Meet Simon Rogan - the Michelin-star chef creating recipe boxes for Booths

Cartmel, the postcard-pretty Cumbrian village, is perhaps most famous as the home of sticky toffee pudding.

Booths has launched ‘Let’s Cook’ recipe boxes with chef Simon Rogan. (Picture: Booths).

Though it’s not its only claim to fame. For nearly 20 years it has also been the home of L’Enclume, Simon Rogan’s iconic two Michelin star restaurant and one of the most acclaimed places to eat in the country.

The restaurant situated in a former 13th-century blacksmith’s workshop (l’enclume is the French word for ‘the anvil’) has been showered with accolades and was featured on Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s hugely popular TV series, The Trip.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Rogan, too, has become something of a celebrity chef having shone on the BBC’s Great British Menu.

Simon Rogan (centre) with Hardeep Singh and Alex James as they open the Taste of London in 2012. (PA).

Now he’s teamed up with another Northern institution, food retailer Booths, to create a range of unique and seasonally inspired recipe boxes. These contain top quality ingredients selected by Rogan’s team of chefs and are exclusively available at Booths supermarkets across Yorkshire and the north of England.

“I’ve been up here for 20 years now and since I’ve been here I’ve always respected Booths. I shop there regularly and thought if ever there was a supermarket to get involved with they would be the ones,” says Rogan.

“We’ve got two fairly prestigious names in the area and to work together is something that’s really interesting, and with the success of our ‘at home’ range during the lockdowns it seemed like the right time to do it.”

The simple menu boxes are designed for home cooks and contain easy to follow instructions, a step-by-step video delivered by Rogan himself and a little bottle of “chef magic” from his kitchens, designed to elevate each cook-at-home dish to the next level.

“We came up with it by walking around and seeing all these amazing ingredients, not only fresh produce but dried ingredients, putting them in a box and showing people some interesting ways to cook them.”

Rogan’s own culinary journey began at a young age growing up in Hampshire in a family with working parents. “My father was a fruit and veg salesman and one of the perks of his job was he used to bring a lot of fruit and veg home in a goodie bag which often got put to the back of the fridge because no one knew what to do with them. But that piqued my curiosity about what I could do with them,” he says.

“My mum worked too so I’d cook for them during the week to help out and really enjoyed it.” He then got the chance to work part-time in a restaurant in Southampton. “They paid well and all of a sudden I was getting paid for something I loved.”

He trained as a chef at college and went on to work for such culinary stars as Jean-Christophe Novelli, Marco Pierre White and at the three-star Lucas Carton in Paris, under Alain Senderens, before landing his first head chef role back in the UK.

“JC was a big influence because not only was he a great chef he is also a great restaurateur and I was quite close to him. I learned that it’s not just about being a great chef, it’s about being a good person and handling things like PR and marketing.”

In 2002 he and his partner Penny Tapsell upped sticks to Cumbria and opened L’Enclume, after being tipped off by a friend that the site was available.

“We couldn’t have got what we have in Cumbria in the South without having to take out massive borrowings or outside investment.

"What we’ve got in Cumbria is all through our own sweat and blood, everything we’ve done we’ve done ourselves and that was the whole point of owning our own restaurant – to be in control of our own destiny,” he says.

“I remember standing in the garden by the river looking back at the building thinking, ‘wow, this is amazing, if I can get the food right and make it a destination and bring people into the area, then this could be wonderful.’ And thankfully that’s the way it’s worked out,” he says.

The restaurant quickly gained a Michelin star, and later a second, and Rogan has steadily grown the business, which includes a local farm where they grow an array of produce. “When we first set up in the North-West I became increasingly frustrated with the standard of fruit and vegetables that were on offer at that time and the fact I couldn’t even buy a decent radish was quite infuriating.”

However Rogan, whose ethos has been based around the importance of good quality local and seasonal produce long before it became trendy, took over the lease of one local organic farm which he has since developed and expanded.

He now has four Michelin Stars across his numerous restaurants, but claims they aren’t the be-all and end-all. “To be honest I don’t really think about it. As with all accolades they help, obviously, with business, with prestige, and attracting staff and customers.

“Like anything in life it can stress you out if you think about it too much. So we just get on with what we do and cook for our customers and make sure our product is the best we can possibly make it, and if accolades follow then we’re very thankful.”

The impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry has been well documented and Rogan admits it has been hard, but says his business has come out of the lockdowns in decent shape.

“The staff problem hasn’t got any easier and if anything it’s got even worse. It is a struggle but we try to pay our staff well, keep them motivated and give them the right hours where they can maintain their work-life balance.”

It’s one of the reasons why he’s recently set up an academy scheme to entice fresh, young talent into his business. “It’s been on our radar for quite some time but with the worsening picture of trying to recruit for the hospitality trade, it was important to get in now and thankfully it’d been well taken up.”

The kitchen programme started last month and the front of house training begins in February next year.

“Our restaurants are all about being connected to their surroundings and we want young, passionate, local staff to carry that message. Because who’s more passionate about produce from their area than the people that live there?” he says.

The British food industry is facing a seemingly bewildering array of challenges, from climate change to sustainability, but Rogan says he is optimistic for the future.

“I think we have some amazingly talented personnel in the UK, some of the best in the world, and some of the best produce, and if we can get staff shortages sorted out by investing in our youth then we can be very optimistic about the future. There’s a lot of hard work to be done but we have got the people in our industry to carry that through.”

The Simon Rogan Let’s Cook boxes are available from the Booths website https://www.booths.co.uk/ and are also available in selected Amazon Fresh postcodes.