Interview: chef Simon Rogan - Forbes Travel Guide
In this interview for Forbes Travel Guide, I catch up with Michelin-starred, British chef Simon Rogan, to chat juggling multiple restaurants, the makings of the perfect dish, his favourite London eateries, and more...
British chef and restaurateur Simon Rogan has made quite a name for himself on the UK restaurant scene over the past 15 years. His impressive portfolio includes the acclaimed L’Enclume, Aulis at L’Enclume and Rogan & Co — all three of which are based in Cartmel, a village in Cumbria county, Northwest England.
After a successful run with Fera at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Claridge’s, Rogan opened Aulis London in October. That eight-seater chef’s table serves as the development kitchen for his second launch in five months, Roganic. Opening on January 9, the English toque’s newest eatery provides a permanent spot for the popular pop-up of the same name that ran from 2011 to 2013.
If that’s not enough of a juggling act, the chef also runs a 12-acre farm in the Lake District, supplying his empire with organic fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers. And, of course, he also squeezes in TV appearances on BBC shows such as Great British Menu and MasterChef.
Rogan somehow cooked up 15 free minutes in his busy schedule to talk to us about his latest openings, ingredients for the perfect dish, thoughts on the London food scene and what he’d choose for his very last meal.
What led you to choose a career in food? My dad was a fruit and vegetable salesman in the markets in Southampton [in Southeast England], and he used to bring a lot of stuff home to cook with. And as my parents were very much working parents, I would often cook family meals for when they got in, and I really liked doing it.
At 14, I got myself a job in a Greek restaurant in Southampton on weekends and, because a football career was never going to happen, this led to a full-time job and day-release college. It was a shock getting to college because I was rubbish compared to all the other cooks, and I wasn’t happy with that. So, I got myself an apprenticeship somewhere else where I could make myself the best that I could be, and I was on my way.
Opening two new restaurants in the space of few months is quite a feat. How has it been so far? To be quite honest, Penny [Tapsell, his partner] has done most of the work assisted by the senior boys in London, leaving me to be very much concentrating on L’Enclume and Rogan & Co in Cartmel, where there are some quite exciting little developments happening, too. Obviously, they are keeping me informed of things and I have my opinions, but they are doing all the hard work.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from this experience along the way? Delegating, definitely. With everything going on, it would drive me nuts otherwise.
And you should always be prepared for delays. There are always a few problems along the way, which is frustrating, but you just have to take it on the chin and, hopefully, it will be all worth it.
I want a dish to be visually exciting, original, balanced and that can tell a story of my ethos, but above all, flavour is everything
You launched Roganic as a pop-up a few years back. Why have you chosen to open a permanent place now?
We have always had the ambition of Roganic returning one day, as we had so much fun and it was a phenomenal success the last time. I am a firm believer of the importance of having a London shop window for continuing success in the North, so when it was decided we would no longer have Fera and Aulis at Claridge’s, we knew we had to make this dream a reality.
When I heard L’Autre Pied was for sale — a site I had always admired — we jumped at the chance. But we also thought, “What the hell, let’s move Aulis to Soho, too.”
Aulis is based on a cobbled side street in Soho and Roganic is over in Marylebone. Why those two locations?
The site for Aulis is perfect. An inconspicuous space down a little side street with blacked-out windows and a buzzer to get in, in the heart of Soho. We wanted there to be an air of mystery and a little adventure to find it. Due to the nature of what goes on inside, we wanted it to be in a vibrant, exciting area with a real buzz to it, and you can’t get much more of a buzzy area than in Soho.
Roganic was always destined to return to the Marylebone area. We had such fun and it was brilliant to be there the last time. We really feel Marylebone is our type of area; it’s an amazing place to live and work, and the fact that we are actually returning to the same street in a better spot makes this even more special.
How does the experience at Aulis London compare to Roganic?
The Aulis experience is very intimate. You are up close and personal, sit around a bar, surrounded by all our apparatuses, being cooked for by two very talented and experienced guys who are well-versed on our ethos. It is very much a place where you can find out the thinking behind all that we do, and it is a window for a sneaky preview of upcoming dishes that will be served at Roganic.
Roganic is more of an orthodox restaurant. I say that in the loosest possible term. I hope it will be seen as a trailblazer and something really different on the London scene, as it was the last time. There will be a few surprises that guests would not necessarily associate with the Rogan way of doing things.
Where does the name Aulis come from? Aulis is named as a tribute to a chef and friend who worked with me for some time who unfortunately passed away. We went through a lot together, he was a brilliant artist and very creative, so I thought it apt to name a facility like that after him.
What makes the perfect dish worthy of a place on one of your menus? As my farm has grown and the products we get from it are as perfect as they can be, my food style has simplified a lot because when you are working with ingredients that good, you want to manipulate them as little as possible. I want a dish to be visually exciting, original, balanced and that can tell a story of my ethos, but above all, flavour is everything. Every element must taste good and be at perfect harmony with each other.
Out of everything you’ve achieved, what’s been your most memorable or proudest moment? I have been fortunate to experience so many memorable moments, but my proudest moment has to be opening the doors to L’Enclume for the first time. I was always destined to work for myself, and all that I have achieved there has given me the opportunity to do so many wonderful things.
What are your thoughts on the London food scene? The London food scene just gets stronger and stronger. There is so much competition and the diversity is quite unbelievable. That’s why we need the London shop window. If you are an overseas visitor to the U.K., why would you ever leave London, as there is so much there? We need to, hopefully, give them a reason.
Where do you like to eat and drink when you’re in the capital?
I like to eat casually when in town. Places like Kiln, Temper, Hoppers, Bao and Barrafina are my current favorites. Drinking-wise, I am ashamed to say anywhere. I don’t have any preferences.
When you’ve packed away the chef whites, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to read, watch movies, walk and cycle. Not much spare time at the minute, though.
What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?
If I am at home, it is generally on a Sunday, so I do like to cook a mahoosive Sunday roast and get as many round the table as I can. Time is precious, so to kill two birds with one stone is always enjoyable.
What would your last dinner request be?
A perfect steak and chips with all the trimmings and a nice, ice-cold lager.
Read the original Forbes Travel Guide feature, published January 2018, here: https://blog.forbestravelguide.com/catching-up-with-british-culinary-star-simon-rogan#cmpid=gsander
Images are copyright: Simon Rogan.