Olly Rouse, Head Chef, Lainston House

The Staff Canteen



Olly Rouse is the head chef at Lainston House, he has been there for three years after an impressive career working under Michelin-starred chefs who include Marcus Wareing and John Campbell. He began his career at Les Bouviers in Dorset before moving to London where he admits he went ‘to mature’. Olly has ambitions to open his own restaurant but he is equally passionate about his role at Lainston and making sure it lives up to ‘its full potential’.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Olly about how tough kitchens can be, taking inspiration from ingredients and the people around him and why he has worked in hotels for most of his career but prefers restaurants.

What attracted you to the industry?

Olly Rouse

I was quite lucky, when I was growing up there was a fine dining restaurant near my parents and I started washing pots there when I was 13. I fell into a great kitchen at a young age and I took an immediate liking to the environment. It was a fun and exciting place to be.

Until I walked into the kitchen I never wanted to be a chef, it never entered my mind but after the first day I fell in love with it and I never looked back.

I was very inquisitive and I got a lot of opportunities, I did this every day after school until I finished school and then I did an apprenticeship at the same place. So, I did six years under the same mentor which was a great introduction for me.

Talk us through your career, which chefs have been the most influential?

My first chef was James Coward at Les Bouviers down in Dorset, he was the one who really kick started me and he was very influential in my teenage years. When everyone else was out partying, he encouraged me to do it too but made sure I got my ass into work as well! He was a really great guy to work under.

From there I went to Petrus with Marcus Wareing, which was an interesting move for me. At that point in my career I was very confident and cocky, I’d been at Les Bouviers where I would run the restaurant when James was away, I’d hire and fire people – I was only 19. James recognised that I needed to go to a tough kitchen and ta the time Petrus had a reputation for being tough, so I went there really to mature.

I did a year and a half there which is longer than I ever planned to go to London, it was good for me in terms of my career but I missed being in the countryside so I moved to The Vineyard at Stockcross with John Campbell.

Info bar

Rising stars

Joe Gould, sous chef, Lainston House

Ben Spalding

Tom Barnes, L’Enclume

Victor Wagman, Bror, Copenhagen

Paul Foster

Guilty pleasures

Anything pickled and anything barbequed

Top 5 restaurants

Paul Ainsworth at Number 6

Alyn Williams at the Westbury


The Bengal Sage, Winchester

Adolfo, Spain

Favourite cookbook

The Art of Fermentation

Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods

North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland

The Vineyard was your first experience of a hotel, how did you find it?

I considered myself to be pretty competent across all sections and pretty fast but I had the shock of my life going to The Vineyard. I was massively challenged and I was so excited to have that challenge, it was a great learning curve and a huge pressure to deliver what we did. John was a great mentor for me, not just from a cooking point of view but from a management, discipline, financial – you name it! In those five years I was there I had exposure to everything, and one of the best things I took was this constant demand to question everything. Not just how we cook things or the flavours we were getting from things, where the produce comes from but the whole mix of a business. John made me look at other ways of approaching every single thing.

He was a tough boss but it was a brilliant experience and we got a second Michelin star while I was there as sous chef.

You set up a consultancy business in 2008, why did you think it was the right time to go out on your own?

I thought high risk, high reward. We did a lot of research and development at The Vineyard and we were quite well regarded for our modern approaches to food so I set up the consultancy business and I also set up a dinner party fine dining business. So I could really work on my food style and be pushed out of my comfort zone. Every menu was different for each party and I found that really good for my development. As chefs we tend to stick to what we like to eat, there are some ingredients I really don’t like so I wouldn’t choose to use them. The dinner parties pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me a more varied approach to all ingredients and all food. But I was chomping at the bit to get a restaurant. I went back to work with John when he offered me just the restaurant at Cowarth Park as I didn’t want to do the hotel again.

You were at Cowarth Park pre-opening, what was it like starting completely from scratch?

We could really build it to exactly what we wanted, from the kitchen to dish philosophy to the suppliers – everything was up for debate. It was an amazing experience and a prestigious one with 86 million quid being spent on it, it was a good time! Money was no object we were just told make it the best – the hotel has to be spanking at the restaurant needs two Michelin stars.

We got a Michelin star in our first year, we weren’t too surprised because we knew what we were doing was on par with what we set out to do. Unfortunately things started to change and collectively as a team we didn’t like them which is why we all left.

You’ve now been head chef at Lainston House since 2013, how did you end up there?

