Simon Rogan - The biggest challenge of my career
- Credit: Archant
Chef Simon Rogan runs the best restaurant in the UK, but now he is about to face up to the biggest challenge of his professional life
Simon Rogan is used to taking risks. He took on a dilapidated forge in rural Cumbria and turned it into a restaurant so good it has been awarded two Michelin stars and named best in the UK; set up two successful restaurants in Manchester within a year; and when he appeared on BBC2’s Great British Menu the judges decided all four of his courses should make it through to their top three.
Despite all the success he now faces his biggest challenge by far. In May, the eyes of the foodie world will be on him as he takes over from Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in London. His style of cooking, using perfect local and foraged ingredients to create dishes like oyster pebbles and potatoes rolled in onion ash with lovage, attracted the five star London hotel to ask him to take on their flagship restaurant. It marks 12 months of amazing success for the chef.
Rogan, 45, is an enthusiast. He has built his empire from nothing – he set up L’Enclume 10 years ago, now has two restaurants at the Midland Hotel in Manchester , The French which opened a year ago (watch out for the BBC2 documentary about it over the next couple of months) and Mr Cooper’s House and Garden seven months later; and has a pub and another restaurant in Cartmel. Oh, and then there’s the TV work. He insists when Claridge’s opens he will split his time between Mayfair, Cartmel and Manchester, driving back north after an evening shift at the London hotel. No wonder he speaks so fast and works seven days a week.
Despite all the hard work, he’s not averse to a bit of fun. When the Manchester Camerata commissioned him to create a menu inspired by a Stradivarius instrument, a violinist came into the kitchen at The French to play for him. The resulting meal was a big success by all accounts. More seriously perhaps, Rogan and The French have been credited with giving Manchester serious foodie credentials.
In recent months though, Rogan has been busy preparing for the opening of Claridge’s, one of the world’s great dining rooms. He says dishes created by his developmental kitchen in Cartmel (he employs a physicist from Oxford University) using Cumbrian produce will be used in London, but not exclusively.
Local produce has always been his unique selling point with most foraged or grown at the 12-acre farm he set up in Cartmel and which is run by his chefs. The farm also supplies his Manchester restaurants (he may be sanguine that L’Enclume didn’t pick up its third Michelin star last year but he is fed up that The French didn’t get its first one).
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“Having a farm and growing your own ingredients together with a foraging operation we only draw from Cumbria’s larder. Over the last two or three years we have really taken off,” he says. But the second Michelin star for L’Enclume and the Waitrose Good Food Guide success in 2013 (they knocked Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck off the top spot) has boosted it beyond imagination “Getting the top spot was pretty amazing,’ he says. ‘We are striving to grow the most perfect ingredients this country has ever seen. Six years ago we were deconstructing and reconstructing carrots in 10 different ways. I wouldn’t change that but this year our trend will be perfecting ingredients which are cooked more simply.”
Despite all the accolades he retains his down to earth demeanour. His father Peter was a market trader and young Rogan often used to get the spoils of the exotic fruit and vegetables destined for the cruise liners leaving Southampton. “I didn’t realise at the time but it got me interested in ingredients. He was a big influence,” he says. His dad visits Cartmel but has never eaten in L’Enclume where the tasting menu costs £120. “Steak and chips is probably the most adventurous thing he will ever have,” he says. “My dad thinks this is a load of twoddle!” Whether his dad will eat at Claridge’s next month is open to question.
Claridge’s Restaurant opens in May. Or sample Rogan’s cooking a little closer to home at L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, or The French at the Midland Hotel, Manchester.