A few weeks ago a Lake District restaurant, owned and run by chef Simon Rogan, achieved something pretty unique,...
Most lovers of food and drink will be quick to agree that no trip to Cumbria is complete without a visit to Cartmel – home to Simon Rogan’s renowned restaurants L’Enclume and Rogan & Co as well as his development kitchen and chef’s table Aulis and it’s no surprise it has become known as a destination for anybody who appreciates excellent restaurants and local produce.
We arrive at Aulis, the Cartmel chef’s table, and settle down to chat with Tom Barnes, Simon Rogan’s Executive Chef, who looks after L’Enclume, Rogan & Co and Henrock at Linthwaite House. It’s clear from the outset Tom is relaxed and perfectly at home in his surroundings, but then he has been a chef for many years now –
‘‘When I was at school, I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but I was interested in cooking and I used to dabble in the kitchen as a kid, baking cakes with my Grandma and stuff. My career began when I was fifteen, I started working while I was still at school thanks to my Mum, because she was the one who noticed the advert in the paper, and she suggested that I applied because she knew I was interested in cooking. I already had a genuine interest in the profession and once I started work in the kitchen, I never looked back. I did a full-time apprenticeship at The Lakeside Hotel and from then on, I knew it was the career for me.’’
Now 32, Tom has already worked in an impressive array of outstanding restaurants at a relatively young age and we talk about who has influenced him the most over the years –
‘‘I’ve worked with Simon for nine years now and he has undoubtedly been a colossal influence on me so far but going back to the beginning Duncan Collinge who was the head chef at The Lakeside Hotel at the time I worked there was brilliant. Duncan had a lot of patience with me, because I was starting out as a complete novice and he taught me so much during the three years I spent working for him. He made a great teacher because he had worked at places such as Le Gavroche – I learned all the basics from him like knife skills, stocks and sauces and eventually he suggested that I should try for a job in a Michelin starred restaurant. I have absorbed so much from all the chefs I have worked with and they have all shaped me in different ways.’’
Like many successful chefs, Tom the time he has spent working abroad has had a lasting impact on him professionally. He set the bar high, choosing to spend time at the three Michelin starred Geranium in Copenhagen under Rasmus Kofoed and Hof van Cleve in Belgium under Peter Goossens.
Tom’s recent appearances on Great British Menu have also been defining moments in his career, but since he strikes me as having a quiet and humble nature, I am not surprised by his admission that he was reluctant to say yes to the show first time round. Despite this, his appearances were a resounding success with dishes served at the banquet on both occasions –
‘‘I was very nervous at first to go on GBM, but what convinced me to go for it, is that they usually tell you the brief after you have committed to taking part, but this time they revealed the brief beforehand. I thought that I could at least find out the brief and then figure out whether it was something for me. I drew a lot of inspiration from the excellent food landscape we have here in Cumbria; being born and raised in Barrow it is heartening to see what has been achieved here in terms of creating a food culture. What has happened in Cartmel is great for the region as a whole and I was proud to represent my area on Great British Menu.’’
As cookery competitions go, there are few which are considered more prestigious than The Roux Scholarship, founded in 1984. Tom highlights that winning the scholarship in 2014 was another triumphant moment and he is quick to praise the kindness of the Roux family –
‘‘that was the highlight of my career so far and I entered it initially because a lot of people who have worked for Simon have done well in The Roux Scholarship, so it was suggested that I should have a go. The first year I entered I did not win, but that was the year it was being filmed for the anniversary, so I felt a little uncomfortable. When I went on to win in 2014 it was a surreal feeling, and I forged a real bond with the Roux family. While I was at Geranium, I felt at a bit of a loss as to what I should do next and I emailed them for advice and the next day Michel Roux senior phoned and invited me to The Waterside Inn so that we could have a chat. They put me up there for three days and I spent a couple of days in the kitchen with Alain and Michel Roux senior and they suggested that I should go back to Rogan & Co, which turned out to be an amazing step for me.’’
There is no doubt that Tom has a bright future ahead of him, but he is emphatic that he wants to continue his evolution with Simon Rogan –
‘‘I am so happy working for Simon, and I have already evolved considerably in my culinary style and confidence over the years. I see myself here for a long time to come and I have so much freedom which I relish – it is a collaborative process of course and when Simon is up here, I enjoy giving him new dishes to try and having a talk over things. And I have so much freedom which I relish – it is a collaborative process of course and when Simon is up here, I enjoy giving him new dishes to try and having a talk over things.’’
Simon Rogan’s award-winning ‘at home’ meals, available nationwide directly to your door. Order weekly three-course ‘at home’ dining experiences, in addition to special seasonal celebration menus, cooked by our talented chefs for you to enjoy in the comfort of your own home.
Take a look at our cottages in Cartmel and plan your foodie getaway to the Lakes.