COOKING good quality food 400 students and teachers can be a challenge, but Simon Owens, 36, loved it.

But managing the chefs meant he didn’t have time to do what he loved most – cooking the food, and so he decided to take a chance on the Head Chef position at Kitchen in Jordan’s Courtyard.

Simon said: “It has been a bit of a steep learning curve, because rather than knowing that I have 400 people in for dinner, we could have 20 or 200 and its meant we can produce more intimate food with care and attention.”

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Simons cooking career 

Simon started his career as a 13-year-old pot wash in his home county of Cornwall.

After catering college, his first job was at The Imperial in Torquay where he was a Commis Chef – so it was a jump straight into fine dining.

Taking a gap year before University, Simon then travelled to Canada to work in a children’s home.

He explained: “And then I got a job working in an exclusive resort as front of house for two seasons, this was a real mixed bag of Canadian foods, so it was a different style to what I was used to.”

After two years in Canada, Simon decided that University wasn’t for him and so worked for the restaurants in Wyevale garden centres for a while and then moved onto catering in independent schools such as Kings College in Taunton.

Simon said: “I really really loved it. It was a really different style of cooking. The quality of food had to be that much better and the kids were used to eating out in expensive places and so their expectation of food was much higher. It taught me an awful lot about budgets and quality food.

“I’ve been really fortunate, where I have travelled it has always been really foodie.

“I grew up in Cornwall with loads of seafood and that was just amplified in Canada – on the East Coast it’s all about lobsters and shellfish."

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Is Somerset a 'foodie' place? 

He continued: “Somerset is absolutely a foodie place. It’s one of the reasons I have settled down here rather than going to Cornwall, because the opportunity and level of ingredients as a chef is great.

“We’ve got awesome pork, awesome apples and we’re right by the sea so plenty of shellfish. We are really perfectly situated for lots of really good food.”

Now Simon has thoroughly enjoyed his first year at Kitchen and loves the freedom he has to experiment and create dishes.

Simon added: “I am free to do pretty much whatever I want. They had brought two pizza ovens so pizza had to feature and now we do sourdough pizza, which is slightly chewier but now you have that amazing sourdough flavour in there.

“We serve mainly British cuisine. It is about cooking the food we like to cook. Our menu changes monthly so we can change things up and show a bit more care and attention. There is no defined ‘we are this’ because then we can change it.”

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Importance of ingredients 

Maple syrup is the one ingredient Simon couldn’t live without after spending so much time in Canada. Simon explained that you can put it in coffee and it is also brilliant for glazing fish dishes.

Simon said: “The dishes are definitely enhanced by the ingredients that we get. The closer relationship we have with our suppliers, then the better our ingredients become.”

Local and fresh produce is very important to the ethos of Kitchen.

Simon is keen to create relationships with local suppliers and keep those he has already found.

Longmans in Castle Carey supplies the dairy, Bonners of Ilminster suppliers their meat, Brown and Forrest supply the smoked fish and chicken, the sourdough comes from the Kitchen bakery in Langport.

At Kitchen everything is homemade, even the brown sauce, ketchup and baked beans.

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Simon said: “The local produce that we get is far superior to anything else that you travel miles to get.

“Chefs can only produce food as good as the ingredients they use. For us, that’s why we make things ourselves as we know exactly what’s going into the product.

“I think you have to love the food you cook or there’s no point in doing it. Like with so many other roles, if you don’t love what you’re doing then there’s no point in doing it.

“With food, it’s obvious if chefs don’t enjoy what they’re doing.

“We have a great team here. We don’t want to be set in how things have to be done, there’s no pressure to leave etc.

“We try to have a get together once a month, we have a meal together to keep that community there.

“The last year has been great. This place itself has been an absolute transformation.”

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