From a childhood helping to run his father’s market stall, and working in kitchens since 13 years of age, to Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay’s The Warrington and at top London landmarks Claridge's and The Ivy - Simon Levy’s food has family at the core.
Simon and wife Lisa chose to open a restaurant that is an extension of their home, inviting guests in to relax at the chef’s table by sharing food, wine and conversation in a fun way. Inati in Christchurch offers seasonally-inspired tasting plates together with “middle of the table” large plates, for sharing with good company, inspired by Earth, Land and Sea.
“I really enjoy creating dishes for the earth section. Often when a guest eats one of these plates they don’t realise there’s no meat contained nor do they miss it.”
Levy finds inspiration everywhere - taking his children to the dairy, meeting a new grower, foraging, and reminiscing on childhood memories.
“Lately, I keep thinking back to when I used to come home from school (as now my children - Harry, 11 and Ivy, 7 - do). You get in and just want to chuck your bag down and eat something. When I used to get home, my mum would toast a crumpet and spread some butter on them and I would go outside and eat.”
This memory was the inspiration for Levy’s latest innovation, a dish that takes trimmed celeriac skin to make a burnt celeriac and shallot stock, used to make a crumpet batter and a whipped celeriac panna cotta. Using the whole celeriac, the shoots are pickled and the leaves are dried to make a seasoning, finished off with smoked celeriac discs with a umami meaty flavour. Guests build their own crumpets just as Levy did.
Levy also finds inspiration and excitement in the change of seasons, with fresh produce to play with in the kitchen and opportunity to watch guests enjoy new experiences. Again drawing from childhood memories, Inati currently has a mallow puff on its menu - a roasted parsnip, apple and pinot noir filling dipped in marshmallow and dark chocolate. The dish mixes sweet and savoury and plays with guests' perceptions of food.
Creating a family environment for the team at Inati is Levy’s favourite part of hospitality work. The last two years have brought major challenges, as the Covid-19 pandemic saw the hospitality industry lose incredibly talented people. Simon and Lisa worked through the lockdowns and restrictions, rethinking their recruitment strategy to mentor and counsel their staff throughout. Finding talented people who see the hospitality industry as a career will continue to be a challenge, and Levy hopes New Zealand will work towards more accredited training programs such as those offered in Europe and America. Levy, now, finds himself not just as chef and business owner, but as front of house on nights that he is needed on the restaurant floor.
In the midst of pandemic challenges, Simon and Lisa also opened their second hospitality venture Hali Bar & Bistro, and learned to manage across two venues.
Levy hopes to see the hospitality industry become a career that children grow up into and want to work in, rather than a stop gap before another job. Simon and Lisa hope to continue creating memories for their families (both at home and work) and teach their children the joys of working in the industry, helping them reach their full potential if they choose the hospitality life.
Levy’s advice for those at the beginning of their hospitality journey?
“You need to LOVE!”