Mark Sargeant, Rocksalt & The Smokehouse, Folkestone

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th September 2012
Mark Sargeant is the owner of the restaurants Rocksalt and The Smokehouse, both located in Folkestone, Kent. Both restaurants opened in June 2011. While Rocksalt is a proper restaurant, The Smokehouse is a harbour side fish and chip bar. Rocksalt has two AA rosettes and its aim is to cook the best ingredients as simply as possible in order to let the quality of the produce shine through. Mark is formerly head chef at Gordon’s Ramsay’s Michelin starred restaurant Claridge’s in London and spent 13 years working with him at his various restaurants. He was born in Kent, trained at West Kent College and worked at several respected restaurants such as Read’s Restaurant in Faversham. He first worked with Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine in 1998, before working with him again at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea and finally Claridge’s from 1998 to 2001, earning a Michelin star in 2002. He also oversaw the opening of Ramsay’s pubs The Narrow, The Warrington and The Devonshire. Mark’s first recipe book, ‘My Kind of Cooking’ was released in 2011.   Mark Sargeant great to come and meet you thank you very much for inviting us in give us an overview of the operation you’ve got here, Rocksalt, and The Smokehouse, Rocksalt is a great restaurant and bar.In the restaurant we have a very simple approach to food, it’s really ingredient and produce based. We're right by the sea so that's where our fish gets landed right outside the restaurant. Our ethos is really to just do very little to really fresh fish. We grow a lot of our vegetables and herbs ourselves, we've got a little small holding, and everything else is grown in Kent, all our meat, is also from Kent, pretty much everything apart from the obvious like lemons and olive oil and those obscure things are from right here Kent, which is something we're really passionate about.. Over the road, the Smokehouse, which is our fish and chip shop we've got four rooms which are our Rocksalt Rooms. The Smokehouse is a chippy but it’s good quality one, we cook chips in dripping, but our fish is cooked in vegetable oil, and a really great batter.. We do slight differences to the traditional chippy also, you can have baked mackerel or baked salmon or a baked piece of cod and chips. So it’s not all about deep frying. We also like to serve salt and pepper squid, deep fried battered scallops when they’re in season, Rye, mussel popcorn. So it’s a slightly upmarket fish and chip shop really. How big a challenge is it opening something that's out of London and and building something from the ground up? Well there's two ways of looking at it really; one is if you open up in London you can kind of guarantee that you've always got your audience there but it’s massively competitive. Whereas if you open up in Folkestone where there's little else around you for miles, obviously other restaurants are available, but then you kind of think that you've cornered the market. However, you don’t have the natural footfall of a large city like London, so you need to work on your promotion and communication of what you’re doing. You have to bring that audience in. absolutely and you worry where they’re going to come from and will we be seasonal, which we are to a certain extent but it’s very difficult to say after only being open a year, hopefully in year five we will really have got it nailed, become totally consistent So what is Mark Sargeant now? Is Mark Sargeant chef or is he Mark Sargeant restaurateur? Mark Sargeant will always be a select chef or whatever you want to call it without a doubt although you'll find me cooking more at home or for book shoots or little tiny bits and pieces of TV, not loads, and not as much as I want and I do cook in the restaurant but not for service. I'll come in with the chefs and when we're doing new recipes and new dishes for the menu we work together and I’ll show them how I want things plated up or bits and pieces. I've been a chef for 20 years now and it’s a bloody hard job, there's no two ways about that and I really respect everyone who’s still in the kitchen. I know Jason’s(Atherton) really keen to be in his kitchen it’s not by any means that I've lost the passion to be a chef in the kitchen I just… Your role’s evolved. my life’s evolved. I've got two kids, I've got a two year old and a two month old, both daughters and I made a pledge to myself, because I started late anyway, I would be home every night for bath and bed and mealtimes this isn’t restaurant Mark Sargeant this is Rocksalt and whilst I own it and I am known as the chef it’s very important to me to build this as a restaurant in its own right. I don’t want people coming here thinking I'm in the kitchen and asking if I’m here, I want to be allowed to do other things. I've got another life which is outside. I do consultancy work for other businesses. I want to be able to work and do other things. If you eat with Nathan Outlaw it’s called Restaurant Nathan Outlaw and if he's not there he shuts, I don’t want to be in that position. That to me is an amazing feat and I've got masses of respect for Nathan, but that’s not for me here. Mark I guess the Smokehouse has great opportunities doesn’t it to roll this out across seaside towns? When I