NOT many chefs can boast being an Olympic medal winner.
But Simon Webb, 33, helped the England team claim a silver medal at the culinary Olympic Games in Erfurt, Germany, in October last year.
Competing against 35 national teams from around the world, the senior English national culinary team won medals in the hot kitchen and cold buffet events.
The International Exhibition of Culinary Art, dubbed the culinary Olympics, is the biggest culinary exhibition in the world and was dreamed up in 1896 by a group of German chefs.
They wanted to share German cuisine with the world, while learning about other cooking cultures. The first competition was held in 1900, with just four nations participating, and it has grown ever since.
The tournament might have lacked a Danny Boyle-directed opening ceremony and was not appreciated as much as the London Olympics and Paralympics last summer, but it was not a bad result for Simon, who grew up in Rayleigh.
He says: “I was vice-captain for the events, which included cold dishes and fat carving.
“We also had to work as a team to provide 100 covers while being judged by a panel.
“You’re serving the public, but it’s all part of the competition. It was a really wonderful experience.”
Simon, who now lives in Leigh and works as a chef in the hospitality area of a private law firm on London Bridge, is no stranger to competition.
He is no stranger to winning them either.
He was named British Culinary Chef of the Year for 2012, after winning head-to-heads with some of the most talented chefs in the country.
His cooking skills impressed judges, including such prestigious names as Raymond Blanc and Alain Roux.
He says: “I used to get very nervous at competitions and I still do to an extent. But I am a lot more confident in myself as a chef these days.”
His career began in Rayleigh where he worked in a pub and trained on the job.
From there, he moved to London, working his way around various hotels, where his insatiable appetite for learning new skills saw him progressing rapidly up the hierarchy.
He says: “I just wanted to learn more and more, so I changed jobs every year. I actually got to where I wanted to be quite quickly and was a head chef by 21 or 22.”
His current position finds him cooking posh nosh for London legal eagles and helping them schmooze clients.
But as his career went from strength-to-strength, his personal life was marred with tragedy when his father, Alan, died from pancreatic cancer, aged 68, last November.
Now Simon cooks at pop-up charity events to raise money for research into the disease, using his incredible cooking to draw in crowds and funds.
Simon says: “It was something we knew very little about. But I realise now it’s very hard to diagnose. It’s not a cancer you can see and by the time it’s found it is often too late.
“I know there has been breakthrough research where they have found a way to test for it. That’s something I am trying to support with these events.”
The disease is not as well publicised as other forms of cancer, but it hit the news recently after claiming the life of Apple creator Steve Jobs and Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze.
Simon admits: “It was a hell of a tough time for our family. My sister lives in Barbados and flew backwards and forwards for 11 months. My mum’s doing OK now, but we can’t really believe it.”
Determined to raise awareness, Simon has launched a regular charity meal night once a month at the Carpenters Arms, in Old London Road, Rawreth.
His next event will be on Monday, when his menu will include steamed mussels and La Vallee beef sirloin. He says: “We like to source things locally and cook mostly modern British. There are always a few surprises in there, too.”
Having achieved so much so quickly, what ambitions are left for the young chef?
He reveals: “I want to own my own restaurant and am looking for backers.
“This cuisine is something you don’t find outside of London and I’d like to bring it to Essex. It could be a while off, but it’s what I want to do.”
To book a spot at the charity meal, on Monday, July 29, e-mail bookings@the carpentersrestaurant.co.uk or call 01268 655113.