experience in the home.

At Simon’s side throughout the ups and downs of these years has been Rena, his wife and partner in the businesses; Simon in the kitchen, Rena out front and forward with her own talented skill set for dealing with so much of the day to day running, renovating, and supporting a talented chef-husband and a home. The two are hospitality royalty in Yorkshire with what they have achieved so eminently over the years. She, too, is alongside Simon in this new phase they are about to embark on and the (hopefully) more time to enjoy together and with family and friends.

Though he and Rena have put their Ilkley home on the market, they are very proud of what the town means to them. “We’re so proud to be based in Ilkley,” he says. The town is surrounded by the Yorkshire Dales and host to a variety of excellent restaurants, cafés, bars and food shops.” “We are lucky to have access to an abundance of local suppliers who take great pride in their wares – from award-winning cheesemakers, butchers and greengrocers.”

So, at a time when Simon could so easily be removing his apron for good, it is a testament to his love of food and cooking that he wants to carry on, even though not in the way we are used to seeing him.  There are endless possibilities with the talented chef. How remarkable is the possibility of having him in your home and cooking for you? Exciting times all around, hopefully. 

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