Ben Spalding, Head Chef, Roganic London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 31st August 2011

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Ben is currently head chef at Roganic in Marylebone, Simon Rogan's new London restaurant. Roganic’s presents a unique dining experience with the best of British organic produce and a Cumbrian twist. Ben's training started at the 28+ Restaurant in Gothenburg, Sweden, as chef de partie on the fish section. Afterwards he worked at 3 Michelin starred restaurants Per Se in New York and Royal Hospital Road, London. He then gained a senior position at L'Autre Pied, London and then at Gary Rhodes W1 at Cumberland Hotel, London. Ben took a break from London, before his daughter was born and spent three months at Shannon Bennett’s restaurant Vue de Monde in Melbourne, Australia. Throughout his time off Ben also undertook long stages at the The Fat Duck, Le Manoir, Capital hotel, London and Bagatelle in Oslo, Norway. Ben thank you very much for inviting me in, wonderful to come and see you here at Roganic. Let's start, first question how long have you been here in your current role? Mentally since March, and physically since May. Okay so there was not a lot of pre-opening stuff to be done? I went up to Cartmel for about seven weeks, worked in both the restaurants, Rogan and Company and L'Enclume and got to understand what Simon was about and his ethos and got to meet all the team including Mark (Birchall) and everyone in the team to see how they do things. So obviously I had a better basis and understanding for moving back to London to open Roganic"¦ It's been documented in the press, it's a two year pop up and I know Simon took a bit of criticism for calling that a pop up for two years, why I don't know but anyway, what are the goals and aspirations for you in the business in that period of time? For me personally, it's to establish myself as a serious force in the London food scene, raise my profile and get respect from my industry peers and customers alike. I am going to drive Roganic forward as far as it can possibly go in the two years to create and sustain a fantastic reputation as not only one of the best places to eat in London but also the UK. It's blatantly obvious that we need to be busy to stay trading, Any chef worth their salt knows that awards matter and to help getting Roganic awards is a personal goal for me of course, I've sacrificed a lot of quality time with my family and everything so I'll be damned if I don't make it the very best it can be but it must be made clear that we don't cook for Michelin and the guides, critics or bloggers, we cook for the customers, they keep us in the business and I'm sure awards will follow. Absolutely and I think that's exactly the right thing to do. Simon's obviously got his own unique food style but how would you describe your food style? This is my first head chef role in the UK I'm still fairly young and I've only just begun to find my food style it's going to take probably up to about ten years for me to develop. I feel like I'm mature enough to know when to say stop on a plate and not overdo it and restrain myself. I've learnt some very special techniques in the restaurants I've worked in and I'll take these and evolve them, try to use interesting ingredients and I can't stand trends or copying. I like to come up with original ideas, like the seawater cured mackerel, it's something logical and original that I haven't seen before and the idea just struck me one day when I was down by the beach and then I mixed that with the Japanese way of curing mackerel for sashimi and then something quite special came out of it. Working with Simon is really great and we bounce off each other, when we discuss and write menus. I put a lot of thought in to come up with something that fits in with his ethos and what we offer as a product at Roganic. I deliberately do my utmost to find something unique or different and that hopefully makes him think wow! But he probably thinks it's shit! Ha-ha ((Laughs)) I'm sure he doesn't. "¦I suppose I'm going through a theatrical stage in my style right now, the upcoming critical couple dinner will showcase this. My talented filmmaker friend Eugene is going to film it in really cutting edge rawness, with some black and white so keep an eye out for it, it should be really good. I like tongue in cheek gestures and presentations and things that make you giggle and question food but it is absolutely fundamental that I keep the seasoning balanced and the quality of the cooking firmly on the ground otherwise it's all rubbish. What do you think has been your greatest success to date and that may be not just here but in your career? Okay well this is quite a short answer really being part of the team at Gary Rhodes W1 @ Cumberland and L'Autre Pied and winning a Michelin star in both of them in 2009 and 2010 respectively that was really satisfying after putting so much of my life into those jobs, especially L'autre pied, something very special was created there with Marcus, an incredibly tough time but very very rewarding and great training for heading up Roganic. Secondly, although not quite greatest success, I'm just proud of myself for sticking at cooking, I have made a lot of sacrifices throughout my life to be cooking at the highest level and not compromising and taking the easy route with fewer hours and working with people who don't have any pride or care what they do. It's starting to