On the cusp of a refurb, and a year after gaining a second Michelin star, Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume is going from strength to strength. His commitment to using local ingredients has made the village of Cartmel in Cumbria a foodie Mecca. We tracked him down to find out more.
Simon Rogan has been responsible for transforming Cartmel’s old smithy into a restaurant that warrants a perfect ten score in the Good Food Guide. With 23 acres of farm sites across Cumbria and Northumberland much of L’Enclume’s success is down to admirable self sufficiency, but what inspired him to go local, and what does the future hold for L’Enclume? We met with him to find out why he says it’s the most fulfilling thing he’s ever done…
What made you decide to set up a restaurant so far away from any major cities?
I’d been in a job that I felt had promised a lot and not delivered. I’d had enough, so when I left there, I decided I wouldn’t work for anyone else, ever again. I worked for two years temping to keep my hand in, while my partner and I looked for a place. My partner is from Sussex and I’m from Southampton so we were looking around the south coast. We’d looked at a few projects and just as we thought we’d found one near Brighton it fell through.
In the meantime, a friend of mine knew someone who owned the freehold on what is now L’Enclume, and asked me if I was interested. I didn’t come up to Cumbria to look straight away. But when the Brighton place fell through, I thought it was worth a punt. I set off at 4am, was there by 10am, fell in love with place straightaway, and signed on the same day. The building was really special, even though it was a building site when I first saw it. It pricked my imagination. Now we’re getting to a stage where the business is what we wanted it to be ten years ago – we’re busy every night. Just when you think it can’t get any better it does.
You’re known for only using local ingredients. Have you always worked that way?
I’ve always had a love of ingredients. My dad worked in the wholesale market in Southampton and he’d come home with starfruit and kiwis and guava, and we had no idea what to do with them. They’d sit in the fridge and we’d look at it whenever we went to get a pint of milk hoping it would magic into something. That connection with my dad was quite important and that’s what got me into cooking.
Then in one of my first jobs I worked in the kitchen of a country house hotel in the New Forest where the sous chef and I went out to forage for mushrooms and herbs. The two of us would take a democratic decision on whether it was edible or not! That’s when I realised there was free food all around us.
I was very influenced by Mark Veyrat whose food is based on the local flora of the Haute-Savoie region of France where he works. It really interested me because of my early interest in foraging. L’Enclume had been open for four or five years before I realised I was being too influenced by technology and that, although it’s not quite the Alps, I was working in possibly the last bastion of pure unspoilt countryside. We decided to get back to the basics and now we concentrate on the ingredients that are around us.
That can’t make life easy for you…
It’s not easy! Even throughout the winter to have a totally north-western or even Cumbrian ingredients-led operation, we can’t rely on purely on the wild or even local producers. We discovered that really we have to grow it ourselves. A lot of people told us it wouldn’t be possible when we decided to take this path, but you just have to be more creative and be a bit more disciplined. We’ve got farm sites in Cumbria and four in Northumberland – 23 acres in total. It’s one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. We don’t use lemons, oranges or bananas. We stick to what we’ve got, which makes acidity in our menu the only really problematic thing. But these are the rules that we have set, so we use vinegars for acidity, and we stick to our guns. We’re serving more and more perfect ingredients cooked even more simply. What’s important is straightforward cooking – that’s what’s perfect.
It sounds more like craft than cookery!
That’s what Aulis is about. Aulis is the hub where we plan all our projects, from what is grown on the farm to the menus. We named it after one of our first sous-chefs who tragically died. He was a brilliant artist and very inquisitive so I thought it was an apt name for a place where people can learn about the craft of food.
So what’s next?
We’re giving L’Enclume a massive makeover. I’m always wanting to do my best for the customer, and I want the restaurant to be a three-star experience. Hopefully Michelin will agree! We’re also expanding Aulis, and we’ve a new restaurant opening in Manchester, recreating a 19th Century house and garden on the site where it once was – that’ll be called Mr Cooper’s House and Garden. And then we’ve got Rogan and Co, and the Pig and Whistle, also in Cartmel, and The French in Manchester’s Midland Hotel.
What do the locals make of your impact on Cartmel?
We’ve always been off the beaten path, but now people come even though it’s difficult to get to. Cartmel’s a very busy place now – that’s the most pleasing thing. The village has really benefited from being a foodie destination. It’s not just us, there are cheese shops, wine shops, a high end deli… We started all that off and we are proud of that fact.
FIVE FOODS YOU CAN FORAGE NOW:
Read the piece as it appeared on flavourfirst.org here