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FRESH and Festive: Chef Simon Webster – New Zealand Cuisine Meets East Texas

Chef Simon Webster draws his culinary inspiration from all over: New Zealand, where he grew up and went to culinary school. England, where he had a restaurant for more than a decade. And Palestine, Texas, where, for the past eight years, he’s run his own country inn, restaurant, event space and catering service, Sabor a Pasion. www.saborapasion.com

Come meet Chef Simon this weekend when he brings us his brand of global cuisine – with local ingredients, fresh, light flavors and beautiful presentation. He’ll be in the FRESH Taste Kitchen from 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6.

The chef will be preparing a couple of his signature dishes, including New Zealand-style lamb and New Zealand pavlova, a delicate dessert of baked meringue, topped with whipped cream and fresh seasonal fruit, then dusted with powdered sugar.

And he’ll no doubt share some stories from the fascinating culinary journey that’s led him to cook and live all over the world.

Chef Simon was born in Britain but moved as a child to New Zealand.  In 1984, after receiving his culinary training, he went back to England for a year’s holiday – and ended up staying 20 years. He ran his own restaurant, then served as a chef aboard an exclusive airline serving business executives, cooking for 24 diners at an altitude of 30,000 feet. Eventually, he came to the U.S., where he catered, consulted and taught on both the East and West coasts.

He ended up in East Texas when he wanted his own place, drawn by the region’s many lakes, bucolic green setting and easy access to both big cities and great local produce.  More recently, the chef has added a small winery and an outdoor pizza oven, where he sometimes even teaches local 4-H kids the fine art of pizza-making.

That globetrotting career has given the chef a fresh outlook on food: He likes to take ingredients and use them in an unexpected way, as in one of his favorite dishes, a pan-seared scallop and grapefruit salad. He likes mixing unexpected product, like New Zealand lamb, with beautiful, local produce grown on a nearby farm. And he lavishes attention on presentation – since appearance and aroma can contribute almost as much to a dish as flavor.

“There is a big world of food out there and people get stuck in ruts,” he told me. “When I go into someone’s house to do a cooking class, I’ll take a look in their kitchen and tell them, You’ve got all this stuff, let’s try to do all this in a different way, try something new.”

That said, there’s always one constant in his signature dish, the pavlova: “There’s always kiwi fruit,” Chef Simon says. “You’ve got to have that.”

Come meet the chef on Sunday and let him help shake up your kitchen routine.