Simon Rogan: The Journey of a Seed
We met the 3 Michelin starred Chef behind L’Enclume, discussing human value, circular sustainability and creativity.
23 May 2022
Imagine being in the middle of a frantic, busy day, surrounded by the roar of hectic city street and overwhelmed by all your job goal anxieties. Imagine walking along a boiling hot polluted and smelly street, then, all of a sudden, you casually and absentmindedly step into a park. The temperature changes, you stop for a moment and feel a sense of relief, you take a deep breath and inhale the gift of the scents of a thousand plants. The unbearable noise leaves space for the melodies of the birds, for the smiling kids and contented teenagers who have found true treasure, a moment of escape.
Simon Rogan, Chef and owner of multiple restaurants around the Globe, found his centre in Cartmel, Cumbria, a remote region of Northern-England. At his three Michelin-starred restaurant L’Enclume, he speaks about nature, about beauty, about sensations and spontaneity.
Rogan talked to us about his universe, about environmental impact, team importance and human sustainability.
How did you start cooking? How does it feel, nowadays, wearing your white jacket?
It has been a winding yet incredible road.
My father was a fruit and vegetable seller and he often used to bring beautiful produce back home; but nobody had the actual knowledge to cook it. That’s how, as a kid, I started learning cooking techniques to approach those ingredients. I felt like a fire inside me, igniting an instinctual tendency to work with raw products. Time then led me to start cooking school and a job at a local restaurant: I was in love with its rhythm, with the proficiency and the controlled chaos.
As days went by, I realized my skills were at a lower level when compared to the rest of the class, and this pushed me to become better and better, dreaming of becoming the greatest chef I could possibly be. To force the limits, to mutate into a higher version of who you were the day before: that helped me in obtaining all the results I am today proud of. Being able to criticize yourself and fix what’s dysfunctional is the hardest task.
That white jacket I wear every morning has never stopped charging me up. It is a sort of ritual, symbolic dressing or, if we want, a super-hero cape, allowing us to solve complex issues and go onstage each day.
Which is the most beautiful part of your job?
Surely human value: that added preciousness which makes you start the working day next to incredible colleagues, an extended family, and it guides you to create experiences and serve people who just can’t wait to be surprised and pass unforgettable hours.
I deeply and continuously fall in love with the magical side of this job. We are like messengers, the mediators between a forgotten nature and the guests dreaming to rediscover it. Everything revolves around humans and around the capacity for talking to others through creativity. A constant routine that might become too challenging if you are not backed by a virtuous and dynamic team. A team to cry and laugh with, to share successes and divide failures. A compact and united group inspiring vision, high standards and coherence, thanks to trust and to the quality within every single individual. We should understand how our fortune is mostly determined by the people surrounding us.
How does you creative process work?
It all start with the farm, called “Our Farm”, which guarantees us an impeccable produce. And the ingredient itself inspires the recipe development, nature guides our research. Techniques are indeed only applied to enhance the purest flavors of the product. We want to communicate the lovable gustative brutality of what’s real, “just picked from the ground”, ethically cultivated, far from chemistry; we need to share the beauty of seasonality and biodiversity; we feel to transmit the life quality of this region, its natural dimension, its vibrant spirituality.
The concept of being local goes beyond the needed necessity to limitate useless transportations and the consequent energetic wastage; it naturally allows guests to taste a specific terroir wherever they are, enjoying a unique and unrepeatable spatiotemporal picture. Here and now.
Let’s think, for instance, at the truffle we use at L’Enclume: we researched the most luxurious varieties all around the globe, to eventually realize the incoherence of that effort. We therefore chose to use great Welsh truffles, which were surprisingly interesting. It means finding virtue inside necessity, it is the construction of a world composed by proximity restaurants, discovering always something new, traveling and eating every country’s little intimate and peculiar aspect, appreciating its inevitable mutations.
You mentioned the “Our Farm” project. Could you tell us more?
