As part of our pioneering Modern Creatives initiative, every month we share stories of Cornwall’s most inspiring makers, creators and pioneers.
This month, we met Simon Stallard, founder of The Hidden Hut at Porthcurnick Beack, which is famous for simple, freshly cooked food served outdoors.
What’s the story behind The Hidden Hut?
The Hut started with me walking across the beach every day, looking up at the hut and thinking, “I would love that place.” Jemma is from Portscatho so we already love the area. When the lease became available, we just thought, “Why not? Let’s quit our jobs and give it a go.”
I think the idea of how something is born or how it actually starts is really around the risk that you take. There was no big business plan, it was just that we loved this place, we loved the site and we just said, “we have to go for this.” Ultimately, giving up jobs, giving up that lifestyle and a regular income to take on a big project is always a big move.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I’m at my happiest when I’m behind the grill. We’ve got six or seven different types of wood drying, so we’ve got our own charcoal. When this hut is full of hungry people, it’s all about the cooking: just getting the grill on and knocking out some good food with amazing produce. I’m absolutely in my element then. I just love being down here, cooking outdoors – it’s the best.
I’m inspired by people who have taken the same risks, or who jump out of the rat race and say, “we’re going to have a go at something.” We’re so rich in that here – there are so many people doing brilliant things and really making a lovely life for themselves.
How would you describe your style of food?
Our food here at The Hidden Hut is big, it’s bold, it’s full of characteristic flavours and it’s quite simple in its appearance. We try and style it on ‘street food meets the south coast of Cornwall’: that element of really simple, delicious, tasty soups and stews served out here in the clean air.
We try and source as much of our produce as we can from around here and we pick the best quality ingredients and producers who share the same values as us.
What would you say makes the perfect outdoor feast or refreshment?
I wouldn’t say there’s one particular thing that works; it’s about what you’ve done, how you’ve arrived here, ultimately what the weather’s doing… If it’s a little bit overcast, just to sit here and hug a bowl of soup with a warm bread roll is just as good as blistering sunshine with lobster and chips.
We try and work our menu day by day, looking at the weather, trying tune something in that you would love to find in a place like that on that sort of day, so you’re not turning up here with a really slow-braised beef stew on a baking hot day.
What kind of clothes do you prefer to wear when you’re working?
We’re normally cooking over wood, so nice light cottons, good footwear and a pair of jeans, with a lovely crafted apron for the grill so you’re not cooking yourself!
You’ve just written your first cookbook. Did you enjoy creating it, and is this the first of many?
We feel extremely proud that we’ve managed to do the book and very lucky that we were given the opportunity in the first place. I’ve always underestimated the amount of work and the number of people that are involved in bringing something like this together, so although it’s The Hidden Hut, it sort of belongs to everyone who helped produce it. That experience of bringing everyone together was really good fun – it’s been a labour of love.
And the best thing about living and working here in Cornwall?
The thing I love about living here in Portscatho is the community. Some people can’t handle the idea of everyone knowing everyone, but for me that makes it so special. I’ve lived in London, and when you’re walking the streets you know no one, no one will talk to you, they’d just step over you if you fall. Whereas here, everyone knows what you had for dinner last night, but I love that. I love the village communities, the interest that people genuinely show in others.
Where’s your favourite place to spend time as a family?
There are a few special coves and little beaches around here. We love Towan Beach, and there are a few round by St Mawes that you have to climb down to – it’s a bit of an adventure to get to them. We love to take a picnic and go and sit on the beach, completely isolated. It’s amazing.