Find a job you love and you will never work another day in your life – it’s an adage Simone Butler, chef and owner of Key Restaurant Maleny certainly lives her life by. Having always had a passion for food and cooking, the one-time barrister took a huge leap of faith, exchanged her law books for cook books and is living the life she has always dreamed of.
It’s a scenario many of us only dream about, ditching our day job in search of the life we were born to live. For most it remains just that – a dream. Not for Simone Butler. Having studied for many years, graduating from law school and working as a barrister in London, this courageous woman put it all on the line to follow her culinary passion. She is living proof anything is possible if you dare to follow your heart.
Raised in Ghana, Africa, in a traditional family setting, Simone’s love affair with food began at a very early age. She fondly recalls her early childhood memories helping her mother in the family kitchen, surrounded by the heady mix of exotic herbs and spices that would later influence the masterful blend of African, Caribbean and Mediterranean flavours she now creates for diners at Key Restaurant Maleny.
“When I was growing up in Ghana, and even today really, a woman’s place was in the kitchen. Back then, we didn’t have fast food, so food had to be prepared from scratch. My mother insisted I learnt how to cook as a child. I was always with her in the kitchen, grinding, preparing, chopping and watching, it really influenced my cooking today and gave me a good grounding,” says Simone.
It wasn’t a straightforward journey. Despite her passion for cooking, Simone’s life took a different path to begin with and it would be some years until she found her true calling. Hailing from an academic family, her father a doctor and her mother a teacher, Simone, a self-confessed bookworm, was encouraged to study from a young age.
“I love books. As a child you couldn’t get me to take my nose out of a book, so I guess that is where my love of reading and study came from.
I studied in Ghana and the UK and started working as a barrister in London but I soon discovered it really wasn’t what I wanted to do at all. It didn’t allow my creative side to shine.”
It was while watching an episode of Oprah that Simone had an epiphany that would completely change her life’s direction.
“I remember Oprah was interviewing women who had left their professional careers, some of them middle-aged, to follow their life’s passion and it really inspired me. Some of these women walked away from powerful positions to write a book or open a florist or start their own business. As much as I always loved to cook, I never thought I could actually do it because I haven’t had any formal training as such, but the passion was always there.”
It was then that she and her Caloundra-born husband, Luke, relocated to the Sunshine Coast in search of the perfect venue for Simone to realise her dream of opening her own restaurant where she could create a special blend of unique international flavours.
“For a long time we had been looking towards the hills of Maleny, longingly. We would drive around looking for that special place and when we saw Key Restaurant we jumped at it. We just knew it would be perfect.”
Having sampled some of the gastronomic delights at the popular Friday night Tastes Of Africa buffet at Key Restaurant, it is not hard to see why this talented chef has had such success, both with locals and visitors from far and wide. Using only the freshest ingredients, many of which are sourced locally, Simone and her team take great pride in creating comfort food that comes from the heart. Each bite is an explosion of flavour. Although many of the slow cooking processes are time and labour intensive and not particularly economical, Simone says it is all about the food – and you can taste it.
“I think everyone needs that creative outlet and mine is through my cooking and creating new flavours and tastes. I love being in the kitchen. What other job could I do where I can sing and dance and cook and play my music loud and do whatever I like?” she laughs.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Starting a new business is hard work, as Simone was quick to discover. “Running a restaurant is not just about cooking, there’s the other side that I don’t really like. I just want to cook! The first week I was stunned, it’s a lot of work, you don’t realise how much work goes into running a restaurant. When I am not here I am thinking about menus and planning and sourcing ingredients, so I am forever thinking about the business. I think that is why it’s important to find what you love because when you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work. I am also blessed to have very good staff. They really have been amazing, which takes a very big burden off me. They are very attentive and very courteous and they make such a difference.”
As we enjoy a nightcap next to the cosy open fire during our visit, my husband and I both agree, Simone and her team have captured something special here and we look forward to sampling more of the wonderful, exotic flavours during our next visit to this beautiful part of the world.