Julie Simon of Thomas Hill Organics, Paso Robles
When Thomas Hill Organics Head Chef Julie Simon was just 13 years old, she worked at her family’s bistro, nestled in a small town in southwestern France. Once a week, she’d shop the vibrant, local farmers markets for fresh produce, eggs and cheeses. More than a decade later, now 26, her cooking philosophy remains largely unchanged. She’s still nurturing relationships with ranchers, winemakers and artisan purveyors—this time in bucolic, bountiful Paso Robles.
“I remember making fresh pasta with my dad,” said the Paris-born chef, who briefly studied law in Bordeaux. “It took me a while to realize I could make a career out of cooking, but I always loved it. I loved the rush and being able to please people.”
At 18, Simon emigrated to the U.S., following in the footsteps of her aunt and uncle, purveyors of Templeton-based Olea Farm Olive Oil. Simon’s simple summer dream of improving her English and making a few extra bucks quickly segued into a larger career move: She soon found herself working under the mentorship of Chef Pandee Pearson at Morro Bay’s Windows on the Water.
“I loved the energy, that feeling of getting busy, that sense of excitement and accomplishment,” said Simon. “Every chef has to get hooked on that feeling.”
Four years since first opening its doors, Thomas Hill Organics is busier than ever: The locale has expanded to include a new, swanky THO Lounge at 1313 Park St., and plans are in the works to offer up a fresh juice bar.
“Thomas Hill Organics is always evolving, and that’s what’s kept me here,” said Simon, adding that the eatery’s farm-to-table philosophy links her to her homeland. “Nothing about what we do at Thomas Hill Organics is foreign to me,” she said. “In Europe, we always shopped farmers markets and we always ate at the peak of the season. It’s not a phenomenon; it’s the basis of what it means to be a chef.”
With Simon at the helm, the fresh market bistro has gained a reputation for serving up a creative cornucopia of organic fruits and vegetables, freshly baked breads and natural, grassfed meats.
For Simon, there is no greater creative culinary thrill than shopping the local farmers market. “The best part, for me, is that I don’t have to rack my brain on what I’m going to cook,” said Simon. “Within a 30-mile radius, we can grow anything we need. When it comes to the menu, there is no need to fight it—just let it be.”