With a string of accolades under his belt and new openings this year, Simon Rogan has come of age. He talks to Janet Harmer about his new ventures and sense of contentment.
It's taken time, but Simon Rogan has never been in a better place. Within the space of 12 months, he has achieved a second Michelin star, been awarded the perfect 10 in the Good Food Guide, overseen the opening of Manchester's most-talked-about restaurant in years and is on the verge of signing a deal on a new London venture.
Being thrust into the spotlight is not something Rogan has always felt comfortable with. He genuinely finds it hard to accept recognition. On being named Cumbrian Personality of the Year by Cumbria Tourism recently, he says: "I don't think I'm doing anything special. People use the word genius, but what I do is not that difficult."
After living in Cumbria for 10 years - he was born and brought up in Southampton - Rogan has mellowed. The intensity is still there, but he confirms that, probably for the first time ever in his career, he is happy and at ease.
"I had previously felt despondent as people had been critical about what I was doing and I don't like criticism," he says. "But now I've reached a point where I have 100% faith in what I am doing.
"The team and I were relieved to get two Michelin stars, but in the past I was angry that others had achieved them and I hadn't. Now I realise I was not consistent or focused enough. In recent months, I have had time to reassess what I am doing and where I am going."
Achieving the double Catey win has also given Rogan a huge boost, particularly as the judges are fellow chefs and restaurateurs. "I feel hugely humbled as the awards represent the recognition of my peers," he says. "But they are not just for me - they are also for the location and the team around me."
Meant to be
Since Rogan and his partner Penny Tapsell opened L'Enclume, his first venture as chef-proprietor, in Cartmel, Cumbria, in 2002, his achievements have been considerable. The fact that two potential premises in Brighton fell through before he decided to go ahead and acquire a former smithy, dating from the 13th century, now looks like serendipity.
"There is no doubt that Cumbria has helped drive our success," says Rogan. "It is a mysterious and magical place which allows you time to develop. I feel torn between here and the New Forest, where I spent my early years as a chef."
Coming to Cumbria not only gave Rogan the creative inspiration to succeed, it also put him on a sound financial footing to establish a mini culinary empire in Cartmel. In addition to L'Enclume, he runs an English brasserie, Rogan and Company, the Pig & Whistle pub, a development kitchen (Aulis) with private dining for up to six covers, and a 13-acre farm.
What Rick Stein and Andrew Pern have done for Padstow and Harome, respectively, Rogan has undoubtedly done for Cartmel.
The business is largely self-funded, with the occasional minor bank loan paying for improvements. He ploughs back into the business all the outside income he earns such as the fee for cooking at pop-up restaurant The Cube by Electrolux on London's South Bank.
"Doing The Cube basically paid for the new kitchen," says Rogan, referring to the newly refurbished space at L'Enclume that was installed last month.
The state-of-the-art kitchen - fitted by CHR Food Service Equipment around an existing Elro stove from Switzerland - has slate-lined walls and is partially open to the restaurant. It will enhance the experience of the 14-strong brigade and customers and is an investment Rogan hopes will bring a third Michelin star.
"The food we were doing before was very good, but the new kitchen has provided us with extra space and a more luxurious environment, which allows us to be more organised," he says. "It has created a happier working environment which in turn will help us produce even better food."
While the kitchen at L'Enclume has become more sophisticated, the food has become simpler. With the focus on using produce grown for maximum flavour and freshness on the restaurant's own farm, the intention is to create dishes from ingredients that are as close to perfect as they can be.
"In the past, I may have deconstructed a carrot and then reconstructed it in five different ways and used lots of blobs and foams, but now the tendency is to do very little to the fabulous produce we are growing," says Rogan.
On a 19-course tasting menu (£95), sweet, bite-sized atlas carrots provide the perfect foil to a sliver of ham fat, while a trio of ox tongue, borage and creamy ricotta requires the minimum of intervention from the chefs.
All herbs plated on a dish are snipped directly from trays of growing plants located all around the kitchen. Micro fennel is picked from the plant and added at the last moment to a dish of tender, raw venison coated in an oil infused with coal to create a charcoal taste. Fennel leaves are used to finish the dish, alongside tiny shallot rings, candied fennel shoots and a dollop of mustard mayonnaise.
While Rogan has in the past been pigeonholed with Heston Blumenthal, he says he is less scientific in his cooking than many people think. Any technology he uses tends to eliminate heat. For example, he blends ingredients with a sonic hydrator, which uses sound waves to preserve colour and flavour, while a rotary evaporator distils flavours for the freshest, cleanest results.
"If you crush a stem of anise hyssop, you release the most amazing aroma, which is very difficult to capture when you are cooking," says Rogan. "If you use any heat, you dilute the flavour and aroma, but by distilling it using a rotary evaporator you are left with a concentrate that captures all the flavour and freshness, which we combine with liquid nitrogen to create a snow to serve with gooseberries and honey wine."
Eschewing the various styles of foreign cuisine that once influenced Rogan has also resulted in a simpler style of cooking, with inspiration focused on the produce all around him. "At one time, my style was all over the place," he says. "But then I started to listen to advice from people whose opinion I valued and trusted."
If he had to name one chef who has influenced his style of cooking more than any other, it is Marc Veyrat, well known for his creative use of plants, herbs and flowers, harvested in the French Alps.
Rogan also has a soft spot for Pierre Gagnaire. "I visited his restaurant in Paris when Freddy was there and my eyes were really opened," he says, referring to his former sous chef, Freddy Forster, who was on a three-month stage there as winner of the 2000 Roux Scholarship. At the time, Rogan was head chef at Addington Palace in Croydon, Surrey.
