For those that aren’t familiar with my new series, I’ve decided to do a take on ‘Humans of New York’ but for people who call Manchester home.
People of MCR (#peopleofmcr) will try and tell the story of this incredible city and all the people who contribute to it being the fastest growing city in Europe.
I reached out to Simon Wood, Master Chef winner and owner of Wood Restaurant Group, to ask if we could sit down and tell his story as the first 'People of MCR' feature. Luckily, he said yes and I headed over to the flagship Manchester restaurant on Jack Rosenthal Street.
So how does this work? I will get each person to tell me their story in their own words, of how they got to where they are today. I will share that story along with some photos for context.
Each person featured will then be asked the same question – Why Manchester?
Simon, like everyone else had a bad day at work in 2014, except this one changed his life.
As a data scientist, he’d watched Master Chef for a number of years as an armchair chef, convinced that he could produce something that would compete with the contestants on the show. This bad day at work forced him to finally apply for the show.
Simon had always wanted to have a change of career with a passion for food and cooking, but having children at an early age, providing for his family was his first priority. However, he soon had the opportunity to combine the two.
Simon won the 2015 series of the show, which began a media coverage explosion. This coverage and his ability as a chef, allowed him to secure roles working alongside big names such as Marcus Wareing, Theo Randall and Simon Rimmer.
This allowed Simon to perfect his craft before moving to be the executive chef at Oldham Athletic Football Club. While at Oldham AFC, he started a pop up restaurant called ‘The Boardroom’, which would allow Simon to develop his own style, writing the menus that would eventually evolve to the taster menus seen today at Wood Restaurants.
Growing up in Oldham and off the back of his successful first book, ‘At Home with Simon Wood’, he knew exactly where he wanted to start his own restaurant. Manchester.
Wood is best described as Mancunian formal fine dining. It’s not pretentious where you’re made to feel inferior by your server, but still provides that highest level of service and food that competes with the white linen style ‘traditional’ Michelin restaurant.
Simon and the team change the menu seasonally based on the availability of fresh ingredients which ensures an evolving menu, while still holding on to that signature Simon, rock music liking, Oldham born and bred style.
Simon has surrounded himself with a high calibre team, including an ex-sous-chef from Northcote Manor, allowing him to expand to Chester, begin a partnership with a hotels group and open the new WoodKraft of Cheltenham concept.
As the first guy in at 8am in the morning and the last member of staff to leave at night, Simon has tried to instil that Manchester Industrial Worker Bee mentality, with a family feel and culture he hopes will continue to develop the offering and service in the future.
When asked why Manchester? Simon said, “For me, this is where it is. Personally I think it’s one of the toughest culinary nuts to crack in the country and I have no idea why, but hopefully one day that will change.’ Simon is a typical Mancunian that will never shy away from a challenge, which was rewarded when Wood received a Michelin recommendation after just 6 months of being open.
Simon added that he’s not in it for the money, ‘I’m in it to be the very best I can be, the more good restaurants and quality food offerings there are in Manchester, the better it will be for the city. Instead of a destination restaurant, why can’t we be a destination city? Go anywhere in the country, there’s nowhere better than this; I don’t care what anyone says. It’s friendly, it’s warm, It’s eclectic, and it’s different.’
I can’t thank Simon enough for his time the other day. If you haven’t been to Wood yet, I seriously recommend you give the taster menu a try. To book, please visit here
You can also follow Simon and his journey on Instagram @simonjwooduk and @woodrestaurants