“My first dream was to fly and then to become an aviator,” says Queenstown-based French chef Fabien Simon. “That’s still a big ambition of mine for the next decade, but now my true dream is to give back to my parents for this amazing education that I have received. I also want to help people learn how to feed themselves in a more responsible way, to embrace cooking and to share it with their families.”
Some of Fabien’s best memories are times spent sharing food with friends and family. Family is clearly very important to the chef who was inspired to establish catering company My Private Chef “to be an entrepreneur just like my dad”. His services include cooking classes, dinner parties and meal planning in the comfort of your very own home or other venue of choice.
“I love the path that my career has taken,” Fabien continues, “but it can be hard to dedicate enough time to your family when working late and putting in 12-hour shifts.” He makes up for that by “playing like crazy with my baby girl” and doing “almost all of the cooking at home”. Though, he does add, wisely, that his wife “contributes in many other important ways” and admits that he’s greatly helped by his Thermomix.
Born and raised in Bordeaux in southwest France, Fabien says he grew up with “home cooking at its best”. “My mum bestowed in me my first love of food,” he goes on, “preparing simple but superbly-made meals.” With his love of all things gastronomic well-established, Fabien got his first summer kitchen job aged 14. “I was lucky to be born in country that so embraces food,” he says. “It was a hard job, but it strengthened my passion and desire to make a career out of it.”
Having cut his teeth in a “bustling brasserie” founded by three of his country’s most prominent chefs—Paul Bocuse, Gaston Lenôtre and Roger Vergé—by the age of 23, Fabien was sous chef of “a brigade of 15 chefs serving up to 400 covers a day”. Stints on an elite Mediterranean cruise ship followed as well as at La Grande Vigne, a two-Michelin Star restaurant back in Bordeaux. The well-travelled chef has also worked kitchens in Australia, New Caledonia and Myanmar. Having lived in Queenstown for 10 years, Fabien has been executive chef at the Crown Plaza and head chef at Millbrook’s The Millhouse before starting My Private Chef two years ago.
“Another reason why I stated the business was to prove to myself that I was capable of doing it,” he says. “It excites me to share my passion for food with others—teaching, inspiring and creating memorable occasions.”
I conclude by asking Fabien if he prefers the private catering gig to working in regular eateries.
“Yes, 100%, though I still wish to be partially connected to the hospitality world, probably more on a consultancy basis. With my business I can connect more with my guests, which I believe brings another layer to the dining experience. I also get to experience a range of wonderful locations, some with some incredible views of Queenstown! It keeps things interesting, and of course, one of the very best thing about being a chef is that you never stop learning new skills.”