first saw the logo for the Smokehouse, the first thing I said to Josh my business partner was it’s got a fantastic roll out potential. But we want to do everything pretty much ourselves in-house, we don’t want to be going to banks for loans. So it’s not going to be an aggressive roll out. In fact it may never even get rolled out. But there's that opportunity to do that. To have it in seaside locations or even not, it could be to franchise,we get the model right and franchise it. There are a couple of opportunities presenting themselves currently in London and we generally get the feeling that people that come to us from London and love the Smokehouse they can see one in Chiswick, they can see one in Notting Hill and it’s got that kind of vibe about it, What’s the five year plan Mark? Make £10m, fuck off to Tuscany I think. Nothing wrong with that. No I don't know the five year plan it’s a really interesting question actually because I've always had… Because there must have been a vision because in the nicest possible way it’s not rock and roll at the moment Folkestone is it? No. I've always been great at plans but it’s easier the younger you are. So my ten year plan when I left college at 18, in ten years I wanted to have my own restaurant, by hook or by crook, and I didn’t know which route I'd take, I opened Claridges when I was 28. It was Gordon Ramsey at Claridges but I was the man there I won the Michelin star, Gordon would never deny that, in fact he used to publicise it really well. So that was the first ten year plan. The next ten years it’s well what do you do in the next ten years then? I don't know. I'm 40 next year so the next ten years is really key, that's probably the last ten year slot I've got I guess to make a success of things, I'm happy with what we're doing, I don't think I'll ever change what we do here, fine tuning, tweaking and bits and pieces, for sure. So the next five to ten years is to establish Rocksalt as a fantastic restaurant and keep motivating the staff. There's always, always room for improvement no matter what you do even if you've got three Michelin stars. Of course. You've opened in a recession Mark basically. I know what a stupid idiot. No but you've opened in what has been called the biggest economic downtown in 100 years, 60 years, whichever paper you read, how big a challenge has that been to you as a new business? Well do you know what I think, and this goes for a lot of people, I don’t think of a recession day to day. When I opened… You just get on with it? When we opened the first thing that came into my mind certainly wasn't oh my God we're in a recession here. We're not fine dining so we're not expensive. We're all things to all people; I’ve got an £18.50 lunch menu. You can spend anything up to £150 a head. It’s really down to the customer and we've been so busy and Josh and I look at each other on a regular basis when we're looking at the reports and the covers that we've done and we say to ourselves, we are in a recession, what  could it be like when we're not? I think that's the mark of any business isn’t it if you can trade well in a recession then that's a really positive thing? Let’s hope so, look we've only been open a year It could be that everyone is still just coming to try us out and we're in Kent, it’s a big place, maybe we’ll have three years of people just coming to try us out and then we’ll be dead and have to close, you know, catering’s a very, very tricky world to be in and it’s never plain sailing. It was our first year last year and we had nothing to compare it with and we made some huge mistakes, But any job’s always the hardest the first year because until you do the Easter, the Christmas, the Mother’s Day you don’t know what to do? We opened in June so we’d missed out on Easter, we’d missed out on Mother’s Day we didn’t know what to expect and actually the last couple of years, bless the Royal Family, we've had some amazing things, we've had the Royal Wedding, the Jubilee, then the Olympics and there's been some amazing times to celebrate,and I've no doubt that's helped our business.I think it’s a fantastic time to be a businessman in Britain at the moment. How much has your media work helped business here? It’s really difficult to say probably not a lot actually because I’ve got my own TV show Saturday mornings, it’s on really, really early so it doesn’t have huge viewing figures although the percentage share for that timeslot is brilliant. So the company very happy with that but again like you said I don’t want this restaurant to be about Mark Sargeant I want this restaurant to be about Rocksalt and it goes to show that it’s working we're fully booked on Saturday nights until November which is fantastic for us. I do other work for ISS, Sodexo Prestige,I do some promotional work on certain products I really believe in. If I ever get an 8 p.m. Wednesday night BBC 1 slot for eight series à la Rick Stein ,that's only ever going to  help the business of course it is, it will help book sales it will drive more book deals, you know what it’s like in catering now it’s that kind of whole media package. Well look Mark on that note thank you very much for seeing us, it’s been great to come and have a chat with you. Pleasure.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th September 2012

Mark Sargeant, Rocksalt & The Smokehouse, Folkestone