Way of the Chef caught up with Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan at his restaurant Fera at Claridges for a chat about what its like to work for him and his company:
So Simon, tell us a little bit about what it means to work for your restaurant group.
Well, over the years, once you’ve grown up a little bit in business, you start to realise you’re only as good as the team around you. We are where we are today because we’ve invested in our staff. We pay them well, look after them and groom a team. And our team truly believes in the brand, and they’re a passionate bunch. We’re also very much a management committee, it’s all about a collective and a group choosing the right path.
With L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, being the flagship, how would you describe your food style and what kind of chef would fit in?
It takes a very special person to work at L’Enclume (Simon winks and laughs). But honestly it takes the right kind of mentality to work in a small village, being such a rural area. But it is quite a magical village, and we have all the facilities: the farm, the development kitchen, the most up to date equipment and, most importantly, an amazing team.
There are neighbouring towns around. Lancaster, for example, is only 15 mins on train and there’s a big scene there. The guys at L’Enclume work hard, really enjoy it. It may not be for everyone, but it is one of the most beautiful and best places if you like that kind of thing.
Do chefs have to find their own accommodation?
Right now, we have around 80 full time employees in Cartmel, but it is a very small village with high housing prices! But we always give them help. Neighbouring towns some 2/3 miles away are a bit cheaper, and some are only a bike ride away. We actually only have four houses for staff accommodation at the moment, but it’s important to us that we make new staffs’ transition as easy as possible.
How about a commis arriving at one of your restaurants?
I'm a firm believer in promotion from within and proper training. It’s so pleasurable for me when we receive new blood, be it commis, from school or on work experience, and they work hard for us and go to college.
Guys come through the ranks, like Ben Donkin, who started with me at 14 years-old on work experience, and he’s now CDP on pastry. I organise stages for him every year so he gets the best possible training, and I hope he goes all the way with me and reaches a senior position. It’s just so pleasing. No-one should be intimidated coming to work with us, it’s such a friendly team, and the training is second to none.
Tell us a little about the outlets in the group.
Our northern flagship is L’Enclume, which was our first restaurant. Then came Rogan and Co, which opened in 2008, and then The French in Manchester which is similar to L’Enclume but in the city centre. We then opened The Pig and Whistle which is our little village pub in Cartmel, and then there is Mr Coopers which is also in Manchester. Mr Coopers is kind of a big English brasserie, if you can call it that. With 150/200 covers, it embraces all cuisines so the gloves are really off there!
Fera is the latest and that’s where you’ll usually find me. While every one of our restaurants has a similar food style and ethos, apart from Mr Cooper’s, Fera also has to contend with the London atmosphere, where time is money. Lots of three course meals rather than our tasting menus, with business lunches and the like.
With a similar ethos running through the group, I suppose that gives staff the opportunity for cross pollination, so to speak?
Finding great staff is difficult, so when you have them you want to keep them! We offer different motivations within the same Rogan style across the county. If, say, you’ve had enough of the huff and puff of London, you can switch to L’Enclume for a quieter existence! You’ve also go Manchester, which is not quite as big as London, but still with city lifestyles. We have many different experiences available as a company, so we keep our staff a lot longer than most.
Finally, if you were presenting Simon Rogan at a college, what would you say about coming to work for you, in a nutshell?
I suppose I would lead with our ethos, and the extent to which we go to in order to carry it out. With our farming and foraging, we have a fresh, unique style. All done within a brilliant working environment with a friendly team that hold no egos, no one person bigger than the other, and always striving to push the product forward, to creating a difference and inspiring people so they’re well and truly involved in the push.
We strive to create that ideal working environment so that staff feel safe, comfortable and motivated in what they do. There are constant opportunities for career progression and we love to promote from within. You won’t be just a number, you can be someone with real value, and it’s very important to me that our staff feel that way.