Simon Rimmer became an accidental expert on vegetarian cooking when he bought Greens in Manchester in 1992. He talks to Kerstin Kühn about the recent opening of his second restaurant, Earle, in Cheshire
You didn't originally train as a chef. Why did you enter the restaurant business?
My background was in fashion design, but I went into the restaurant business so I could swan around and chat up girls. I never intended to be in the kitchen and wanted to be front-of-house, but when I couldn't afford to hire a chef I had to don an apron and be hands-on. In retrospect it's the best thing that ever happened to me.
Why did you open a vegetarian restaurant when you're a meat eater?
When my business partner, Simon Connolly, and I first bought Greens it was a brilliantly located downbeat vegetarian café, and we wanted to keep the existing client base but just make it better. It could have been anything. Had it been a Turkish restaurant I might now be the proud owner of a Turkish eaterie.
Why do so many chefs dislike catering for vegetarians?
Because they're so much harder to cook for. Unlike meat, you can't age vegetables to change their flavour. It's tough to get the right balance of flavour and texture in a vegetarian dish.
Your new restaurant, Earle, isn't vegetarian. Why the change?
Greens is incredibly popular and we turn down 600 bookings every week, but I wanted to do something different. I love cooking meat as much as vegetables, and there are really great local suppliers in the area. We source 70% of our meat and fish at Earle from within a 30-mile radius.
Is vegetarianism on the decline?
Lots of people who were vegetarians for moral reasons are starting to eat meat again. Their objections fall away as increasing numbers of suppliers from local farms offer meat from well-treated animals.
What is the new restaurant about?
It's a cross between a brasserie and a New York-style restaurant with a focus on simple yet well-cooked food using high-quality ingredients. It's about offering diners something that won't intimidate them but that they really want to eat.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I'm a bit of a thief and steal ideas from anywhere. I spent a lot of time in South-east Asia and that has had a huge impact on my cooking. I also travel to New York frequently, as it's ahead of us in terms of truly understanding ingredients and it's a great place to find new ideas.
You're currently filming the BBC2 series Something for the Weekend. What's it about?
It's great, because it's different from many weekend cookery shows as it's more than just recipes and cooking demonstrations. To me, it's the perfect cure for a hangover on a Sunday morning.