Steven Saunders: One of the most welcoming chefs in Spain

Steven Saunders - in trademark trilby
Steven Saunders - in trademark trilby

ONE of the first of the ‘celebrity chefs’ is offering fine dining in both La Cala de Mijas and Marbella alongside his charming business partner and wife Michele.

Steven Saunders had a dream of becoming a great chef from a very early age and trained at the Savoy Hotel in London before becoming the chef patron (meaning leading chef with management responsibilities) at the 15th Century Coaching Inn at Great Yeldham in Essex at the tender age of 19.

Steven Saunders - Behind the mask
Steven Saunders – Behind the mask

Having remained in that position for several years, he decided that it was time to run his own business and after managing to obtain a 100 per cent bank loan he opened his first restaurant The Pink Geranium in Cambridgeshire in 1986 which went on to win Michelin awards including a Red M and a Bib Gourmande for excellence and three AA rosettes as well as becoming a favourite of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Indeed so enamoured was the late Princess of Wales with his crispy duck that he still produces a version of the dish in both Little Geranium restaurants here in Spain.

Always a bit of a showman and a self-proclaimed eccentric, Steven introduced a headline grabbing Rolls Royce service which collected customers and then took them home after their meal.

Steven Saunders - Welcoming guests
Steven Saunders – Welcoming guests

As the restaurant became better known, so it became one of the places to visit for a gourmet experience and Steven became a recognised celebrity in his own right, authoring 10 books which have sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide.

He became sought after by the media, appearing regularly on BBC TV’s Good Morning show and then becoming one of the main chefs on Ready Steady Cook appearing in over 200 episodes.

These appearances were followed up when he was appointed chef presenter on Channel Four’s Here’s one I made earlier and as presenter for Sky TV food channel.

As well as making all of these media appearances Steven found time to open The Sheene Mill Hotel near Cambridge (which his daughter now runs) The Lowry in Manchester, Brocket Hall Restaurant and Golf Club, Welwyn Garden City and Steven Saunders in Newmarket the first 100 per cent accredited organic restaurant.

During this same period, he won awards for Best Restaurant UK (for The Pink Geranium) Business Person of the Year, A Fellow of the Master chefs Association (about 30 worldwide) Young Entrepreneur of the Year and an Acorn (Caterer Magazine award) for Best Young Restaurateur.

Finally, this charismatic chef became CEO of Silverstone Hospitality based at Silverstone Racing Circuit Northamptonshire, operating all hospitality for Silverstone 365 days, F1 and Moto GP.

Steven Saunders - The Happy Couple
Steven Saunders – The Happy Couple

His first marriage having come to an end in 2006, several years later, Steven become romantically involved with ballet dancer and choreographer Michele who says that when she moved to the UK to continue teaching and choreographing shows, they had a  chance meeting in the world famous Novikov Restaurant in Mayfair where Michele confides “He swept me off my feet.”

Born in South Africa, Michele left to take up a professional role in ballet in Northern Ireland and the Republic owning ballet schools and she worked teaching young dancers across the province.

Michele soon became involved in the Silverstone business acting as chief taster of all new dishes and a support for Steven but when the agreement with the race track came to an end before its time, they both decided that the time was right for a move to Spain so that Steven could see what life in semi-retirement would be like!

Settling in La Cala de Mijas, they both found that they needed a new challenge and without too much delay, they decided to open what can best be described as a ’boutique restaurant’, The Little Geranium in La Cala which instantly became a hit, followed 18 months later by The Little Geranium on the Golden Mile, Marbella.

In between, the happy couple were married with many of their new friends and customers in attendance but one thing is certain, whichever restaurant you see Steven creating his very special dishes in, you will never see him in a chef’s hat but always wearing a trilby.

He’s not bald, in fact he has a fine head of hair but at an early age when he was travelling between restaurants he used to knock his chef’s hat off whenever he got into a car and he replaced it with a trilby which is now his trademark.

Both of the Costa del Sol restaurants are open from Tuesday to Saturday with interiors designed by Michele and menus created by Steven who spends much of his time at The Little Geranium in La Cala whilst Michele manages Marbella and recently recruited some fine dining chefs who worked alongside Michelin star chef Michael Dean from Belfastto head up the kitchens at The Little Geranium Marbella.

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