Pinche Pinche Chapel Allerton: Meet the head chef behind the buzzing Leeds restaurant sharing a taste of Mexico City
When Simon Heath spent a year in Mexico City in his early 20s, little did he know the life-changing effect the trip would have on him.
He fell in love with the flavours, textures and ingredients of the street food found on every corner of the city, immersing himself in Mexican culture.
Now the owner and head chef of Chapel Allerton's Pinche Pinche, it's a far cry from the corporate job that took him from Leeds to Mexico almost 30 years ago.
Simon told the Yorkshire Evening Post. “I grew up eating very plain English food, the most exotic thing we used to do was go for a Chinese or Italian meal on special occasions.
“I think that’s what enamoured me to Mexican food. I had this really bad idea of what it was going to be - sour cream, beans and cheese.
“I was blown away by how good the food was."
Simon moved to the Tlahuac borough of Mexico City to set up a factory, where he became a regular at street food stalls and tried to tease recipes out of local chefs.
The 50-year-old said: “It was a poor area and people didn’t have very much, but everybody looked after me. They were very generous and I’d be invited round to people’s houses for food.
"If you’d told me at the time that I’d end up running a Mexican restaurant, I wouldn’t have believed it.
"It was so far removed from what I was doing then. But I carried that love back to the UK and continued cooking.”
In 2007, Simon quit his job and was left wondering what to do next.
When a small restaurant on Harrogate Road, Salsa Mexicana, came up for sale - he took the plunge and snapped it up, despite having no experience in the hospitality industry.
Simon rebranded the restaurant as Pinche Pinche in 2011 and the menu was revamped with Mexican tapas dishes, a nod to the street food dishes he ate in Mexico City.
"Stupidly I thought, ‘how hard can it be?'," Simon added.
“After I took over, I slowly tried to change things to be more authentic. It’s honest food and almost everything is made fresh every day in the kitchen."
The last two years have hit the hospitality sector hard and Simon has struggled with the supply of ingredients post-Brexit and a shortage of experienced staff.
But the desire to share his love of Mexican food with Leeds diners has pushed him through and demand has shot through the roof post-lockdown.
“I’m working 90 hour weeks at the moment," Simon said.
“A lot of effort and pain goes into it, but I love what I do and that’s what keeps me going.
“When I’m eating Mexican food it brings back memories, it’s emotive for me - the smells and the tastes. I wouldn’t do it with any other cuisine.
"It’s difficult trying to say that I’m authentic, as I could never be, but I try to stay as true to what I know as possible.
"When we’re busy in the kitchen, getting absolutely slammed, but we can hear that everyone is buzzing and chatting - there’s no feeling like it."
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