Dan Cox, Aulis, Cartmel

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th July 2013

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Dan Cox heads up Aulis, the research and development project at the heart of Simon Rogan’s growing British empire, he is more than just a chef – farmer, organic vegetable grower, Rogan’s right-hand man and general fixer – the 31-year-old former Roux Scholarship winner spoke to The Staff Canteen about his busy life and his first love – the ingredient. You were the 25th Roux Scholar, how did it feel to win? Absolutely amazing. It was something I was firmly set on achieving and it has really pushed me on. It pushes you on as a person really more than anything – the stage and the whole year of being a scholar – it really gives you confidence to do what you want to do and progress in your career. On winning the scholarship you chose to go to three-Michelin star El Raco de Can Fabes in Spain as your stage. How was your time there and what made you choose that particular restaurant? Initially I had wanted to go to El Bulli, but after speaking with Albert and Michel I decided to choose a more classical approach to three star Catalan cooking with Santi Santa Maria. It was his ethos that drew me to Can Fabes, working with local farmers, hunters, foragers and fishermen with a style rooted in the tradition of the region but presented in a natural modern way. This was where my true passion was, in the quality of ingredients. The best part was the fish section, we would go to Blanes the local port twice a week and take fish straight off the boats, buying the fish, preparing it, then cooking and dressing the plates, you got to see and work the whole thing. I had a moped the whole time I was out there and whenever I had time off I would go off exploring the area between Barcelona and Girona and eat in as many restaurants as possible. It’s not just about the restaurant you’re at; you’re given some prize money and it’s about using that money as wisely as possible and visiting restaurants, suppliers and markets and getting as much of that food culture as you can. Now of course you work for Simon Rogan. Your role seems to be pretty wide ranging; can you take us through all the things you’re responsible for within the organisation? Aulis encompasses everything we do really. We’ve got the different restaurants –L’Enclume, Roganic, The French, Rogan and Co and The Pig and Whistle; we’ve also got Aulis and the farm in Cartmel; Simon can’t be everywhere at once so I work alongside him to help manage everything. I built and still manage our farm in Cartmel, which is still expanding and improving. We also work with specialist vegetable grower Ken Holland over in Northumberland and between the two sites supply all restaurants with our own natural produce. Aulis is a kitchen dedicated to the development and progression of our food. Coordinating our farming programme, foraging operation lead by sous chef Kevin Tickle, technique and dish development. The other element to Aulis is our kitchen table, which can be booked for up to six. Guests sit at the counter and we cook and serve the whole menu explaining the technique and ideas of each dish. The menu is the same length and style as L’Enclume next door with dishes composed with the best that can be picked on the farm that day and other thing’s we are working on. Can you tell us a bit more about the farm because it’s clearly central to what you’re doing? The whole idea behind the farm in Cartmel was the pursuit of the perfect ingredient. You can’t buy the sort of produce we’re growing here. If we didn’t have the farm we simply wouldn’t be able to buy that quality of ingredient. Simon’s had a farm in Cartmel since 2008 supplying L’Enclume and Rogan and Co. In 2011 with the opening of Roganic we decided to move to a bigger space. We designed it and built it ourselves from scratch over the winter then started growing the following season with the aim to produce near to perfect produce naturally, focusing on improving it’s flavour. We have the ultimate control of our product; we can take the crop at any stage of its life, experiencing them in so many different ways. You’re not a farmer by trade; how much of a learning curve was that for you? I’d always been interested in growing and had always grown my own shoots and interesting herbs and flowers. From there it was a matter of research; there are a few good books out there. It’s not rocket science; it’s very similar to what we do in the kitchen – a very controlled approach to everything. I think an important part of making it work has been employing chefs, with an interest in growing and a will to learn; you can use that energy, drive and passion that we have as chefs and achieve so much more. That’s the case with Lucia Corbel who now looks after everything at the farm. A lot of your time is spent at the development kitchen at Aulis. How does development of menus and dishes work there? Simon will take a list of produce from the farm and the wild and then go away and come up with things, that then need to be worked on and developed or we all sit down together and come up with ideas. Me, Simon and Mark Birchall, the head chef at L’Enclume and Michael Englar the pastry chef are all based in Cartmel so we can sit down together and have brainstorming sessions. Most development starts with the produce or ingredient, when it becomes available, so for example when the first carrots are nearly ready to harvest we sit down and look at what we can do with them, drawing on inspiration from previous years or taking things in a new direction. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process when the product is as good as it is, instead focusing more on developing the technique behind the food. You said your concern was always with the quality of the ingredients; you must feel like a kid in a sweet shop working for Simon Rogan? Yes, a lot of places grow their own stuff but I think what we’re doing here is another level. Our plan is to grow our own produce in entirety to a level that’s never been seen before and with a level of variety that you can’t find anywhere else. We take great pride in what we do and see ourselves as pioneers of this sort of movement in the UK. What part of the many roles you play would you say is your favourite? I would have to say equally the kitchen and the farm, It’s an amazing job being able to do both. When you see that seed that you’ve sown turned into a beautiful vegetable because of the way you’ve managed it, then cooking it and serving directly to the guest, it’s an incredible feeling and such a sense of achievement; it doesn’t get any better really. View Dan's recipe of Raw scallop, Tokyo turnip, anise hyssop and pearl barley here View Dan's recipe of First broad beans with calamint and ox tongue here Dan started in London and has had an amazing career, to find a chef job in London and kick start your career have a look at our jobs board. 
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th July 2013

Dan Cox, Aulis, Cartmel

IN ASSOCIATION WITH