CARTMEL, ENGLAND Simon Rogan, one of the UK's top chefs, has abandoned long-awaited plans to open a permanent restaurant in London, for fear his two Michelin-starred L'Enclume restaurant could suffer.
Rogan, who has regularly appeared on TV and who is well known for "foraging" ingredients from the surrounding countryside, told Reuters he abandoned plans for a London outlet after a recent restaurant opening in Manchester "almost killed" him.
The decision stands in stark contrast to moves by other well-known chefs who have built up large restaurant empires on the back of growing interest in good food among the UK public.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, for instance, has opened restaurants throughout the UK and abroad, and has TV series, cook books and merchandise. Other top chefs with large restaurant businesses include Gordon Ramsay, who runs a string of restaurants in London and abroad, and Marco Pierre White, who has steak restaurants in London and other UK cities.
"I was always determined that I wouldn't have a restaurant that I would never step foot into," Rogan told Reuters in the conservatory of L'Enclume, situated in the medieval village of Cartmel in northern England. "How much do you need? How greedy do you want to be? Quality-wise, it's the right decision.
"I don't want to feel that L'Enclume is being neglected, which it certainly felt like to me, because I have been away from it for four weeks now (in Manchester). Although the team here are perfectly capable - you wouldn't know I've been away - I know I am away."
Rogan has run a temporary restaurant called Roganic in London for nearly two years, and had been planning to open a permanent outlet that was "a bit more grand" when the lease for Roganic expires in June, before deciding against it in recent days.
He added that he didn't want to have to depend on "an army of investors" for a London launch, while funding the move from his existing business "would maybe be to risk what is bordering on what we see as perfection here".
"COOKED ABSOLUTELY AMAZINGLY"
L'Enclume - French for anvil - is situated in a former smithy and is rated Britain's second-best restaurant, behind Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, in the current Good Food Guide. The two restaurants were the only ones to achieve a top score of 10 out of 10.
Rogan said he will now concentrate on his outlets in northwest England. At his recently opened restaurant in Manchester, The French, food will be developed to "incorporate the historical element of Manchester".
In one recipe taken from 18th century Manchester businesswoman Elizabeth Raffald, he lards veal with fat to make it more succulent before cooking it on a barbecue (Raffald used a trivet in front of an open fire).
And after eliminating foreign ingredients from his menus around four-and-a-half years ago, Rogan said he was inspired by Raffald to begin using lemons again in a lemon pickle to go with a mushroom ketchup for the veal.
Rogan, whose techniques also include cooling with liquid nitrogen, said the rest of the world has been "so far ahead" of British cuisine but said TV shows such as "MasterChef" and "Great British Menu" had had a "a massive effect on our food culture".
However, it is France, where he has previously worked and where he felt "totally at home", that he rates "head and shoulders above anywhere else in the world".
"I was struck going back to Lyon this year and going into simple brasseries and bistros, by the very simple food cooked absolutely amazingly," he said. "Beef cheeks with pommes purees, mushrooms ... that's the type of food I really, really love."
Among his favourite chefs he names Pierre Gagnaire - "an absolute genius" - while this year he plans to eat at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain that is run by the brothers Josep, Jordi and Joan Roca.
Rogan adds that he hopes the trend away from processed food and towards locally sourced, organic fare that has become more popular in Britain in recent years will continue.
"This is the way I see (going) forward," he said. "We go that one step further by taking one step back down the food chain, to make sure we've got the perfect ingredients in the first place that you don't have to do much to."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)