Henley Life - November 2018 - page 10

INTERVIEW
There are restaurants, and then, there is
The Crown, at Burchetts Green. This ancient
country pub, in a leafy village, is full of
surprises. Cindy Burrowes went to talk
about food and family with chef patron,
Simon Bonwick.
“I had mumps when I was eight or nine and I
watched
Mr Benn
– it was the one with the
princess who wouldn’t eat. I just thought –
yes! Mr Benn put the white chef’s outfit on –
that was when I could see it forever and I have
never really wanted to do anything else after
that,” said Simon Bonwick sitting by the fire in
the welcoming dining room, with his own
impressionist-style paintings decorating the
walls.
This kingdom has been a long time in the
making.
Simon, 50, can best be described as a force of
nature and, while he describes the spirits he
feels in the ancient building, or his vision of
carrots as living entities, one feels he really
does harness the essence of the raw produce
that he turns into unforgettable food.
For five years he has been cooking
passionately from the tiny kitchen at The
Crown. It has been awarded many accolades
and has retained its Michelin Star – the
pinnacle of culinary recognition around the
world, with only 160 awarded in the UK.
However Simon still calls it a pub, and wants
it to have that same warm welcome, and to
belong to its environment.
The soulful eyed, wild-haired chef had a
classical training and paid his dues for 16
years in grand, French kitchens where he
became skilled in the traditional culinary arts.
Over the past 20 years he has produced his
acclaimed food at the Bull and Butcher at
Turville, Black Boys Inn in Hurley and the Old
House at Home and the Three Tuns in Henley.
When he just couldn’t make ends meet
through his passion for serving his own food
any longer, he spent two years as a private
chef in London and cleared his debts. Then he
just couldn’t resist The Crown, which he is
convinced kept ‘winking’ at him as he drove
past. So he had another go, under the
watchful eye of his bookkeeper wife, Debra.
Simon’s crowning glory...
“We have been through it all business-wise,
but because we are solid as a family it hasn’t
affected us at all. And that is key. This place is
all about family,” said Simon.
“I couldn’t have done it without the children
and the family taking over, definitely down to
a family effort – it is not about me.”
The family is his wife of 28 years, and their
nine children. The eldest, Dean, is 28 and the
youngest, Rosie is three. The large family live
in Marlow where Debra had all her children
born at home, and where they all went to
Greater Marlow School.
George is 26 and dips in and out of the family
business, Adam is 23, and is now shipbroking
in the City. However the others seem to have
their roots firmly based in the kitchen or front
of house. India, 21, works full time at The
Crown, as does Charlie, 17, who is his father’s
sous chef. Florence, 16, works the tables every
weekend and Billy, 13, helps out when school
and football allow, but would rather be at The
Crown full time.
“They are all very good at understanding
people, they read people very well, “said the
proud Dad who firmly puts The Crown’s
Michelin success down to Dean, who now
runs the restaurant and, one suspects, his
father.
Simon had run the restaurant solo for the
first two years, from producing the food to
Simon Bonwick and his older children with PM
Theresa May, a regular at The Crown.
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Fell Photography 2016
HENLEY
life
| NOVEMBER 2018
10
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