Simon Rogan: ‘Lockdown has made me appreciate it up here even more’
PUBLISHED: 11:51 21 September 2020
The Michelin starred chef behind Cartmel’s L’Enclume restaurant reveals how lockdown has changed his life
Simon Rogan is an internationally renowned chef. With restaurants across the globe, including in the Middle East and Far East. One of his latest additions Henrock at Linthwaite House Hotel in Cumbria opened last October, he was set to do pop up dining events at Royal Ascot and in Australia and things were flying at his culinary home, the two Michelin starred L’Enclume in Cartmel. But when lockdown hit back in March, like all the hard-hit hospitality industry, all bets were off.
‘Before we went into lockdown, we were flying,’ says Simon. ‘We were looking forward to a smashing summer with the pop ups and the restaurants were full. My diary was full of international appointments, too.
‘And then the lockdown was announced and it was completely mind-blowing. I was worried about what we have here in Cartmel, that everything we had worked for would be gone in one fell swoop. They were worrying times.’
Fast forward a few months and the impact of lockdown has been quite extraordinary. Since reopening in early July bookings for his flagship, L’Enclume in Cartmel, along with his other Lakes, London – he hasn’t yet reopened Roganic – and Hong Kong businesses have piled in. His popular Simon Rogan at Home, launched in lockdown, continues to gather pace, and business are up. Not just up, in fact, but 30 per cent up. It’s an astonishing turn of fortunes in a time when everything seemed so uncertain.
‘People are not travelling abroad and they want to eat out again, they are glad to be out,’ says Simon. ‘November and December are booked up – these are traditionally quite a quiet time for us but this year is going to carry on through.
‘We are pretty full for the rest of the winter, just a few tables here and there but it won;t be long before they are booked up. All of the team have really wanted to push and they have been excellent.
‘But what has happened makes you focus on your bread and butter. This is where everything stems from, right here in Cartmel. A lot of the management took pay cuts to save jobs and the chefs are working really hard – because they want to, to get everything back on track – that says it all in how brilliant the team are.’
During lockdown, they launched the hugely successful Simon Rogan at Home food delivery – it was such a success it was named the best value Michelin starred takeaway meal, they also cooked ready meals for the vulnerable and for those unable to get to a shop, sold vegetable boxes from the businesses growing arm, Our Farm, also in Cartmel, which grows more than 90 per cent of the produce used in all of Simon’s restaurants.
What the renowned chef and his team – which includes 21 chefs and around 150 people who work for the business just in Cartmel – is quite remarkable.
But he never longed to be a chef. His dad ran a wholesale fruit and vegetable market and Simon was a keen home cook. He took a job at a Greek restaurant in his Southampton hometown. But it was more about earning money than earning his kitchen stripes. His focus was more on football trials for Chelsea and a contract with Fulham was on the cards. During his time at the Greek restaurant he admits his confidence may have got the better of him. And then things changed.
‘The Greek restaurant was run by two brothers, who basically showed me the good life,’ says Simon. ‘I thought I was absolutely brilliant. I was earning a decent wage and living the life. Then I went to catering college and I realised everyone there was far better and more experienced than me. The guys had already worked in some of the great country house hotels in the New Forest. I was earning a lot less and also not doing very well. It was a leveller. I was competitive, so I decided to become the best chef I could.’
And that he has done. Since then he has worked with big names including Marco Pierre White and Jean Christophe Novelli – also godfather to one of his children – the latter an eye-opening experience that showed him what being a chef could bring. In 2002 came L’Enclume and then after a long string of successful restaurants and a raft of Michelin stars, rosettes and every culinary gong you can think of.
He’s a chef who takes great pride in training – and he has nurtured some of hospitality’s brightest culinary stars. In managing director Sam Ward and executive chef and Great British Menu finalist Tom Barnes, who potters around the test kitchen Aulis gently teasing Simon, he has found two people he trusts to keep the ship steady.
‘I know the team who are coming up are the ones who are going to take us forward,’ he says. ‘They are the future of the company. It’s good to have them here and I need to see these guys really flourish. It’s something that I watch with pride.
‘I’ve been so impressed with our team, I’m so proud to be a part of it. I will always be around, pushing my nose in, but I’m looking forward see the success of my team.’
Lockdown has also made Simon take a different look at his personal life, and has made him re-evaluate what is important to him. He would often spend much of his time travelling between his restaurants and homes – in the UK and Hong Kong. But the enforced lockdown has meant he spent more time in his home in Kents Bank, near Grange.
When we caught up with him, he was in the process of selling his other properties, including one on the south coast and investing the money in a forever home in Levens with partner, Penny Tapsell.
‘The early lockdown has made us realise where we belong and where we love it,’ says Simon. ‘Lockdown has made me appreciate it up here even more. I like going to London, and still will do for the business, but here is where I see my life being, learning to live life a little more slowly.’
Simon now has early plans for new openings and a new service where his chefs cook in private homes.
‘It’s diversification,’ he says. ‘Everything about this year has been about diversification. And something we’ll definitely look more at. if you’d have told me at the beginning of the year, I would be doing take away I wouldn’t have believed you. But we’ve experimented and it’s given us new ideas. This can only be a good thing for the future.‘I’d love to look at more restaurants and we’re tentatively thinking about more in the Far East and in the Middle East. But, for now, it’s about Cartmel and the special place we have here.’