Chef Simon Rogan goes back to his roots

British chef Simon Rogan, who owns two Michelin-starred L'Enclume in Cartmel, England.
British chef Simon Rogan, who owns two Michelin-starred L'Enclume in Cartmel, England.PHOTO: JOHN ARANDHARA-BLACKWELL

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - When Simon Rogan opened his restaurant Fera at the Claridge's in London three years ago, detractors were quick to question the unlikely fit of this acclaimed farm-to-table chef from the Lake District in the hard-nosed businessman's playground of Mayfair that had been run by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay before him.

"At the time, I was like, 'Go to hell - what do you know?'" laughs the affable 51-year-old on a brief stopover in Singapore last week. "But looking back, they were absolutely right."

As the chef-owner of the two Michelin-starred L'Enclume in Cartmel, he had a devoted following with his progressive cuisine focusing on produce sourced from the surrounding area and now from his own farm. But what he didn't count on at Fera was a clientele who wanted to eat beef wellington and prawn cocktail, not his meticulously crafted pine-smoked beetroot, raw and preserved vegetables. or onion and whey-fermented grains.

"It was a double whammy for us because the customer that comes to L'Enclume doesn't want to go to a hotel in Mayfair. And a lot of customers who went to Claridge's didn't want to eat my food!"

It was a lesson hard learned but both chef Rogan and the Claridge's split amicably in April this year. He's since shifted his focus back to his flagship L'Enclume, while maintaining a presence in the city with two new restaurants of his own.

He was in Singapore last week for a four hands cooking stint at Jaan, in Swissotel Stamford, where he and resident chef Kirk Westaway (who earned the restaurant its first star in 2016) wowed diners with a showcase of their respective signature dishes.

You could say he's come full circle, now that he's finally gone back fulltime to L'Enclume, which earned its second Michelin star in 2013, and he's now put "foot to the pedal" to get the elusive third star.

He is also expanding the restaurant, B&B operations and his 12-acre plus farm in Cartmel, where he's added a charcuterie, butchery (they raise their own livestock on the farm), aging room and preserving room. His original rooms in a 13th century building (guests complained about the noise from the kitchen) will be moved to a house opposite the restaurant that he bought recently.

But fans who can't make the three hour train ride to Cartmel can't wait for him to open Roganic on Jan 9 - the permanent revival of the successful two-year pop up he ran in Marylebone in 2011.

He also has Aulis, which opened in October as a 'secret' eight-seater restaurant at night that serves dinners at £250 per person which has it's been fully booked since.

"(After Fera) we could have said to hell with London, we have all we need in Cartmel," says chef Rogan. But one thing he learned from Fera was that a city presence was crucial to boost his profile and that of L'Enclume, where his heart and soul (and money - because his entire business is funded by himself and his life partner Penny) lie.

It's where his vision as possibly the only chef owner-operator of a proper, working farm in the UK that grows all the produce it needs for the restaurant comes to life. One hundred percent organic and zero waste, "it's also (costing) a bottomless pit of money," he says wryly.

"But that's not the point. The point is what it can do for us and the message it's got. Hopefully one day (it will pay for itself). But we keep at it because of the message and our ethos and we want to make it better."

For the first time in many years, chef Rogan is taking a break for Christmas.

"I will be spending the time with my family. I have a house on the Sussex coast is in the south of England, so we will be spending Christmas there. We will fill the house up with goodies and invite all friends and family around to celebrate. We'll dress up warm for walks on the beach or jump onthe train to Brighton to check out the sales. I am going to try to enjoy myself as much as possible because there is a very busy 2018 ahead with a lot going on."