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February 3, 2024updated 06 Feb 2024 4:41pm

‘I’ve pretty much achieved everything I set out to achieve’: Simon Rogan on leading a food revolution

Simon Rogan's culinary skill and farm-to-fork focus have transformed the UK food scene and exported it around the world. And he's not about to hang up his chef whites yet

By Suzanne Elliott

After all he has achieved, few would blame Simon Rogan, the five-time Michelin-starred chef, for hanging up his chef whites and ‘lying by the pool in Santa Fe’. 

But Rogan, newly honoured with an MBE for his services to the food industry, has his sights set on global growth and fostering new talent in his UMBEL restaurant group.

[From the magazine: Jeremy King is back to reclaim his crown]

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‘I’m normally cooking somewhere, although normally putting the finishing touches on [the plates] these days,’ he says. ‘I’ve pretty much achieved everything I set out to achieve, and people ask me “why do you carry on”, it’s because of [my team]. They invigorate me and made me feel a lot younger.’ 

A gamble that paid off

A small restaurant with menus and glasses on the table. The door is open to show the garden. It is a very old building with low ceilings
L’Enclume was awarded three Michelin stars in 2022, its 20th anniversary year

In the early 2000s, Rogan made the unusual decision to open his first restaurant in a former 13th-century blacksmith’s workshop in Cartmel, a tiny village in the Lake District best known then as a hub for hikers and fans of Beatrix Potter and poetry. It was, in his words, a ‘massive gamble’.

‘I fell in love with the building and the village and the surroundings. I think I said “yes, we’d love to take it”, without telling my wife – I had to do a bit of convincing. I didn’t have any clue where my customers were going to come from.’

The resulting restaurant was L’Enclume, now holder of three Michelin stars.

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These days, Rogan’s customers come from all over the world, lured to this corner of Cumbria by Rogan’s reputation and a team, that includes head chef Paul Burgalières, at the top of their game. 

L’Enclume was awarded three Michelin stars in 2022 in the restaurant’s 20th anniversary year. Its sister restaurant, Rogan & Co, his second venture in Cartmel that opened in 2008, won its first Michelin star in 2018. His third restaurant in the village, Aulis Cartmel, a six-seater chef’s table experience, was launched in 2016. 

Cartmel conquered, Rogan has expanded his restaurant portfolio globally. Aulis opened in January 2019 in Hong Kong, followed by the now one-star Michelin starred-Roganic in February 2019. He went on to open a bakery and natural wine bar in the territory and last year expanded into Malta and Thailand

Rogan says he no longer gets nervous in the days running up to the Michelin star announcement – and for good reason. His Soho chef’s table restaurant Aulis, under Executive Chef Oli Marlow and Head Chef Charlie Tayler, was awarded a Michelin star in the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland 2024. Judges said: ‘Dishes are pretty, precise and skilfully crafted, but crucially, satisfying too.’

From field to fork

A shot of high end food
The restaurant focuses on hyperlocal and seasonal ingredients, sourced largely from a 12-acre Farm in The Lakes

The restaurant focuses on hyperlocal and seasonal ingredients, sourced largely from the 12-acre Farm in The Lakes (usually simply ‘Our Farm’) that Rogan began in 2011 to supply his growing empire. 

While it is commonplace now, the organic, hyperlocal food the restaurant served was, in 2002, also a gamble. 

‘There were some very, very scary early weeks and months,’ Rogan says. 

[See also: ‘Now is only the beginning’: Chef Alain Ducasse on how he went from living in a yard to gaining 21 Michelin stars]

Rogan cares deeply about where the food he prepares in his kitchen comes from. A pioneer of the farm to fork movement, Rogan has been at the forefront of sustainability and hyperlocal for two decades. 

A six-seater chef’s table experience
Aulis Cartmel, a six-seater chef’s table experience, was launched in 2016

The team began by growing ‘really simple things like radishes and grown herbs and flowers and stuff like that’ before realising they were ‘quite good at this’ and venturing into bigger vegetables. 

The quality of the produce has played a huge part in the quality of the food on people’s plates while the group’s green ethos also drives creativity in the kitchen. ‘Nothing is wasted. We make sure we’re using every part of that plant, finding new ways to use that plant stem, the root, the seed, the flower, every leaf. 

‘Everything we don’t use becomes compost and helps to grow the next set of crops.’ 

Naturally, the menus are ‘literally defined’ by the farm and the Lake District’s unpredictable weather which can mean some hasty changes.

‘There’s nothing worse than knowing you’ve built your menu around some, say, carrots that we know are going to be with us in four or five weeks, and two weeks out, they’re hit by carrot fly and you have a hole in the field. A failed crop of carrots, and then you’re frantically trying to change the dish replaced the carrots. So yeah, it’s highly seasonal.’

Passing on a legacy

A woodburner and a table set for lunch with brown leather retro style chairs
Rogan & Co, Simon Rogan’s second venture in Cartmel, opened in 2008

Rogan might have been keen to forge his own path, but it is not one he is travelling alone. He has been inspired on his own journey to pass on his experience and knowledge to the next generation.

‘I was fortunate to train in an era of the Roux brothers, Marco Pierre White, Pierre Koffmann, Jean-Christophe Novell…. These guys were trailblazers, they set British gastronomy off in an upward direction. They spawned a whole generation of chefs to go off and do their own thing. 

‘And things have just got better and better and better.’

Life in a kitchen was notoriously hard, but conditions have improved. 

‘People are coming into our industry because they want to, because of the pay and the travel and meeting amazing people,’ Rogan says. ‘It’s an art form. So I think that’s now really, really hitting home and we’re getting a lot of youngsters in our industry that will excel and drive.’ 

Among them is his exec chef, Tom Barnes, who is leaving L’Enclume to open his own Manchester restaurant, Skof, under Rogan’s UMBEL group. 

Keeping it in the family

This is a first in what Rogan hopes will be a new initiative by the UMBEL group to support new talent who want to open their own restaurant.

‘He’s very ambitious and he wants to make a name for himself and he’s done incredibly well for me for the last 12 years,’ Rogan says of Barnes. 

As well as new openings in Thailand and Hong Kong, Rogan continues to eye London and New York. His Roganic in Marylebone did not open after lockdown while the Covid pandemic also scuppered his plans to open in New York.

But despite his success, he sees his legacy as more than Michelin starred restaurants. 

‘Just to know that people are saying “he was someone that made a difference. And did something differently and inspired a generation to go off and do even bigger and better things”. 

‘That will be my biggest achievement.’

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