“Our Farm” is the nucleus of all our activities and thoughts. The heart of our bodies, marking the kitchen musicality and offering those miracles we daily receive to nourish ourselves and our guests. It allows you to capture the poetry of holding a seed in your hands and perceive its still unexpressed disruptive force, that will turn that small first principle in a product, therefore in an ingredient and eventually in a dish.
The freedom of cultivating what we need and have it available for every service, in all its freshness and honesty, it’s priceless.
After all, in my life, sustainability has always been obvious and normal: I only lost it during few periods in big cities and restaurants. That’s why I decided to move here, I was craving for some fresh air, I needed to find back that sensation of direct and transparent food I used to feel when I was cooking for my parents.
Moreover, every restaurant organic waste gets transformed into farm compost, closing that green circle which makes us happy and definitely less impactful towards the environment.
L’Enclume recently received its third Michelin star. How did these last months impact your life? What’s your personal dream, from now on?
I have been overwhelmed by attentions, interview requests, invitations. The restaurant became more and more desired and pressure made itself heavier. Nonetheless, I see it as a positive duty to carry, because it derives from crowning an important result, from the recognition of a complex journey.
Professionally we are more mature, we evolved our offer and the internal organization. Personally, I found myself compared to my heroes, idols. I feel lucky, grateful and proud to be part of this small group of chefs. It is unreal.
When, one day, I will finally hang the apron, I would like to be remembered as a person who changed something, who created new and different perspectives, who had an impact on future generations. I would like to end my career with the consciousness that I helped to positively transform the world.
How could we react to the current productive system?
I believe that cooks and chefs, at any level, carry the intrinsic responsibility of carefully guiding people in their choices, while feeding them with healthy meals. Not everyone is entitled to understand the severe unbalanced conditions of the current productive system or the harmfulness of some of the world’s most loved foods. It is our obligation to propose biodiverse menus, to communicate the importance of the “farm to table” philosophy, beyond slogans and marketing purposes.
It is clear how the world needs to shift towards natural productions, towards real farmers and small retailers, avoiding big distributions. It would be enough to see how industrial production, due to its very own structure, proposes highly dangerous produce, no matter if animal or vegetal: a vegetable, indeed, can impact as much as a piece of meat, it just depends on how and where they are produced.
It would be also crucial to always take information about the provenance and the productive company, understanding the possible environmental damage and the presence of chemical poisons. This last one aspect doesn’t only compromise your own health, but also destroys entire ecosystems, permanently damaging landscapes and natural life.
How do you deal with human sustainability?
Sadly, nowadays, this type of sustainability can’t be separated from an important funds availability. We have the luck to secure our staff with short days and weeks, leaving them a good space for their private lives, but we logically pass from our clientele help and the acceptance to pay a bill which is adeguate to our ethics.
I believe that we must be able to create cohesion in an industry that already changed a lot since my beginnings, but that maybe became less humble.
Even if the workday is a little harder, you can be able to turn it into incredibly didactic hours, into words and feelings exchange moments. We can be great leaders building days of common visions, of respect, fun and commitment .
In the end we just need recognition, dignity. Emotionally and financially. You don’t need a utopian society, you rather want empathy and fairness.
Human chains and teamwork always corresponded to surprising results. The potentiality of a single being is remarkable, but it fades away in front of the indomitable collective solidity.
Simon Rogan managed to hug many great professionals inside his microcosm, reaching unimaginable milestones. And so us all, we see ourselves connected by what could be the greatest collective act in history: merged in a disproportioned fight against our own actions, our own being-human. Against our vices, our carelessness, our long indifference. Why can’t we think about a new wave of restaurants as a geo-temporal mirror, where knowledge and techniques are globally shared, but ingredients are strictly local? Why can’t we support smaller producers, basically just an online research apart? L’Enclume reminds us how willingness is often power, how we could perhaps still fix our mistakes. Because it mostly depends on us, we should just accept it. Because we can’t do more than give it a chance or give up. But how many of us, in all fairness, wouldn’t like to try?