Commentators have linked the style of L'Enclume's cuisine to that of Rene Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen, but Rogan himself does not see the connection. In fact, he thinks journalists are obsessed with what is going on in Scandinavia.
"I'm not sure why they don't look more at what we are doing here in Cumbria, Scotland and the rest of the UK," he says. "There is so much of interest here on our doorstep."
DOWN ON THE FARM
Central to Simon Rogan's growing business is the farm on the outskirts of Cartmel that he took over in 2009. The 13 acres of land he oversees there is topped up by eight acres in Northumberland, but he eventually intends to concentrate all his farming interests in Cumbria.
"It is the larder for L'Enclume and provides about 90% of ingredients for the plate, particularly at this time of the year, when everything explodes," he says. "We are very efficient and never throw anything away. If we can't use any ingredient straightaway, we will preserve it."
Grown in polytunnels, the vast majority of the produce is miniature in size to ensure maximum flavour.
Meanwhile, the building blocks of a dish, such as large carrots and leeks for making stocks, are bought in, mainly from Wellocks in Lancashire.
Amid the blue kestrel potatoes, atlas carrots, yellow oyster mushrooms, sprouting broccoli and bronze fennel, there is a
profusion of flowers, the petals of which are used liberally throughout Rogan's tasting menus. Acidic-tasting begonia
flowers, for instance, are a good match for fish, while scented viola is used to pep up a rosemary and chickpea wafer, served with roasted garlic mayonnaise and cream cheese.
Outside, a newly planted orchard is flourishing with 20 varieties of fruit, including cherries, plums, greengages,
apples and pears. A man-made beck that feeds the nearby mill provides the perfect growing environment for watercress, water mint, yarrow, lady's smock, chickweed and wood sorrel.
There are plans to introduce livestock too, with the arrival of 150 cream legbar chickens and a couple of milking cows so the restaurants can make their own milk and cheese, such as ricotta.
A visitor centre will open inside a converted barn, providing a focal point for schools. Pupils will be able to work the land and cook the produce they pick.
The farm's produce is distributed to all Rogan's ventures, with the French in Manchester paying for it under a management deal. All proceeds are ploughed back into the farm's developmen
THE A TEAM
Dan Cox, director, Aulis
Mark Birchall, head chef, L'Enclume
Danny Berry, head chef, Rogan & Co
Dave Hawkins, head chef, Pig & Whistle
Adam Reid, head chef, the French at the Midland hotel
Andrew Thomlinson, head chef, London project X
FRONT OF HOUSE
Franck Deletang, general manager, Cartmel
Sam Ward, restaurant manager, L'Enclume
Claire Beckwith, restaurant manager, Rogan & Co
Craig Harrison, manager, Pig & Whistle
Kamila Plonska, restaurant manager, the French
Richard Cossins, restaurant manager, London Project X
THE TIME OF HIS LIFE
2002 Opens L'Enclume, a restaurant with rooms, with his partner Penny Tapsell
2005 Achieves first Michelin star for L'Enclume
2005 Wins Catey Newcomer Award
2008 Rogan & Co, a brasserie, launches in Cartmel
2009 Takes over the running of a 13-acre farm just outside Cartmel
2009 Establishes Aulis, a research and development kitchen with six-seat private dining
2011 A two-year pop-up restaurant, Roganic, opens in Marylebone, London
2012 Takes over the Pig & Whistle village pub in Cartmel
2012 L'Enclume is awarded a second star in the 2013 Michelin Guide and receives a 10/10 rating in the 2013 Good Food Guide 2013 Takes over management of the French at the Midland hotel in Manchester
2013 Wins Chef Award and Independent Restaurateur accolades at the Cateys
2013 On the verge of signing a deal on a new venture in London
2013 Will launch second restaurant at the Midland hotel, Manchester, Mr Cooper's House and Garden, in September
Rogan's move to London in 2011 for the opening of the two-year pop-up restaurant Roganic was always going to be temporary, but it introduced him to a new, highly supportive market which he wanted to get back into after the restaurant's closure last month.
But before returning to London, Rogan has spread his wings by taking over the French restaurant in Manchester's Midland hotel in March this year after signing a management contract with QHotels. Customers and critics alike have flocked to his city version of L'Enclume, with dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings booked up until November.
"It has taken me by surprise that Manchester has embraced us so well, but I think we have got it right on so many levels: the food, the service, the price," he says. "I will be surprised if it doesn't achieve a Michelin star."
A 10-course set menu at the French costs £79, six courses £55 and three courses £29. Now Rogan is preparing for the launch in September of a second restaurant at the Midland, Mr Cooper's House and Garden, a vast space involving 200 covers.
"Out of everything I've done, Mr Cooper's scares me the most," he says. "It really is taking me out of my comfort zone."
The brasserie-style menu will have an international flavour and will feature slowcooked dishes, salads and small bites.
Rogan has been inspired, in particular, by Paul Bocuse's brasseries in Lyon: Le Nord, Le Sud, L'Est and L'Ouest.
"I think we will be aiming for something more refined than the crude presentation of the dishes at those restaurants, but we are after big plates of delicious, tasty food," he adds.
Rogan hopes to return to London in a high profile venture before the end of the year.
"It is important to have a presence in London as it helps to drive traffic north," says Rogan. "The intention is that I will eventually spend one day a week in Manchester, one day in London and the rest of my week here in Cumbria."
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