Simon Rogan: 'When I opened L'Enclume, I just wanted to do something that I was really proud of'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Two Months ago, 20 years after opening his humble restaurant in the Cumbrian village of Cartmel, Simon Rogan and his team celebrated a third Michelin star for l'Enclume.

Since then, the chef and founder of the Umbel Restaurant Group said, things have been "pretty hectic."

Not that it was quiet before. "It couldn't have got much busier," he smiled, but with extra press, photoshoots and filming galore, he and his team have had to test the malleability of the space time continuum to keep up.

"But we're not complaining. Cartmel is a pretty happy place at the moment."  

The award didn't come as a surprise, per say, because the tell-tale signs were there - Michelin don't often invite themselves over for a visit with a filmcrew, even less so does the guide's international director, Gwendal Poullennec.

"But it's happened before, and we got diddly squat, so I wasn't getting too excited," he said. "It wasn't until that morning, when he came bounding through the door with the plate and the jacket that we actually knew for sure."

And while he had planned what he might do or say if he ever achieved three stars, he said, "it all went out of the window. I was a blabbering wreck, it was proper emotional."

The chef remembers sitting in the pub with his first chefs at L'Enclume, John [Bradshaw] and Leo [Aulis], dreaming of achieving a star, two or even three, but never took it for granted that it would happen. "There was a lot of drunken talk," he said.

Sadly, both chefs passed away before their time, "so this is as much for them as it was our current team."

"If it wasn't for Tom [Barnes, executive chef at L'Enclume and Rogan & Co.], Paul [Burgalières, head chef at L'Enclume] and all the team, we wouldn't be having this conversation, so it was really big for them to finally get it over the line," he said, throwing his arms to the sky. "Finally!"

The team spirit

Crediting its success, The Umbel Group (which currently counts L'Enclume; Aulis and Rogan & Co. in Cartmel; Henrock in Bowness; another Aulis in both London and in Hong Kong; Roganic and The Baker and the Bottleman in Hong Kong; guest rooms; a shop and a thriving home meal kit business), has fortuitously mastered the art of hiring, training, and keeping hold of some of the best hospitality professionals in the country.

But what is their secret? Simon shrugged. "We just do what we do as far as I'm concerned, and try to be nice with it. That's kind of it. Be nice." 

It's no surprise that being a successful (ie, lucrative) operation allows the group to provide a good work environment, facilities, equipment, and opportunities for its teams, far beyond what most hospitality businesses of its calibre can offer. But it is perhaps the desire to do so that is so unique.

A case in point is Tom, who started at the company as a chef de partie 11 years ago. 

In that timespan, Tom said, "I've won the Roux Scholarship, I went on Great British Menu and got to the banquet, all of these things that Simon supported me through - he's helped me to get my name out there, in my own right."

There's plenty of scope for creative input, too, as restaurant group is run in such a collaborative way that, as Paul explained, "if you have an idea, you bring it to Simon, and he says, 'yeah, I'm interested,' then you get to develop it - you have this freedom, which is really good."

Noting that it hasn't always been this way, Simon said his ego has "mellowed out" over time, and now, "we're very much a committee, in all that we do," starting each concept at the farm, then going to Aulis to develop, with the best dishes making it through to the restaurants.

"That's the formula, that's the way it works," he said.

Achieving the best quality of life for the teams is another essential part of their retention efforts. The group is now looking to go down to a three and a half day working week for its teams, and in a near future the Cartmel restaurants will, for the first time in 20 years, all close on Sundays.

"When we're closed now, we are closed," Simon said. "There's no-one from L'Enclume going off to work at Rogan & Co for some extra labour time, or up to Henrock."

"Everyone can fraternise together, and relax," he smiled, "and I can maybe nip out for bevvies on a Sunday."

From left to right: Executive chef at L'Enclume and Rogan & Co Tom Barnes;
Simon Rogan; head chef at L'Enclume, Paul Burgalières
Photo credit: Nina K Aldridge

You reap what you sow

The final feather to the group's hat has been the development of two joint curriculums - one for chefs, another for front of house - with Kendal College, creating The Simon Rogan Academy.

The culinary course was oversubscribed by 100 percent, which they had to whittle down to 15 people, and all but two have remained with the group, gaining access to the same opportunities to work in Cartmel, Bowness or further afield - in London, Hong Kong, or "wherever else we've got our eyes on in the next couple of years." 

"There's always a career path for them, no need to go anywhere else," he explained. For the company, this spells good news. "Our future is bright as long as we can get these people into our business."

The front of house cohort is a bit smaller," he said, "but we're working on that," as "to have a top-class, British person working in your front of house is invaluable."

Hoping for its continued success, the academy is something Simon is happy for others to mimic. "Go out, set up your own academy, nurture those youngsters around you, show them that this is an amazing industry that they can get involved in and hopefully, we'll go a long way to curing our staffing issues." 

Refurbs and expansion plans

The Umbel Group has proved that there is more to a successful business than accolades: as well as its multiple Michelin-starred restaurants, the farm, development kitchens, education arm, and makeaway business are as much to thank for its viability than the shiny red plates next to the front door.

The group's managing director, Sam Ward, is the driving force of the business now, Simon said, and "keeps the team on their toes. His infectious enthusiasm for our future invigorates me and we know that we're heading in the right direction."

"Systems have been put in place over the last four, five years which have catapulted us, as a company, into another league." 

The plan isn't to stop there: the chef hints that another site could be in the pipeline, as well as refurbishments across several of the sites - first at Rogan & Co., which is set to double in size, then at L'Enclume.

"The rear of house areas need proper upgrading now to cope with the honour of having three stars," he said, as the aim isn't just to retain the stars.

"We want to be a beacon of quality, for people to come and say, 'wow, that is a three star establishment.'"

Inside L'Enclume​


As great as accolades are for the business, and for staff retention, when he opened l'Enclume, stars weren't the aim for Simon.

"I just wanted to do something that I was really proud of," he said. 

"I wanted these accolades to put a bit of money in my pocket, but more than that, I wanted to do something that made a difference." 

Having trained in the era of the Roux brothers, Marco Pierre White, Raymond Blanc, Nico Ladenis and Pierre Koffmann, he said, "it was the golden era for me," and having even half of the impact they had on him in his career, "to hear that you inspired the next generation of guys to go off and do even greater things,  that's just as important to me as winning three Michelin stars.

"Hopefully when I hang up my apron," he said, in a near or distant future, "I will have achieved that." 

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 13th April 2022

Simon Rogan: 'When I opened L'Enclume, I just wanted to do something that I was really proud of'