Foodie Features

Simon Rogan – Town And Country

By Rosie Birkett

Rosie Birkett catches up with two-Michelin starred chef Simon Rogan, on the cusp of his Claridge’s opening.

“I’m madly dashing up and down the country at the moment – and I’m calling my route ‘Car-Man-Don’,” laughs Simon Rogan, who’s clearly managing to maintain a sense of humour amidst what must be one of the most stressful points of his career. In May, Rogan, who last year expanded his Cumbrian restaurant empire to Manchester – with two restaurants at The Midland Hotel – will take over one of the world’s most sought-after dining rooms, when he replaces Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s.

Rogan’s food – for which he has won two Michelin stars and ten out of ten in the Good Food Guide, at L’Enclume in the small Cumbrian village of Cartmel – is markedly different from Ramsay’s. Relying almost exclusively on British produce – much of which is grown at his own farm in Cumbria – he creates modern, natural, unusual, almost ethereal dishes, often featuring unknown, forgotten or underused parts of ingredients and foraged produce. Recipes are constantly evolving according to said produce and are worked up in his development and research facility Aulis, in Cumbria, where his team of chefs also oversee a ‘fermentation chamber’ for microbial alteration of ingredients like ‘black garlic’.

For Claridge’s, we can expect over two hundred new dishes, including such creations as ‘wood pigeon, parsley root cooked over Scot’s pine with celery leaf and mustard seeds’; or ‘prawns from Gairloch, parsnips and meadowsweet, apple and violet flowers’. Rogan will launch the ninety cover restaurant with Dan Cox – who previously led the development kitchen – as executive chef. “It’s a whole new repertoire, more researched than anything we’ve ever done before,” he says. “It’s the same style of food, same ethos and same DNA as L’Enclume, but the Claridge’s dishes have been dominating things in the development kitchen.

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“It has got to have a point of differences and that’s the dining room, which is world renowned – and you have to respect its history and style. But we’ve made some really exciting changes in the room and taken it back to its bare bones. We’ve created new spaces which have not been there before and a whole new floor above the kitchen.” It’s worth noting that the jet-setting patrons of Claridge’s – unless they have made the pilgrimage up north for his food, or eaten at his now-defunct London pop-up Roganic – may not have tasted anything like what Rogan has in store for them.

Is he daunted? “It’s a new opening with the eyes of the world on it,” he says. “There’s got to be nerves – there are nerves whenever we do something new and Gordon has big shoes to fill. But I’m quietly confident that we’ll deliver, we’ve got the team and the facilities in place to make that happen. We need to get things spot on from day one, that’s the challenge. Most chefs in the world would have loved to have got their hands on the dining room, but I got it and hopefully we’ll deliver a world class product.”

There were rumours that Claridge’s were talking to US chef Thomas Keller and Denmark’s Rene Redzepi, but it’s fitting that this iconic British dining room should go to a uniquely British chef. “Even if it wasn’t me, I would have loved it to go to a British chef,” says Rogan. “It’s about British excellence standing tall around the world – it’s a marriage made in heaven really.”

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