Executive Chef Simon Purvis has wandered the globe for Four Seasons | VailDaily.com

Executive Chef Simon Purvis has wandered the globe for Four Seasons

Simon Purvis is the executive chef at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail, which includes Flame Restaurant and Remedy Bar
Courtesy photo

Chef wanted: suitcase and visa required.

Since graduating from culinary school, Simon Purvis has spent his life moving from one country to another, one kitchen to another. With the tools of his trade — certainly the proverbial knife set, but more importantly a rich history of experience — the Four Seasons Vail executive chef has entered any number of new spaces, looked around and gotten straight to work. At the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail, he is the executive chef for the entire hotel, which includes Flame Restaurant and Remedy Bar.

“It’s just been one adventure after another,” Purvis said about his global career trek. “When an opportunity comes up, my wife and I look at it and decide if that’s where we want to go.”

His wife, Anne, has perhaps even more of a travel itch than he does.

“She’s a MacGregor, from the Highlands of Scotland. I call her my Scottish princess,” he added fondly.

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The two met in a bar in Edinburgh, she a nursing student and he a young chef. And even though he didn’t exactly woo her with food — then a vegetarian, she was a particular eater — they hit it off immediately. And they’ve been good partners in life and adventure ever since, their collective curiosity taking them to Bali, Singapore, Berlin, Australia and beyond. They added a couple of kids along the way: a son born in Canada and a daughter in the United States. The global wanderers are pros at moving house and throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the life and lives surrounding them — which, Chef Purvis believes, is the best way to learn about a culture’s cuisine.

But he also brings a little of his own history to each post. He’s a die-hard soccer fan, though of course for the Brit it’s football. “He likes to play,” said Anne. “He’s always gotten a team together with each hotel, and they play with other groups.”

Chef Purvis was attracted to the culinary world at a young age. Growing up in England, he had to choose a subject for his final two years of schooling. And so, the 13-year-old opted for home economics — cooking and baking. In the ’80s, this was not exactly the norm for teen boys.

“Yes, I took a lot of stick for it,” Purvis said. “But I really enjoyed cooking. I wanted a career that gave me artistic creativity.” And after he graduated, he continued on to culinary school for a two-year program. “Taking my first class in culinary school, that was the first time my brain really engaged in academics. Everything just clicked, everything made sense. I understood what I was being taught.”

More importantly, he understood a little better what he wanted his future to be. “I knew I wanted to travel and I knew I wanted to leave England — but I had no idea what kind of career I could have in the industry.”

The Englishman can trace his appreciation for food back to his childhood. His family liked to spend holidays camping in France. They would pack the car with camping gear — tents and the like — and stay for a couple of weeks around Normandy and Brittany. “Just being exposed to those very different foods than I was used to in England — fresh cheeses, baguettes, charcuterie, mussels. That was so much fun, to go on those holidays, always trying some new items,” he reminisced.

And so it’s fitting that he’s now the executive chef of a destination resort, helping people discover new foods and experiences while they are on their own holidays. The mussels and charcuterie of his childhood memories are translated into bison ribeyes and elk loins for guests in his Rocky Mountain dining room.

“I tell my team here, every day, that one of the things we do is provide an experience for guests,” he explained. “They come in with an expectation, and we have to find a unique item that they haven’t had before. We want to spark some curiosity.”

Four Seasons properties are all very destination-based, so they use regional ingredients reflective of the locale. And there is nothing more local than wild game, though many consider it a bit exotic. Chef Purvis delights in serving it.

“Our elk is just a beautiful clean loin, and it’s so tender, and so flavorful,” he said about one of Flame’s signature dishes. “We pair that with huckleberry-glazed red cabbage and a juniper sauce. It’s delicious.”

He’s been taking his own delight in the mountain’s bounty as well. A seasoned forager in other lands, last summer he began foraging in the Vail area. He remembers happily discovering his first porcini, which of course inspired the purchase of a new knife — a forager’s knife.

Foraging is a good fit for him, as he’s prone to wandering around outside, walking and thinking. “I find that the more I exercise, the more creative I become, the more focused I am when I get here to work,” he said. “You can get really cool ideas out there. Something will just pop up. Maybe you saw a new ingredient somewhere, or you have another idea. And when you’re out, you think, ‘How could I make something like that work? How could I change it, make it unique?’ And the ideas just come.”

Some of the ideas that come are how to help his team grow and become stronger. Sometimes that means moving people around to different positions, other times it’s simply giving them the freedom to create their own dish or put their mark on something. As with the most successful career chefs, teaching and mentoring are a big part of the job. He’s also discovered that spending time in the dining room, and not just the kitchen, is important.

“I try to see some tables every night, because it’s a part of the experience,” he explained. “I encourage my younger chefs to ‘touch tables.’ It’s a big part of their development. Otherwise, they’re missing out on the interaction with the guest. There’s nothing better than hearing about what an amazing time a guest had from themselves. That’s just so fulfilling.”

“Touching tables” is personally delivering a dish, or asking a guest how their experience is going. But it’s not always easy.

“When a guest sends something back, having the courage to redo it, and then delivering it yourself, making sure the new dish is what they were expecting — that means a lot to the guest, it just means a lot,” he said. “You can turn around an experience. But it does take guts.”

But as the chefs in the Four Seasons kitchen know, their executive chef has their backs. Unflappable, he is the very definition of cool in the face of pressure.

“I didn’t realize what a trait that was, to remain calm,” he added with a small laugh. “You have an effect on the entire team. Chefs have a bad reputation for shouting and screaming. My first jobs, the chefs lost their cool, yelling obscenities, being demeaning. That does nothing to inspire a team.”

But as Anne will attest, it’s important to her husband to do the very best job possible, and to mentor his team.

“He’s very passionate about what he does,” she explains. “Everything he cooks, he cooks with love. He loves Four Seasons, he’s very loyal to the company. And it’s very important to him to have a good relationship with the people he works with. He’s just a hard worker. He does what he has to do to get the job done.”

And while he believes everybody in the kitchen should be able to do every task, there is one particular thing that only he does: Make the Wagyu beef fat candle. And what’s that?

“It’s something that I started doing in Denver. And it’s unique to me,” he explains. “We work with 7x Wagyu Ranch, so we render out the beef fat and you end up with this beautiful, golden rendered fat.”

Adding garlic and herbs, he pours it into a mold with a wick, which is basically butcher twine.

“We light it table-side, melt it a little bit with a little torch we have, and on the side we have huckleberry gastrique and sea salt,” he explained. “Guests will take the bread — the nice, warm crusty bread — dip it in the fat and eat it.”

At home, though, he’s apt to make simple, comforting meals centered around vegetables or a nice piece of fish. Though he’s a professional chef, his schedule means he doesn’t often cook dinner for his wife. That changed, though, during the early days of the pandemic when the Four Seasons was closed. Every day he walked to the market and bought a couple of ingredients for dinner, which he presented to Anne when she got home from work in the evening.

“He kept saying, this is the only time this is going to happen, we have to enjoy it,” Anne said. “It was just nice, having him home.”

As for Chef Purvis, he loved being home, as he cites spending time with his wife as his favorite pastime — followed by golf, soccer and foraging. But his vocation is a big part of who he is, too. And he encourages others to follow their paths.

“A career in hospitality, a career in culinary, has been very fulfilling to me,” he shared. “I want to encourage people to really follow their dreams. I can’t tell you how many people come in to join us at age 26, and they say ‘I wanted to go to culinary school, but my parents didn’t want me to.’ I would tell anyone what I told my children: I don’t care what you do, I just want you to be happy and be fulfilled when you go to work every day.”

Just like him.

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