Mark Birchall, executive chef, L’Enclume, Cartmel

The Staff Canteen

He’s worked for Simon Rogan at L’Enclume in Cumbria for the past nine years. In that time executive chef Mark Birchall has seen the restaurant achieve two Michelin stars, five AA Rosettes and top The Good Food Guide and his own personal achievements include winning The Roux Scholarship in 2011.

Before L’Enclume, Mark honed his skills at The Walnut Tree with Franco Taruschio and at Northcote.  The Staff Canteen spoke to Mark about working with Simon, how L’Enclume has changed over the past nine years and his proudest moments as executive chef of the two Michelin-starred restaurant.

How long have you worked for Simon and how did that come about?

L'EnclumeI basically saw an article in the Caterer, about him wanting to open up a restaurant just outside the M25. I fancied it so I sent him an email, did a trial and took the job of sous chef.

What’s he been like to work with over the years?

It’s been great. I’ve seen the restaurant go from strength to strength and nowadays it’s a big company, with Simon’s restaurants all over the country. He’s been very inspirational and it’s been great to be a part of that growth, working with some great people.

When you first started was Simon’s role very different? Was he in the kitchen more?

Yeah, he was in the kitchen day in, day out.  There were only six of us in the kitchen and now I have 18. He was always amongst it, running a section and it was great.

Which chefs have inspired you over the years?

I first started at The Walnut Tree with Franco Taruschio, that was very different, very busy and Italian!  Then I moved to Northcote, which was quite classical, regional cuisine – a kitchen with a high level of discipline.Venison l'enclume - credit the independent When I came to L’Enclume the food was a touch ornate and unusual, but always of a very high standard of cooking, we were almost trying to split the atom and now it’s gone full circle and we try to hide the technique behind the quality of the product, whereas before we were trying to create the next best technique.

Do you prefer the style of cooking and presentation of dishes now?

Yes - It’s a lot more natural and it’s about sourcing the best products and enhancing them in the best way. The change in style just happened naturally.  We had been using elaborate techniques for a while, when other restaurants caught up, we felt the need to move away from it.

How has your role at L’Enclume developed?

My role has changed but the focus is still L’Enclume and to keep driving forward.  I look after Rogan and Co which is easy to do as it’s only a stone’s throw away. Then one day a week I’ll go to Manchester and work with Adam Reid at The French. Mark Birchall

Do you enjoy working in these other kitchens?

It’s nice to see something different, the back bone of the restaurants are all very similar to what I’m used to.  At The French the style is slightly different as they have different clientele. At L’Enclume people are making a major effort to get here and they are placed in our hands.

How do you think you have developed as a chef during your time at L’Enclume?

I suppose it’s just been a natural progression. As the restaurant grows, you just grow as a person. In restaurant terms everything has happened quite quickly; L’Enclume has only been open 13 years and now Simon has a Michelin star in London with Fera, Rogan & Co, and two fantastic restaurants in Manchester. I joined L’Enclume as a sous chef, which is a senior position but there was a head chef -  John Bradshaw and Simon above me – so very little pressure. Over time everything has grown around us from the kitchen to the restaurant, and it has been an easy progression.

What is it about L’Enclume that has kept you there so long?

It’s the constant development. We’ve always been improving, pushing forward and we’ve never laid on our laurels. The nice thing about here is we will always try and do the best we can and we never take our foot off the pedal.

What have been the big challenges for you over the years?Dish 1b0

I think challenges are there every day – hitting the standards, keeping morale up and keeping the team together. It’s not one of those kitchens where we constantly scream at people, we let people grow naturally and develop into the roles as they should.

You’ve had Simon as a mentor, is it important for you to pass down the knowledge you’ve gained from him to your young chefs?

Of course. It’s an open door policy here – anyone can ask me anything and when we are doing new stuff we make an effort to show people and we get them involved in every aspect of menu development.

How do you keep your team developing and moving forward?

We try and move people around on the sections which helps them to learn but as I develop and want to do something new I make sure everyone is involved in that. It’s as simple as that really, it’s not just head chef and sous chef in a corner on their own - we let everyone have an input. Dish 30

You won the Roux Scholarship in 2011, are competitions important and do you encourage your chefs to take part?

Yes, my head chef Tom Barnes won it kind of off the back of me saying go for it and last year we put two people forward. One was Ben Champkin and the other Harry Guy who reached the regionals, we are already talking about putting people forward for next year’s Roux Scholarship.

What’s your proudest moment while you’ve been at L’Enclume?

There have been a lot! Obviously getting two Michelin stars, then getting ten out of ten and number one in The Good Food Guide and also achieving five AA rosettes. They are all big achievements and it’s an amazing feeling when you get these awards. It’s a great pat on the back for all the hard work you and the team have put in.L'Enclume (5th July 2013)

Having achieved all that, what’s next for you and the team at L’Enclume?

We just want to keep satisfying our customers.

What about you personally in your career?

Obviously there is always aspiration to run your own restaurant, in your own name one day.

>>> Related: The Roux Scholarship winners: where are they now? (part 3)

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th June 2015

Mark Birchall, executive chef, L’Enclume, Cartmel