feel a little more worthwhile now; I am getting something back from it. Fantastic. You're very young and I don't mean that in a patronising way anyone's young compared to me. ((Laughs)) What's the biggest frustration about being a head chef? Well, right, a couple of things, firstly, people saying, "oh god! You're so young," it really pisses me off. No excuse me Mark I Don't mean to be rude, I Know you understand but"¦ ((Laughs)) No, no, no that's fair enough. "¦ I just find it really narrow minded because what some people do is they relate to what they were doing at 24 years old to what I'm doing at 24 years old and I find it really patronising, and disrespectful really, times change, the world is evolving you know, I developed very fast,  I have been obsessive, nothing was handed to me on a plate, I worked bloody hard and have put my whole life into learning about food, when I wasn't at work I was constantly scouring the internet, listening, watching, experimenting and doing whatever I could just to absorb information and understand it and process it fast. Everybody said Michael Owen was too young at 18 to go into a World Cup and he went in and tore Argentina apart so no, no, no age has nothing to do with it. You're right, I just think, I'm still learning every second, we all are and I don't think I know everything by any means but I do my job properly and thoroughly and I take it deadly seriously, when people question my age I let the food at Roganic do the talking, judge me on that, not my age. Secondly, it has to be staff just doing a runner! you invest your time, your drive and passion in someone and then they don't show up, we are a small team, each and every person in the building is so so important to realising our vision everyday. I experienced it probably 100 times in my career in various kitchens all over the world but it hurts a lot more now when I deliberately go out of my way to make that person feel like they're very important and treat them very well, a lot better than I was treated in previous jobs, at 5pm I force the whole restaurant team sit down in the restaurant together to eat staff food together- and I stress heavily on the kitchen team that the staff food must be of decent quality, not just chucking all the trimmings together. I very rarely scream and shout,  if something is wrong I give them a reason immediately and I make them understand it, this doesn't mean I put overcooked fish on the plate, it comes straight back at them if not right but I give a reason and then tell them how to make it better and more efficient and get a better end result as best as I know how. As opposed to just giving them a bollocking. Yeah I don't do that I got that out of my system at previous kitchens, I don't do that now, Simon's not like that either, and wouldn't allow it. Sure, there is harsh words sometimes but if it ever got to a point where i shout like a maniac in service then I have not done my job properly during mise en place time or given the correct training to my chefs. Absolutely, Who's been the biggest influence in your career then? It doesn't have to be a chef it could be anyone. Well a couple of things I suppose, the reason I got into cooking my dad died from alcohol addiction when I was 16 and that really affected me, I went through a massive dip for about a year, didn't really do a lot, got in a lot of trouble and my eldest brother put me on a catering course, just to get me off the streets and I caught the bug straightaway. I went in on my first day and I was hooked completely. Where did you go? Brighton City College. Well the thing is I only did four months on the fast track course! I used to get along really well with my tutors but I would always come in and they'd be teaching something and in class I'd always be like telling them to change it and saying that was wrong and in the end they'd just go, "Just piss off will you, and go and work in the industry!," because they could see that I really wanted it and I had a little bit extra that you need to start professionally, I wanted it so badly and they just said, "I think you're going to get more out of going to work in the industry full time," Another big inspiration was my head chef Hans Boren 28+ in Gothenburg Sweden, I don't think he knows it but he will know now if he reads this. He's held a star for 20 years! I moved there when I was 18 and I worked there for one year as chef de partie on the fish section. Why Sweden? Well the girls ((laughs)). Bloody girls. Fair enough. I've got loads of Swedish mates but i actually moved there for a girl, it was really funny, I moved over there and the same day we broke up, so I thought bollocks I am here now, I'll stay. Everybody looks like an 18 year old Ulrika Jonsson? Ha-ha pretty much yeah. So yeah I went there and he ran the sauce section, and I ran the fish right next to me and it was really, really close working, we would do the pass together, I was taking everything in like a sponge, this was a brilliant chef with a lot of pride who was helping training the Swedish bocuse d'or competitors! I didn't realise how much I was learning until I left, I still refer to his ethic all the time, one day he said to me, "Everything is good enough to eat raw if it's fresh," and he used to come out with these really great phrases that stuck with me a lot, really stayed in my memory and I've really, really fond memories of the monthly menu change meetings at his house, picking the chanterelles and Karl