10 minutes with: Ryan Simpson, Orwells

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd July 2016

Since setting up the pub/restaurant, Orwells in Shiplake, Oxfordshire six years ago, chefs Ryan Simpson and Liam Trotman haven’t looked back.

During that time they have won numerous accolades and awards for their reasonably priced, fine dining, restaurant including 4 AA Rosettes, a cooking score of 7/10 in the Good Food Guide 2018 and a listing in the Michelin Guide UK, among other accomplishments.

It’s clear that they made the right choice when they famously walked out of The Goose at Salome over a dispute with the then owner Paul Castle which prompted them to find an establishment of their own.

Orwells

Ryan Simpson & Liam Trotman 

Ryan was interested in food from an early age finding the different flavours and textures, along with how food brought people together, exciting. Being a naturally creative and artistic individual, Ryan saw food as an open platform where he could express himself. Taking inspiration from childhood flavours Ryan now creates typically British dishes with a modern twist.

Working under Simon Hulstone at The Elephant in Torquay, Ryan met his soon to be partner Liam Trotman while he was working at The Castle. They started working with each other when they were both at Winteringham Fields in Lincolnshire.

The Goose

Eager to move on and run his own restaurant, Ryan caught word of chef Matt Thompson’s departure from the Royal Oak in Lasham and got offered a cooking trial for the head chef position. The same company running the Royal Oak also owned The Goose, where Ryan and Liam would later find themselves. On the day of the trial, Ryan decided The Goose would actually make a better fit for him and Liam, so they ended up heading up The Goose, Ryan as head chef and Liam as sous.

Within a year Ryan and Liam were mentioned in the Good Food Guide and later earned themselves a Michelin star. Weeks after achieving Michelin star status Ryan and Liam, along with other members of staff, quit over a dispute with its owner Paul Castle about the direction of the restaurant.

Ryan said: “The guy (Paul Castle) wanted us to turn down the cooking and ram the covers in and basically milk the Michelin star which we were not prepared to do so we said no and had a mass walk out.”

Orwells 

After leaving The Goose, Ryan and Liam decided it was the right time to pursue their own venture and started looking at setting up their own business. Having quit both of their jobs money was tight but seven years on, Orwells is still winning awards and producing rural British food with a modern spin.

“We set up Orwell’s on a very tight budget," explained Ryan. "And six years on we are still here achieving things. We have had to start from the bottom really, we went in doing more finer food to more pub-y food at Orwells and now it's tasting menu and very fine dining.”

In order to remain relevant in a fickle, ever evolving industry, Orwells puts its success down to offering fine dining cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere that the whole family can enjoy.

Sustainability is also a huge focus for Orwells and the restaurant was honoured with 3 Gold Stars by the Sustainable Restaurant Association for being a champion of sustainability. With food wastage on the rise they are keen on using different techniques to ensure all of the produce is utilised, in turn allowing them to offer more reasonably priced menus and dishes.

Explaining this, Ryan said: “Sustainability is a big thing with us at the minute and it always has been but we didn’t really realise that when we were at The Goose.

“From a sustainable point of view we were thinking we need to get the most out of this animal so we can offer great prices on the lunch menu and that’s the approach we have always taken and we only just started to realise it when we opened Orwells. This philosophy has been carried through our cooking so nose to tail cooking is very important for us to get the most from the animal and choose the best ingredients that are sustainable.”

Growing your own produce

Growing 75% of the restaurant’s fruit and vegetables from their own private garden, they want to encourage others in the industry to do the same stressing the importance of being sustainable and sourcing locally.

“There are really proud figures in the industry who are still constantly using stuff that is endangered and I get quite annoyed about the fact that not everybody is being responsible and they should be really. I’m not a preacher and I don’t go around preaching about it, I’m just trying to get the message across.”

He added: “Our philosophy is to just keep doing what we believe in, keep shouting about this sustainable thing and getting the message across that we are being responsible for growing our own and we are out there trying to buy the best produce that we can.”

Future plans

Having achieved remarkable success with Orwells since its opening in 2010, Ryan and Liam feel they are just beginning to get to grips with their first restaurant but wouldn’t rule out another venture in the future.

“I would never rule out another restaurant or another venture but I think when you first start off in business within 6 months you’re ready for your next one but it’s not until about 5 years down the line that you actually start to realise that you are just getting to grips with this one. I think I would consider doing something in the future, maybe something a little different to what we do here.”

Ryan Simpson showcased his skills on BBC One TV show, Yes Chef with Pierre Koffmann in September 2016. He also appeared as a contestant on Great British Menu 2017 in the Central heat, competing against fellow chefs, Pip Lacey and Nick Deverell-Smith.

By Michael Parker

@canteenparker

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd July 2016

10 minutes with: Ryan Simpson, Orwells