Quince, honey, hazelnut doughnut

John was opening The Woodspeen so I made the decision to go on my own and that’s why I came here. It’s been like a finishing school for me! This is a beast of a property, I thought The Vineyard was busy but this is a much bigger job – there are so many different sides to the business here and we are growing them all at the same time which is no mean feat, plus there is SEASON Cookery School at the hotel and an abundant kitchen garden, so a lot going on. I’m still very ambitious, and I’ve not given up on the dream to open my own restaurant one day but with Lainston House it’s already been a phenomenal journey, to look at what we took over to what we are now and I don’t just mean the product I mean the people as well, I’m chuffed to bits. The challenges we’ve overcome have been more than I could ever have imagined.

It’s been a lot of fun along the way and we’ve trained some real stars which is really rewarding. I get a huge amount of pleasure from positive feedback from guests but at the end of the day, for me, it’s the team. The team who I spend all day, every day with to see them developing and growing and be a part of that, it makes me so delighted and happy.

What are your plans for Lainston House?

I still have so much I want to get done at Lainston House. The lists just keep getting longer, not just for me for my staff who all want to make Lainston House an even better place. I couldn’t have dreamt I’d have such willing, able and dedicated staff a couple of years ago. And we’ve grown that, we’ve done that ourselves.

Do you think you’ve found your style now at Lainston House?

Food style I’ve always known since day dot, so food has never been a problem that’s the easy bit. To manage a business that’s the big one. The food is always evolving, always developing but the style has always been there. We’ve always been very comfortable and confident in what we are delivering but we always want to take it up another level, I don’t think there is any chef in the world that doesn’t.

Venison, butternut, chipotle,

pomegranate mol

How different are starred kitchens to ones without? And which environment do you prefer?

That’s a tough question. There’s a level of professionalism within them (kitchen’s with stars) that I find essential, we don’t have a star here yet and hopefully one day we will. Are they different? Yes they are. Are they harder? Yes they are. Are they more determined? Yes they are. Are they more fun? Generally not!

It’s essential to me that my staff have fun at work, I think some kitchens are so hell bent on chasing the star or maintaining the star but they forget the reason they are doing what they are doing and that is because they love cooking. Every day you should be learning, developing and having fun.

That’s environment I want to work in, I surround myself with people who want that too and I have to make sure I deliver on that as I demand so much of them – long hours and tough days.

You’ve spent a lot of your career working in hotels, do you prefer them?

Hotel restaurants are definitely challenging but that’s why I like them! There’s so much more to this industry than lunch and dinner, although that is my favourite part – breakfast and room service may not be the highlight of my day but if I can do all of it I’m better than the guy who can only do lunch and dinner. 

Lainston has a kitchen garden, is that something you are passionate about?

The biggest thing that swayed Lainston for me was the kitchen garden – my philosophy is nurture and nature; nurture the people and respect the nature of what we’ve got. The garden here is massive and people say ‘you’re so lucky’ they have no idea what a challenge it is. It completely steers our food style and it’s made me develop things I’ve always been interested in but never got round to doing so fermentation, preservation, burying, wrapping, curing and alcohol making. I’ve got 45 apple trees here, if I don’t pick them and make cider they just go to the wasps! I’ve got to be very smart about what i do with the produce and how I manage peoples hours and looking at food from a microbiological level. Before Lainston I would never have been able to confidently talk about those things. I could buy ingredients in, break down a lamb but my relationship with food wasn’t real.

Is the garden your main source of dish inspiration?

Golden duck terrine, apricot kernel, 

beetroot, pink grapefruit, goji

It doesn’t have to be from the garden, any produce inspires me and are the building blocks but everyone has a voice in this kitchen. We do development with the entire team to get a dish on the menu. So yes the garden is inspiring but people are amazingly inspirational.

Which dishes on the menu are you most proud of?

All of them! I see our dishes as alive and as soon as they’ve been on the menu too long they start to die or stagnate. They get boring for me, they got boring for the team and they get boring for the guests. Ingredients change, I know there are three Michelin-starred restaurants who produce the same dishes every day of the year but that’s not my food style, here we buy or grow the best ingredients  and really look after them and serve them at their best – we should celebrate ingredients when they are great. My favourite dish is always the dish which has just gone on the menu. Sea trout went on the menu this week and it’s my favourite because it’s brand new, next week something else will take that top spot.

The cookery school opened last year, is teaching something you enjoy?

I do a couple of classes and I love it. It’s a great opportunity to do something different, I wish I had more time but the kitchen at Lainston House is very much my focus point. The cookery school is great and there are so many amazing courses, we have so many different chefs’ teaching courses that if you do a selection you can learn such a variety of cooking skills.


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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th June 2016

Olly Rouse, Head Chef, Lainston House