Johan's (ceps) in the summer out in his back garden, really special times. Secondly I'd say like everyone I've worked for has inspired me in some way or another, whether that's a chef de partie or a boss, or even a waiter, you know you pick up little thing, you meet special people, It used to be Gordon Ramsey actually I think he's still an incredible influence for me but he's lost a lot of credibility.Ultimately the biggest influence has been  Thomas Keller has been my very biggest inspiration I mean the sheer respect for everything from appearance to family meal to the way we treat each other in the kitchen and outside, something very special that rubbed off on me in a really big way. I mean if you come to Roganic kitchen and you may see a lot of similarities to Per Se and his work ethic that we practise daily, obviously not on the same scale! Roganic is a tiny site and not a $4m kitchen, but I religiously stand by his ethos about having respect, humility and integrity for everything and everyone around you, and lastly I'd say, funnily enough, my daughter, you know, she's really taught me to be humble and helped me dealing with situations, you know, as a parent something changes, you realise what matters. Yeah kids do that to you for sure. Yeah definitely. You've mentioned your team a couple of times here, you've mentioned work ethics, I read one of your tweets I think either yesterday or today about how important your team are and how great your team are here and it's a great feeling for you, how important is having a good team to a business because you are only one person, there's only so much you can do? The first thing I need to say is how lucky I am to be given the opportunity to run Roganic and obviously Simon and Penny they've put a massive amount of faith and trust in me and they let me get on with my job and flourish, I take it deadly seriously. Secondly the team at Roganic is very special, the front of house, John, Sandy, Jack, Mody, Oscar and yubik and then in the kitchen you've got Andy, the sous chef, Aaron, Glyn, Ian, and Dom a part timer who has just joined us and then you've got giri and mutu the kitchen porters, these are the ones who put up with my constant moaning and chopping and changing, especially the kitchen team, who are putting in stupid working hours often in tricky work conditions to make Roganic what it is, these cooks could grace any kitchen in the country with their head held high and I am very very grateful to them all for their drive and commitment to me and the food, together we don't compromise on what we offer, and we will never, ever offer a poor experience, it just simply can't happen. Secondly yeah I've worked for countless chefs who really don't give a toss about their staff, don't appreciate them, treat them like crap, Simon and Penny do care, I care and that shows in the service, the food that comes out, the atmosphere in the building, you know, in other words like across the whole board really. Brilliant. Last but by no means least then Ben you've got a two year lease here but where do you see you in five years time? I have to be careful what I say here or I'll get the chief on the phone ha-ha! Well I'm working with, in my opinion right now, the most exciting chef in the UK. You've got the generals Mark at L'Enclume, Louis at Rogan & Company and . Dan Cox has now just joined the Aulis Research kitchen and the how barrow farm to drive that forward, they're all really great guys and they all bring their own talents to the table. I think Simon's getting the very best out of me although I have restrictions in what I can serve and I fully respect what he wants. He gives me a lot of freedom to create on, which I thrive on, he's not like over my shoulder the whole time, he lets me breathe and I think collectively as a group we're on the verge of pretty big things, I'm fiercely ambitious and I'm not slowing down for anything or anyone and I think that speaks for Simon and the boys as well. But to answer your question, I simply really don't know, I've got a daughter and a great supportive girlfriend, Laura, and another one on the way. What another girlfriend? ((laughs)) Another baby on the way. Yeah I realise that. I can't believe I've got another one on the way now! Great news but bloody hell. I was just pulling your leg. Yeah they matter more than anything and Laura letting me do what I love shows what a great partner she is to me, I am very very lucky, So after the two years, you know, I want to take a couple of months out to spend with my family and then after there will be a new site to take Roganic to the next level, which excites me a lot to think what we could do with better resources and a bigger team- it's frightening really! but in the long run I want my own restaurant and everything that comes with it, I've sacrificed too much and worked too hard not to push for that but right now I'm loving every second of working with Simon and Penny and my loyalty lies with them 200% at Roganic for the immediate future. Well look I wish you Roganic, Simon, Penny, all the team, every, every success. Everything I read about this place says it's doing the right thing. Thank you very much. And I genuinely wish you every success. Thank you that's brilliant. Thank you Mark. Check out our head chef vacancies on our jobs board to follow in Ben's footsteps. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 31st August 2011

Ben Spalding, Head Chef, Roganic London

IN ASSOCIATION WITH