Louis Solley, head chef, Jago Restaurant, London

The  Staff Canteen
Born and raised in East London, we caught up with Louis Solley, the proud joint owner of Jago, a striking London restaurant that has only been open for less than a year but is hard to miss. Located at the front of a creative workspace the bright orange décor houses a Middle Eastern/Southern European menu from the ex-head chef of Ottolenghi who, although says it has been tough, would eventually like to repeat the process and open a few more restaurants as it’s been massively fulfilling. What made you want to be a chef?Braised duck leg, spiced red cabbage & quince I always enjoyed cooking and food, most of my holidays as a child were based around going to restaurants in France. My mum and dad were huge foodies so rather than beach holidays we got dumped in the back of the car and went wherever our parents took us and were we fed just really delicious food as a consequence of it. Always enjoyed it and I didn’t massively enjoy school and throughout my time I knew I couldn’t see myself sitting at a desk so it felt natural to do something a) I liked and b) didn’t have the confines of a room and a desk. So I went to Westminster Catering College for three years.
Guilty pleasures: McDonald's cheeseburger – that’s my true guilty pleasure, a-once-every-two-months little sneak into McDonald's Cadburys chocolate – my grandmother, grandfather and mother were all brought up in Bourneville, in the little town that was created for everyone that worked in the factory; so I’ve also had a love for Cadburys and especially a fruit and nut bar. Favourite cookbooks: St John’s cookbook – Fergus Henderson just helped to re-write the rules on how to make a dish so simple but so brilliant at the same time. Stripping away at a dish until you only have what you really need on a plate is something that he really pioneered.
So what was the first position? I had a part time job whilst in college at Richard Corrigan at Lindsay House, which is where I used to do two evenings and a Saturday whilst I was in my final year; it was a big place and a serious kitchen. And after finishing college? I worked in a little start up in Peckham called Bar Story, not that I’d been put off by those hard-line kitchens but I thought there was a way of cooking that didn’t involve shouting, screaming and discipline. I thought there was another way of creating a creative environment which is really where food should come out of; especially as most food comes out enjoyment and love for what you do. So I found that in those industrial kitchens you had people that were just a cog. Is there one place that you can pinpoint as the one place that shaped you as a chef, where you learnt the most? Ottolenghi for sure was a big turning point for me, he [Yotam Ottolenghi] is very good at picking out ingredients that aren’t always worked with but also it was more about him being able to deconstruct a dish – that it didn’t have to follow a formula of a protein, a starch and a carbohydrate and sauce. It turns it into something a lot more playful, it was working a lot with vegetables and spices and throwing the rulebook out of the window. What made you leave Ottolenghi and open Jago? We share the space with a company called Second Home who have an amazing work space and Jago sits on the front of it. One of the co-owners of Second Home is an old friend of mine approached me and said ‘why don’t you come and open up in the amazing space that we’ve got.’Jago Exterior Was it always the aim to open in East London or was it because that space was available? It really was because the space was available but I’m an East London boy, and I love it and the journey that it’s been on. Part of me thinks it’s crazy that people want to spend half a million on a 2-bed flat in Hackney but equally the area has raised its profile so much that it demands that. How do you think Jago’s been received? We’ve had really good recognition, it’s been incredibly hard work and draining but really good feedback from people like the Telegraph, Jay Rayner, and the Financial Times; so that makes all the hard work worthwhile. Has it been tougher than what you thought? Pickled herring, beetroot, yoghurt & dillI knew it was going to be tough but it’s been a huge learning curve, there’s so many curveballs thrown at you throughout the process. I’m used to running kitchens but it’s so much more on top of that, more responsibility but it’s been a massively fulfilling thing to do and I would do it again for sure. Is that the plan then – to own a few more? I’d like to, it’s been a real joy doing this. It’s kind of addictive, there’s three of us that own the business and I don’t think either one of us would want to settle with just the one restaurant. It would be brilliant to be able to do this again and have a couple more. Is there a lot of competition in the area or do you think you’ve set yourself apart? If you have a restaurant in a foodie area then you’re doing great as you’re always going to have people who want to come down and eat, and people don’t want to eat the same food every day.Jago Interior The restaurant’s competition I almost see them as support, we’re lucky enough to be down the road from St. Johns, but the area this side of Brick Lane doesn’t have a massive food scene. It’s mainly Indian restaurants down here so I hope that more places will open up so we can have more neighbours that we can give and get advice and support from. Obviously the restaurant is striking being bright orange, so did you have any input on the design? The restaurant had already been designed. When we were presented with these designs we were more than happy to settle in one of the most unique spaces in London. So the food is a mix of Southern European and Middle Eastern – is that still a fair assessment? Yeah absolutely. I came over from Ottolenghi and my business partner came over from Moro, so we immediately had that sense of this is where our strengths lie. My family are originally Jewish and so is the area, so we wanted to give a little nod to some of the processes that go into a few classical Jewish dishes; pickling, curing and salting. So we created another layer of interest to work with in the kitchen. Jago Bar SnacksDo you think you were set on that style to begin with or was there a bit of experimenting? It’s a natural process, the menu has grown and it will always be better when the chefs are happy. They don’t have too many boundaries to work with so you get a much more natural progression on your menu when you’re not saying ‘well you can’t do that’; I think that’s important to not put too many confines on that. How often do you tweak or add new dishes? We regularly slot dishes in and out normally a couple of dishes every two weeks or so. We have a rigorous dish development programme, so a new dish will go through a few stages to make sure that it’s consistent. Do you like to eat out yourself? When I can get away, I like to eat out a lot. Brawn on Columbia Road that’s an amazing place, and been in there for years and enjoy it every time. What would you say the aim is for Jago?Orange Cake with orange curd and caraway seeds We want to build a reputation and show that we’re going to be one of the best restaurants in London and we’ve got the food, drink and space to prove it. We’re such a young restaurant that we’ve got a lot of time to blossom and improve.  

>>>Like the sound of working in London like Louis? Then head here for a whole host of various positions in the capital.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st October 2015

Louis Solley, head chef, Jago Restaurant, London