Five minutes with a Legend: Patrizia Simone

Published on 26 February 2021

Photo: Patrizia Simon of Simones Cooking School in Bright

Patrizia Simone has shaped the culinary reputation of Victoria’s north-east as a chef who champions local producers, simple cooking and eating by the seasons. 

She came to Australia at 21, having developed a passion for cooking from her mother, a professional cook in Perugia. Her talents were further enhanced by culinary experiences in France and England. In 1986, Patrizia opened the award-winning Simone’s of Bright with her late husband George Simone, inspired by family recipes from her childhood in rural Italy. For 18 years, they ran the restaurant from their motel in Bright, before moving to an elegant 19th century house in the heart of town. The restaurant closed in 2016 after 30 years. Patrizia continues to share her knowledge at her Country Cooking School in Bright, and has led culinary tours to Umbria in Italy since 2005, providing guests with an authentic insight into the food and culture of her home region. Patrizia was inducted into the MFWF Legends Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2012, Patrizia published her part-memoir, part-recipe book, My Umbrian Kitchen.

The proudest moment in my career has been in the 1970s in France when I learned to make chocolate mousse from an old French chef who did not like women. It took about 300 mousses before I proved my ability.

The mistake that taught me the most was forgetting to trust my own skills and knowledge. For instance, listening to a customer when I should have respected my own knowledge.

My first job in hospitality was working at an Italian restaurant in England in 1975 that served the worst Italian food I’ve ever seen. It was the type of Italian food that English people wanted to eat, with lots of sauce and batter. Things that Italians don't use.

The reason I got into this industry was my husband George and I wanted to have a business together. We both loved people. I loved cooking and was good at it. It seemed a great opportunity.

The reason I stayed was because my mother used to say, “either you’re born to be a hotelier or you are not; if you can’t be bothered you’re not in the right spot”. Both George and I loved people, cared for people, and enjoyed serving them. That’s why we stayed, despite the business being hard work. 

My mentor is not a single person. It was my family, especially in Italy when I was growing up. They encouraged me to create dishes and lead by example when using local and seasonal produce. The simple farm life in Italy led me to do something similar in Victoria’s Alpine Valleys.

If there’s one positive thing to come out of this lockdown experience, I think it’s people realising they live in a country with great produce, who are learning to cook for themselves and discovering it’s easier than they expected.

If I could return to any moment in the Victorian hospitality industry of the last 50 years, I’d choose the early 1990s when the food was exciting, and Australians were discovering new produce. I recall a beautiful moment in my restaurant for example, when a 16-year-old boy eating rabbit, said it was the best meal he'd ever eaten.

But the most exciting development in the Victorian hospitality industry in the last five years is people nowadays value and respect our local small businesses and producers so much more than they ever have. Chefs have always known the value of good local produce. Now people are understanding this same value.

Keep up with what’s cooking in Patrizia’s kitchen online or call her directly on 0439 952 022 to book a cooking class.

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